21st Amendment Beer Dinner brewed up a delicious evening!

The 21st Amendment Beer Dinner October 18 served up an assortment of beer for all tastes and food hearty enough to please anyone, as I, the Tenant, can testify. I’m not any more of a connoisseur of beer than I am of wine, and this was the first beer dinner I’d attended (or had the chance to attend) since the Irish dinner, but it was an enjoyable education in different approaches to brewing, as well as container philosophies. All the beer at this dinner was provided by 21st Amendment Brewery, a San Francisco-based brewery whose brewing facilities are actually located in…Minnesota. Why? As Bob Gera, our 21st Amendment rep for the evening, explained to us, 21st Amendment cans all its beers rather than bottling them. They believe cans do a better job of preventing light damage and reducing headspace and air in the container, as well as making their containers more easily portable and recyclable. And the local cannery with whom 21st Amendment originally planned to work wanted license to manipulate the beer ingredients here and there…something the brewery absolutely did not want. Only in Minnesota could they find a cannery that agreed not to make any changes in the original formulas for their beer, so they could be assured the finished product possessed the qualities they originally intended it to have. That’s how much integrity means to this brewer.

Our first course was a meal that I’ve had a few times already at the Bistro and it’s always been a reliable, satisfying classic. In his kindness, Marc even sent me some upstairs by request when I was feeling ill, and I honestly think it may have helped cure me. The House-Smoked Chicken Mac and Cheese is an incredible concoction of cheeses, macaroni, chicken redolent of smoky flavor, and browned panko crumbs that is irresistible even without a good beer to go with it. The 21st Amendment choice was Back in Black IPA, a beer whose very appearance was surprising because when it arrived at the table in its own screen-printed logoed glass, it looked more like a stout than an IPA — the P in “IPA” stands for “Pale,” after all, and it was truly black-dark with a considerable head. Bob explained that this particular IPA is more like a “hoppy porter” than an IPA, and informed us of its 6.8% alcoholic content and IBU (International Bitterness Units) rating of 651. What does this mean to a non-beer expert? Not a lot, but it did remind me more of a stout than your typical IPA.

If the first course was hearty, the second course only turned up the knob on the hearty dial even higher: Slow-Roasted Beef Short Rib in Red Zinfandel Reduction Sauce with Fall Root Vegetable Mash. This is the kind of dish I’d love to get a particular one of my sisters in to try. (You meat-and-potatoes eater who loves few things so much as a good, tender pot roast–you know who you are. Let me tell you, beef short rib is like the best pot roast you ever ate.) The meat was achingly tender as always and the bright flavor of the sauce, studded with sauteed chanterelle mushrooms–I detected a touch of mint, I think–really shone. The mashed root vegetables were a fine combination of creamy and chunky–I’m not sure what was included, but my bets would be white potatoes, parsnips and rutabagas (I’m sure I tasted rutabaga). Appropriately, the beer served with this course, an IPA called Brew Free or Die (obviously exemplary of the 21st Amendment philosophy), was much paler, lighter and more sparkling on the tongue than the first. This, we were told, is a 7% alcohol beer with 751 IBUs.

By the third course we were ready for a light refresher, and we had one in the Fried Green Tomato and Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese and Arugula Salad. The fried green tomatoes were as good as they’d been at the Vegan Taste of Fall Dinner, and the addition of the chevre was very appealing. All was delicately balsamically drizzled. The beer accompanying the salad was a true departure from the previous two: Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer. This beer served as one of the points of contention causing 21st Amendment to select an out-of-state cannery; they wanted to be absolutely sure they could brew it with 100% watermelon juice, without any added sugar or other elements that might give it what Bob described as a “Jolly Rancher taste.” They got what they wanted, a twice-fermented beer with a light, sparkling feel and a gentle, fruity but not overly sweet taste and a 4.9% alcoholic content.

With the next course, it was back to the hearty: Mojo Shrimp with Corn Pudding. It was just amazing, the long-marinated shrimp redolent of cilantro, resting on its tender bed of corn pudding atop a sea of rich corn sauce. The beer with this course was called Hop Crisis, and while I’m not a huge fan of intensely hoppy beers, if you are a hop lover, this is the beer for you. Bob explained that this oak-aged, heady brew is an Imperial IPA that is part of what 21st Amendment calls its “Insurrection Series.” It ranks a 941 on the IBU scale and contains anywhere between 9.7% and 10.5% alcohol, so this is one serious concoction and it takes a rich dish like corn pudding to stand up to it.

The meal concluded with the kind of dessert of which I know that sister mentioned above would surely approve (and so did I!): bread pudding. This one was topped with an orange-vanilla-fig balsamic sauce that was truly tasty. The accompanying beer had not been announced prior to the conclusion, so it was a surprise: a winter seasonal called, appropriately enough given the 1930s air lent by the brewery’s name, Fireside Chat. This is a spicy, once again softly sweet, beer of 451 IBUs and 8% alcoholic content that makes a good dessert partner for a stick-to-your-ribs finale like bread pudding. Bob said the brewery likes to tweak the recipe slightly each year so it’s never exactly the same two years in a row. I don’t know that it’ll replace Great Lakes Christmas Ale in the hearts of Clevelanders, but it was a pleasant enough brew.

So, it was a wonderful evening of beer and food–but if you missed it, don’t fret. Just pick up the phone, call 216.481.9635 and make your reservations now for the UniBroue Beer Dinner Wednesday, November 16. You’ll have a fine time enjoying soul-satisfying French Canadian dishes and beers. See you there!

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