“Analog Beer For The Digital Age”

Dogfish Head’s Chefs Challenge


When DogFish Head Brewery approached us with the idea of an “Iron Chef” like beer dinner I was a little wary at first. I love a good challenge but I put great food and excellently paired food and drink before anything else. My General manager Mark Harrison was very stoked on the idea and his enthusiasm and vote of confidence sealed the deal. He And Claus Hagelman, indie guru at DFH brewery, put the event together. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy but that my team and I were up to the challenge.

GM Mark Harrison & Indie Guru Claus Hagelman

This would also be a great time to collaborate on an exciting project with my sous-chef Teddy Deptula. Not only is Teddy an excellent cook but he is also an avid beer collector and is a vast resource of knowledge on beer and wine. The task was to prepare 4 courses; 3 savory and 1 sweet. We didn’t know which of the 36 different craft beers produced by DFH would be chosen for the challenge until they were revealed to us 5 hours before the event.

Each beer has its own complex flavor profile with a multitude of possible pairings. Since we knew that we were going to be under a time crunch, a week before the dinner Teddy and I sat down and discussed each of the beers in DFH’s portfolio. We put them into 4 categories labeling what we thought that there predominate characteristics were and we also discussed each of the beer’s weight and mouth feel. Beer pairing intimidates a lot of people but what most people don’t realize is that beer is generally very food friendly. Unlike wine, beer’s lower acidity makes it a match for a wider range of foods. DFH is not know for their light beers so we chose about 9 different meats and seafood that would pair generally with their style of brew. It would be very important for us to nail down the protein choice, then tackle the supporting cast of vegetable, sauce, and garnish. It would also be very important for us to not over complicate things to allow for the time alloted.

The time had come for us to taste the mystery elixirs. It was my favorite part of they

day (one of the perks of being a chef). It proved to be as wonderful as it sounded. When tasting beer or wine it is good practice to start with the lightest and proceed to the darkest. It will ensure that you can taste the finer differences between them.

We started with a 2011 batch of  Sah’tea. Claus told us that Sah’tea was made in the style of a 9th century Finnish beer. Since at that time wooden barrels were used they couldn’t bring the batch to a boil so they would drop glowing hot river stones into the wort to bring the temperature up and help to caramelize the mixture. He told us that Sah’tea was an updated version and that they too used hot stones in the process. We poured this hazy golden honey colored beer into DFH’s signature beer goblet and right away caught the a nose of yeasty spice. After second whiff and slight agitation, I started to smell cardamom, juniper, ginger, and black pepper. This 9% alcohol beer drinks like a much lighter beer. It had a creamy mouth feel, was smooth and rounded, and had a lasting finish. It was going to be the lightest beer that we were going to taste that day. After tasting with the intention of a paired meal my mind always starts to race. What to Pair? Contrast or Match? Will we use this beer at all? I knew that I was going to pair something light that would enhance its spice and yeasty notes.

The next beer that we would be tasting was Black & Blue. Black & Blue is a belgium style strong ale fermented with tons of blackberries and blueberries. Man, you really get that right away from smelling the sweet fruity nose that is almost blueberry muffin like. Upon tasting this medium body bronze ale we thought dessert immediately. It was perfect timing since we had just received our first harvest of local blueberries. The more that I tasted this beer the more that was revealed to me. Layers of malt, caramel, spice, and yeast became apparent. This beer was really pretty smooth but its 10% alcohol made it a little wine like. My pastry Chef Keith Irwin had the genius idea of using milk chocolate and Chef Ted suggested using malted chocolate as a textural element. I started to get excited; things were falling into place.

Once the next beer Poppa Skull was poured we noticed its clear golden straw-like appearance. This November 2010 released beer was a collaboration between DFH and 3 Floyds Brewing Co. of Indiana. One third of this golden ale was aged in oak brandy barrels and I could really taste some of its oaky vanilla notes. Right away I could smell a floral resin characteristic and cardamom. I also tasted pine, tree fruit, and soy. We decided that this was going to be paired with our first course and thought of ways to blend the spice and balance the beer’s dryness with some natural sweetness. The beer’s great level of carbonation would cut through fattier foods while not stomping on more delicate flavors. This is not the most common beer on the market but being a local I had the pleasure trying and enjoying this beer upon its release.

Needing to press on, (didn’t want to run out of time), we poured Wrath Of Pecant. This was a very limited 2010 release so it was going to be a new one for me. Once poured this reddish-brown ale had a sweet aromas of banana bread, light fruit and nutty malts. Upon tasting this beer the dry smokiness was forward and was balanced with nutty toffee flavors.Wrath Of Pecant was going to be the lightest ale by volume at 6.3%, but very complex in terms of flavor. This was my favorite beer of the night. It was also the most fun to pair with food creatively. I knew that I wanted  to create a dish that matched the creativity and complexity of this beer. I really like to use smoked flavors in my cooking. I was going to have to layer the levels smoke and nuttiness to match with the beer.

The last brew that we were going to taste is a hop lovers dream come true. Weighing in at this corner a whopping 18% ABV. It’s the worlds strongest IPA. The DOGFISH HEADS 120 IPA. This beer is packed full of flavor. Claus brought a real treat giving us the beer in the vintage of 2007. This beer ages really well and was round and full. Tasting this aged wonder was like drinking pure silky, boozy hops. Its amber color tastes of pureed raisins, burnt caramel, and solvent in the best possible way. It was full in the mouth and almost sticky. I knew I was going to have to pair something big, pungent, creamy, and earthy to stand up to such a big beer. I had my work cut out for me.

Then the creative process happened walking around to the walk-ins, listing, brainstorming, ruling out, screaming, knashing teeth, pulling hair out, and finally deciding the right course of action. I was very happy with the results and Claus and the other guest gave many compliments to the precision of the pairing. One guest even commented that it was like the beer and food were riding on the same bus together or that they were holding hands walking through the dinner park.

Here is the Menu and some Pictures of the food!

Sah'tea Gougere filled with spiced picholine olive tapanade

Poppa Skull braised Boudin Blanc sausage and Clams with Rosemary, apples, Sweet potato, and pinenuts.

We used nutty creamy sweatbreads, smoked strawberry, pablano ash, charred pablano peppers

Slow Cooked Lamb Loin, sage, fiddlehead ferns, and russels baby squash

Thanks again for everybody who made this dinner great!

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4 thoughts on ““Analog Beer For The Digital Age”

  1. This looks like an amazing meal! (I may not eat meat any more but I can tell when things look fabulous!) What a great article, too. Thanks for taking us through the process of tasting.

  2. Fascinating… Love the description of your process and the pictures of the pairings. I can’t even imagine being able to do what you do!

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