Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dogfish Head Dinner at Monk's Kettle

On August 4th, I was privileged to attend the Dogfish Head dinner at Monk's Kettle with three close friends. Apologies in advance for no photos - I decided to just live in the moment and not snap away. And that's honestly too bad, because some of the dishes were absolutely beautiful, and I wish I could take a look at them again.

When my neighbor, an avid home brewer and giant beer geek, invited me to the Dogfish dinner, I snapped it up. Seven courses of beer, five courses of food, and a shot at Randallized 90 minute IPA? Plus, I think Bryant, the local Dogfish rep, is kind of a dreamboat. (I'd get embarrassed and ask you to not tell him, but I'm sure he knows by now.)

Upon entering, we were greeted with the 60 minute IPA on draft. The west coast doesn't get this guy at all. For anyone unfamiliar with the Dogfish Head IPA lineup, they have a 60, 90 and 120 minute IPA. The numbers correspond to the length of time they're continuously hopped. I never realized that it also corresponds to the IBU. As a girl who tends to the smoother and less hoppy, I am completely in love with the 60 minute IPA, and on draft it's just fantastic.

After the 60 minute course, we were on to the food. White peach carpaccio with a peach-creme fraiche vinaigrette, served with Festina Peche. It's an obvious pairing, and they remarked as such, but it was lovely. I've always had a special place in my heart for the Festina Peche - a little dry, a little sweet, and completely refreshing on a warm day. It was a stunner with the peach dish, too. I've never considered it to be all that fruity, but the peach in the dish brought the peach out in a beer in a non-overpowering, but very nice way.

Next was my favorite dish of the night, paired with with might be my new favorite beer. Mediterranean lamb meatballs with a feta cream sauce. The sauce was to die for. Simple, easy dish - but I've been talking about that sauce for days now. Dogfish Head is particularly proud of their ancient ales, and this one truly shines. It's a 9th century Finnish recipe that results in a full-mouth, herbal beer. I've been really getting into the herbal, juniper-focused beers lately, and I'm so pleased to find a domestic alternative to the Belgian Gageleer that I've been loving this summer.

Third course was Pinot Noir smoked King salmon, with a white corn and parmesan polenta and basil beurre blanc. It was served with the incredibly strange Red and White brew. They call it an imperial Belgian-style wit, but it gets its flavor from fermenting with Pinot Noir. The pairing was an obvious one, again, but the smoky flavor of the salmon really complimented the sweetness of the beer. This one is usually a little too much for me - I like wits, and I like Pinot Noir, but the combination has always seemed strange to me. The food really helped out.

Fourth course was a chicken breast flatbread with barbecue sauce, gouda, mozzarella and onions. The flatbread was lovely, but I really have nothing much to say about the course other than this - it was paired with 90 minute IPA from Randal the Enamel Animal. It might be the best beer I've ever tasted. Randal, created by the Dogfish folks themselves, is a transducer. There's a very sciency, very smart explanation for it, but the concise version is that your beer is run through a separate tank, filled with whatever ingredients you want to use to influence the beer. Monk's still has Randal, and is currently running Aprihop through whole hops and fresh apricots. On the dinner night, they were running 90 minute IPA through whole hops - and it was divine. The possibilities for this little guy are endless, and if you ever have an opportunity to taste something from it, jump at that chance.

The final food course was Guittard chocolate and bacon bark with rocky road ice cream. "Bark" is a completely underrated word to describe it - imagine about a half inch of chocolate, surrounding house-cured bacon, served with Palo Santo Marron. The beer is one of my very favorites, and the pairing was lovely. This was our second-highest octane beer of the night at 12%. My comrades, who had taken advantage of the unlimited 60 minute draft earlier in the night, were starting to wane. Thank God I had stuck to one beer in that first round, because it allowed me to completely remember the final beer...

World Wide Stout.

I am entirely too into imperial stouts. Make them darker, make them richer, make them more alcoholic. I want all of it. There is a time in my life where I really want a Festina Peche, and that is at the beginning of an evening when it's hot and I've just hopped off a bicycle. And at the end of the night - though that clearly means I shouldn't be near a bicycle anymore - I want this beer. It is an imperial stout. It is 18%. And it is very, very good. Compared to the only other 18% stout I know, Brew Dog's Tokio, it's not quite as smooth. It's got much more of an alcoholic burn to it. But after five incredible courses of rich food, and six courses of full, rich beer, it is an incredible digestif. The Tokio has always tasted to me like a very drinkable beer, which is terribly dangerous at 18%. (This is not a complaint.) But the World Wide Stout is just the perfect post-dinner beer. Dark. Rich. Very, very roasty. And the perfect finish to a lovely dinner.

A couple of notes that I have nothing to do with the food or the beer:

Harry was working very, very late all week. There was a god-awful project going on at his real life job that kept him at work until 4:45 in the morning the night before. And that day, he was late. He knew he was going to be late, and we thought he was going to entirely miss the dinner. I called ahead of time to ask if they would still let him in late, letting them know that we were happy to pay the whole price, that we knew he would miss out on courses, but we just wanted to see if he could get in the door if he showed up an hour or two late. (It was about a 4.5 hour affair.) The man on the phone, whose name has unfortunately slipped my mind, let me know that he would be welcome, would have an easier chance getting in at the side door, and that we shouldn't worry.

When I walked in, I told them that my partner was going to be late and might not make it at all. The woman checking the list seemed to know exactly who I was - asked if I was the one that called earlier, and assured me that we shouldn't worry. And when he got there, an hour and a half late, they were incredibly kind. Brought him the previous course and the beers, caught him up, and made sure we were all happy and comfortable. I was completely overwhelmed with the strides they took to make sure he was taken care of, even though they absolutely didn't have to. This is the kind of hospitality that has always been extended to me at Monk's, and it is the reason I keep coming back and patronizing their establishment. The beer is great, the food is quite good, but the customer service is always worth talking about. I am so proud to have them in my neighborhood.

Additionally, Sayre and Bryant did an incredible job of making everyone feel welcome. They're funny and knowledgeable, and while I might be a little influenced by my slightly awkward crush on both of them, they just make you feel at home. If you know about the beer and the food, you won't feel like they're rambling on about details that bore you. If you don't know about either, they do a great job of being conversational while they're educating you, without dumbing anything down. We felt like we were hanging out with friends, sharing food and good beer and laughing at everyone's stories. The price of events like this is a little steep, but they made it worth every single penny.

Thanks to Monk's, Dogfish, Bryant and Sayre and the entire staff that helped out with the event. I'm sure I'll be seeing all of you again soon.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On Blind Tasting

I've been friends with wine nerds for quite a few years now. A few of them have judged wines or done blind tastings and written up their experiences, and I've always found them interesting, but never realized one very important thing: Blind tasting is hard, y'all.

When Brian Yaeger asked me if I'd like to participate in a blind tasting, I jumped at the chance. I am notoriously bad at describing beer, even when I know good and well what I'm drinking. While fellow beer geeks are sitting around discussing notes of vanilla and sage and knowing which moon phase this beer was probably brewed under, I'm best at drawing comparisons. More rich than that, less spicy but more full than something fairly comparable, more boozy but smoother, etc. These things get me pretty far in life.

Where this method gains zero traction is when you are drinking summer fruit beers out of paper bags.

And then you give Bud Light Lime 9/10, and then you rave about it to the esteemed beer geeks around you. If you're lucky, they will be doing the same thing.

I could go on and on about the reasons I totally shouldn't be embarassed, but I will instead just say this: It was legitimately refreshing. Honestly! And of course it is - this is what the big, commercial beers traditionally are. It was unchallenging and a little tart and a breath of fresh air, coming at the end of a string of often heavy, occasionally syrupy, over-the-top fruity beers. If I get my choice, I'm going to go for some crazy high-octane bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout any day, but that's hardly what I want to be drinking on a 95 degree day laying on a raft in a lake. While I'm probably never going to actually purchase a case of it, I can absolutely see why someone might.

If you're able to still trust this beer nerd at this point, and wondering about my actual summer fruit beer preferences, I would go with Dogfish Head's Festina Peche every single time. Lost Coast's Tangerine Wheat is lovely, but much more fruity. And if you're seeking less-summery fruit, please try the Alaskan Raspberry Wheat.

A special thanks to Brian for the invitation, and Tom for not only allowing us to use the bar, but participating in a tasting of a style of beer he traditionally hates. Thanks, guys!

See Brian's writeup at SFoodie here. All images in this post are from Brian's article as well.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Various thoughts on traveling

I'm back in San Francisco, friends, after what turned out to be an insanely long vacation. Haven't touched a computer in 12 days and spent the entire day yesterday sleeping. I did far less drink-related things on my trip than I thought I might, but I do have some photos to throw together over the next few days and turn into some hopefully legitimate content. While I try to get back into the rhythm of a normal life, a couple thoughts:

1. If I get the choice, I will never fly with anyone other than Virgin America. Good lord. If you can think of something that makes your flight a little easier to stomach, they probably provide it. The wi-fi is great. The individual televisions are great. Being able to press one button for 21A beer and another button for candy, then swipe my credit card and tell it to email me my receipt - great. And how is it, in 2010, that every single airline in the world doesn't provide you with regular outlets so you can charge your devices? I don't travel with a computer, but I did use wi-fi on my phone. The HTC Hero, for all its great features, has god-awful battery life, so I figured I'd get about an hour worth of usage. No matter - I could plug it in! I am shocked how happy this made me. Aside from having to wait an obnoxious amount of time to get my checked bag back at SFO, I honestly cannot come up with a single complaint. Baggage claim always sucks, so I'm clearly reaching to find something wrong with them.

2. Long Island wine country is beautiful. Don't waste your time with going to the South Fork. I only had two days out east and I really wish I would have spent both of them going north. They're packing a ridiculous number of wineries into such a small geographic area. There's literally three or four wineries per mile, and there are really only two roads that go west to east. We traveled on the south one, then wound back by going the north way. I had to drive, so I couldn't do nearly as much tasting as I wanted to, but I truly fell in love with something everywhere I went. The wine is great, the people are lovely, and the country is beautiful. Pictures and a legitimate write-up will come soon.

3. Every single person who drives in New York is a psychopath. I don't mean this in the "People out east are bad drivers" kind of way, I mean it in the way that if you can actually sit in that traffic day after day, there must be a switch that gets flipped in your brain so you don't rip the car apart with your bare hands. I realize I planned a pretty ambitious trip with a lot of driving, but I had no idea that I would literally be stopped for hours at a time. We're talking 5 hours to go 130 miles kind of stopped, and that was actually one of the easier days. Never again.

4. Riding a bicycle along the greenway in NYC is one of the loveliest bike experiences I've ever had. 33 miles in 3 hours, seeing a city I once lived in and loved in a completely different way. It's largely separated (and is completely separated for the entire length of the island on the west side), it's largely flat, and I honestly wish we had a trail like this in SF. I would take every single one of my non-cycling friends on this and they'd probably love it. Oh, and I had to rent a hybrid because they didn't rent road bikes, but it was shockingly lovely experience.

5. I missed San Francisco in a way I never, ever thought I would. New York is great, and I loved the hot weather, but it is so nice to be back home.