Wednesday, March 5, 2008

BJ's Brewmaster's Dinner #2

There wasn't a lot of publicity given on this. In fact, Tracy and I went in last night unsure whether or not this was still on, lucky for us it was. The Brewmaster's Dinner series at BJ's Brewhouse/Restaurant is different from many other brewer dinners I've been to, as their goal is to bring in the best beer they can find to pair with their standard menu options. Other brewers make new and off-the-menu dishes to go with their beer. I don't think one approach is better than the other, and after last night's offerings I walked away very impressed with the food menu options at BJ's - more so than I was prior to the meal.

To start things off, the newly promoted Director of Brewing Operations for BJ's, David (Puffy) Mathis' crew poured generous portions of their 2008 Grand Cru (a beer I've written about previously). This was, in his words, our calibration beer and at 10.4% ABV you could also call it a social lubricant useful for those sitting near strangers, feeling awkward in their own skin (there weren't many of these folk, but there's one in every crowd). The Grand Cru has aged well, even though Puffy seemed annoyed at the cloudy appearance. It wasn't overpowering, had well-rounded flavors and was generally appreciated by those around me.

Our first course of the day was Sweet Onion Strings paired with North Coast Old Stock. While many at the table found it to be a great combination, the beer was just a little too big for my liking at that point. Yes, the flavors worked well with the breaded caramelized onions, but after a few sips the young nature of this years Old Stock begun to take hold - this is a beer that ages so well.

Second Course, their Sesame Chicken Salad paired with New Belgium's 2 Below. I was a lone ranger back in our Winter Beer Tasting (for PBN), as I really enjoyed the dry-hopped goodness found in the beer, floral and a little sticky. In fact, I think there is more hop flavors in the beer from late hop additions and dry-hopping than there was bitterness. Whatever the case, this worked well at bringing out the bright citrus flavors of the salad.

Course Three consisted of BJ's very own Barrel Aged Juniper Rye served along side their Shrimp Pasta. As far as courses go, this was my favorite pairing - hands down. The pasta wasn't too heavy in the cream sauce, and the rye aged in a red wine barrel, on top of the lees from the wine, was a real treat. The beer was slightly soured, and seemed like a spicy version of a Flanders Red.

Time for the palate cleanser? How about Sierra Nevada's Celebration? To help introduce the beer was one of Sierra Nevada's brewers, and for the life of me I can't remember his name right now. This was a nice touch for the meal, a classy nod to the guys at SN (only 90 miles away). This beer is as you probably know it is - fantastic.

Onto the Fourth Course, their Spinach and Artichoke Pizza with Allagash's Grand Cru. At this point in the meal, I was losing interest in food. Yes, it was good, but I was getting full. I picked at the pizza enough to know it was good, but found it in me to really appreciate the entire portion of Allagash's beer. Surprised? Me neither.

Course Five? You gotta be kidding! BJ's California Burger with Pyramid's Snow Cap. I was shocked to find I really enjoyed both the burger and beer at this point. The burger was a tad spicy for some at the table, but that spiciness combined with avocado really played nice with the Snow Cap - a beer I quite enjoy in the winter. At this point the audience was in full talking mode and many missed that Puffy worked for the fine folks of Pyramid for a spell.

Final Course, BJ's Old Fashioned Apple Crisp topped with Vanilla Ice Cream, paired with BJ's Lasto's Oatmeal Stout. I was done eating at this point, really. I had one bite, found it to be good and a very good match with the stout. Lasto's is apparently a result of blending their porter and stout and uses a small percentage of sour mash (grain allowed to mash for several hours, going slightly lactic). This beer just worked, all on its own. Wonderfully creamy in body, but not pushed with nitrogen (as their house stout is), the beer went down quite easily.

After this, conversations convened as folks mingled with other tables. We finished the night with several rounds of applause for our great wait staff, the brewers and cooks. The dinner was not as well attended as the first, but I think this must have to with their lack of communicating the event to their customers. At 30 bucks a person, the night was well-worth the price of admission, and it seemed everyone there was already looking forward to the next event.

Other Notes

Talking with the brewers at the Roseville location, I discovered they're no longer free to make a seasonal beer! I think that has to be one of the cruelest and demoralizing things to do to a brewer. Yes, they make good beer, and a lot of it, but you could just see it in their eyes - the longing for a chance to do something different at least every once in a while. I don't know why they'd pulled this from the brewers here, as one of this locations greatest strengths in the past was their ability to make a single batch of something unique and pleasing on the palate.

In the crowd was the owners of Madrona Winery, who supplied the wine barrels used to age the beers served that night. Good people.

A little bit of the Barrel Aged Jeremiah Red made its way around following the meal. Oh my goodness! This beer is nothing short of wonderful, with more acidity than the Juniper Rye in the barrel, and a much deeper complexity overall. The malt forward nature of this beer just worked on wood - it's only too bad they don't have enough to put on at the bar.