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.

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