Thursday, March 3, 2011

Growlers Pourhouse: Craft Beer, Artisan Cheeses and Housemade Sausages…In Other Words, Heaven on Earth

The Food Baby Bottom Line:
  • If you haven’t been to BeerEd at Growlers, mark your calendar for the first Tuesday of next month…and every other month from now until the end of time. 
  • Come for BeerEd, but make sure to stay late after “class” for the sausages.
  • Save room for dessert!
As noted in the pre-blog, Lauren and I were ever so excited to attend our first “BeerEd” session at Growlers on March 1.  While we were BeerEd virgins, many in the room that night clearly were not.  Those in the know arrived early to claim their seats, and by 7pm, Growlers had a full house.  What is BeerEd?  On the first Tuesday of each month, Growlers showcases a different brewer or one of their distributors, so each of the (FREE!) tastings has a unique focus and flavor.  On this particular evening, Brian St.Clair of Tryon Distributing was in the house showcasing four excellent brews from his portfolio.  Brian was joined by John Reid from Earth Fare, who provided masterful artisan cheese pairings for each beer.  We were happily surprised to learn that not only would we be sampling some terrific beers, but that there would be cheese involved.  The evening was suddenly elevated to a whole new level…

Cheese Tasting Plate
Brian took a few minutes up front to educate the crowd about the historical roots of beer and cheese pairings (is there anything Belgian monks don’t do well?), in addition to highlighting some of the relative advantages of beer vs. wine when coupling libations with fromage.  Pros for beer, in a nutshell:  1) while the acidity of wine can overpower the delicate flavors of some cheeses, beer tends to be a more subtle companion; 2) the carbonation of beer often serves as a nice counterpoint to rich, fatty cheeses (i.e., the best kind) and can help pull out more nuanced flavors; and 3) why not keep it all on the farm? In other words, beer and cheese are traditionally both farmhouse products with similar origins (grass), and as a result often share common characteristics in both aroma and flavor.  Makes sense to me!  Check out the video clip of Brian doing his thang at the bottom of the page!

With that groundwork laid, we jumped into the tasting.  The tasting was organized in a traditional progressive fashion – lightest to heaviest.  I’ve summarized my impressions on the pairings below:
Ommegang Witte Ale
  1. Ommegang Witte Ale.  A perfect ice-breaker, this Belgian-white was light, crisp and refreshing.  Hailing from Cooperstown, NY and weighing in at 5% alcohol, this champ screams to be enjoyed on a sunny patio.  It had delightful citrus notes, with spicy hints of coriander.  Paired with this was a Farmstead cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy out of Thomasville, GA.  The cheese was sharp and nutty, and its flavors were greatly enhanced by the beer. 
  2. Ommegang Hennepin Saison.  This second offering from Ommegang was spicy and refreshing, with flavors of gingersnap and nice citrusy hops.  Saison (French for “season”) is the name originally given to low-alcohol (~3%) pale ales imbibed by thirsty farmers in French-speaking Belgium during the harvest season like old school Gatorade (thank you Wikipedia).  This interpretation had a heftier 7% alcohol, but retained its bright and lively spirit.  Apparently saison is something of an endangered style, and I am happy that Ommegang is keeping it alive.  A Carolina Moon Brie was paired with the saison.  I wasn’t in love the flavor combination of this pairing – but I am not a huge Brie fan to begin with.  However, this was a great example of the carbonation of beer cutting through an intensely flavored cheese.     
  3. Duck-Rabbit Brown.  This American brown ale out of Farmville, NC was super hoppy with a nice amount of bitterness.  It had flavors of caramel and nuts, which was a good match for the Grafton Cheddar cheese out of Vermont.  The shared flavor profiles of the cheese and beer made for a very successful pairing in this case.
  4. North Coast Old Rasputin Stout.  This Russian imperial stout from California was a rich, intense beer with coffee and chocolate flavors (and 9% abv!).  Named for the creepy-strange “Mad Monk” himself, North Coast says this beer is “produced in the tradition of 18th century English brewers who supplied the court of Russia’s Catherine the Great.”  Very cool.  A Maytag Blue, also from California, was served with the stout.  The bold beer absolutely stood up to the equally bold cheese in this pairing.
After the tasting concluded, Lauren and I decided that we could not subsist on beer and cheese alone...alas, we needed MEAT.  A sausage order was very much premeditated (planned for several days ahead of time), so the real decision was which kind of sausage and with what toppings?  After consulting with Drew, we ordered two of the classic hot dogs.  We ordered one “pure and naked” (my words, not theirs) and the other “heavy” style for comparison purposes. 

The basic Hot Dog (really a misnomer, as this dog is anything but basic) is served with an agave moi ploy relish, which is ridiculously good (sweet, crunchy, tangy…yum).  As a hot dog purist, I enjoyed this meaty, salty, perfectly-prepared dog with just a touch of spicy mustard and relish.  This dog was so good that it still haunts my dreams.  I promise that you cannot beat the unadulterated meaty goodness that is the Growlers hot dog.  Please go try it.  Today. 

       Hot Dog with Agave Relish
Smug enjoyment of dogs
Lauren dug into the Heavy Dog, which was topped with chili, onions & peppers and beer cheese.  I only tried a bite of the heavy dog (as I was otherwise occupied with the aforementioned naked dog), so I asked Lauren to describe the experience to me.  She first apologized for tipsily scarfing it down like it was stoner food at 2am (no worries, friend).  She then told me it was very tasty.  The only drawback she could think of was that the chili masked most of the other flavors (both of the sausage and the other toppings).  Key take away – whether you are a sausage purist or if you prefer your meat with more adornment, Growlers can accommodate. 
      Heavy Syle Dog
Hide your kids, hide your wives

Banana Bread Pudding
We finished off the evening with the Banana Pudding with Irish Short Bread.  First, a note – I hate to use so many over-the-top superlatives to describe everything I eat or drink at a particular place, because I feel it puts my credibility in question.  Is there anything this chick doesn’t like?  So let me assure you now – I promise to tell you if something sucks.  There – I said it.  Now let me say this…the Banana Pudding DOESN’T SUCK.  In fact, it is brilliant.  The shortbread is made in-house and it is buttery and rich and amazing.  It is topped with bananas and finished with a fresh whipped cream.  As I’ve noted before – I am not a dessert person.  However, this dish has me on the verge of conversion.  Lauren and I had no problem polishing off this sweet treat. 

The ladies of The Food Baby thank Growlers, Tryon and Earth Fare for dropping some serious beer and cheese knowledge on us at BeerEd.  I encourage you to check out the next BeerEd session, and to drop by and see the good people at Growlers anytime to enjoy amazing beer and food in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. 

- Brianna 

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1 comment:

  1. I love the combination of a nice sharp cheddar and an imperial stout. One of my favorite things ever.