Wednesday, September 04, 2019

 
The Art of the Beer Dinner, Big Beers Style

If the tone of the evening was set by the rows of taster glasses splayed across the bar at the Quandary Grille when guests arrived, the mood was struck by Dave Thibodeau comparing the lifestyle of Durango to that of Nynashamn, Sweden. The Ska Brewing co-founder described outdoor adventures and big beers on the Baltic Sea while pouring five beers that ranged from effervescently sour to dark and pucker-worthy.

The January 2019 Traditional Brewmasters' Dinner was quintessential Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines Festival, combining a dissection of great fermented beverages, the appearance of hard-to-find libations (and the brewmaster from Nynashamns Angbryggeri, who flew in for the occasion) and events that elevate beer. And as tickets for the 2020 festival, scheduled from Jan. 9-11 in Breckenridge, go on sale again this week, it's worth considering why beer-food pairings like these can be so illuminating.

To start with, there is the beer, which is usually pulled from the shelves at the back of cellars where brewers like to keep offerings they open only for special occasions. Nynashamns' contributions included three aged beers and two imperial stouts, one of which it had not served before. Ska rolled out five beers from its sour collection, including its 23rd Anniversary Ale, seemingly showing off what it could do to anyone who dared think of its brewers as "the True Blonde guys."

Then there is the truly well-thought-out pairings of beers that you might suspect would be best enjoyed as stand-alone treats on cold evenings. Ska's Cru d'état, a mixed-culture Brett beer aged in a foeder that hasn't been cleaned in six years, accented the candied bacon on the duck cassoulet toasted pasta (pictured at left) in a way that was unexpected. Its Pink Vapor Stew brightened a parnsip, turnip and beet salad (pictured below) — partly because it shared some ingredients with the leafy feast. Nynashamns' three-year-old Botet Barleywine, aged in Portuguese sherry barrels, cut its own head-turning path with the salad.

The final ingredient for any successful dinner, of course, is good conversation, and this beer dinner had plenty of that. Thibodeau spoke of how difficult it was to break into the Swedish beer market - and how that turned into a friendship between the two breweries. Nynashamns co-founder Lasse Ericsson described the evolution of his country's brewing scene. Critiques of dishes were traded among diners, many of whom met for the first time at the meal.

Beer dinners are not cheap; this year's Traditional Brewmasters' Dinner, hosted on Jan. 9 by Neil Fisher of Weldwerks and Troy Casey of Casey Brewing & Blending, costs $135. You don't go daily to these events, nor do you go lightly. But when they are done correctly — and Big Beers has a long history of doing them correctly — you leave them jsmarter about brewing methods and culinary choices, as well as a little bit more stuffed than you expected.

Big Beers features a small plates and craft beer pairing as well next year, and the festival as a whole is a can't-miss event. Great American Beer Festival is lined with special beer dinners in the week heading into the Oct. 3-5 celebration next month, and a number of them will show the same creativity as the Big Beers event.

Wherever you go to blend beer and food under the guidance of brewers and chefs, just go. Then the next thing you know, you'll be hosting your own such dinners at your house and impressing guests with how much they can learn when they let their taste buds wander.

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