Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BJ's Imported Winter Warmer beer dinner

- Written by Jeff Barber

On Tuesday, January 20th, BJ’s Brewery Restaurant in Roseville held their Imported Winter Warmer Beer Dinner. Not having attended a beer dinner previously (and always wanting to), I rounded up my friend and beer aficionado, Jose, and drove over to BJ’s for what promised to be a night of good beer and good food.

What I noticed first upon arrival was the beer lineup. It was outstanding but more on that later. The size of the event created some difficulties (100-125 people) with the main shortcoming being was that it was very difficult to hear the brewer’s description of the beers. A microphone would have been very helpful. Kudos for trying but I just couldn’t hear. Also although it was difficult to have good conversations because of the noise at least we had Nick Walker, GM of BJ’s Natomas and his girlfriend Tina at our table. They are friendly people that Jose and I enjoyed talking to and getting their opinions about the beer. The other negative was that the beers were kept in ice until served from the bottle (except BJ’s own excellent Grand Cru). As the night wore on, the later beers were colder than they should be for optimal tasting.

Negatives aside, there were some positives as well. The servers at the event did a great job in general, getting the food to the tables while hot and pouring the beers. Extra praise goes to one of our servers, Claire, who did a great job as well as putting a bottle of each beer away for me for the picture above. The food also was good. Although BJ’s food isn’t fancy, it is typically consistently good and tonight was no exception. The beers stole the show though and now on to the beers.

Our first “course” was the aperitif, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome. While not the type of drink you would expect as an aperitif, this beer was a good starter for the evening. Very malty with caramel and biscuity tastes, it had very little hop and not much spice noticeable. 6% ABV. Not bad but not great either.

The first beer/food pairing was BJ’s chicken pot stickers with Fuller’s Vintage Ale. While I’m not sure this pairing made the most sense, the pot stickers were excellent (although we each only got one) and the beer, superb. I had never had this beer previously and found it to be sweeter than the Winter Welcome, slightly smoky, with notes of fruit and a nutty finish. Jose noted some taste of oak or something similar that made him wonder what this beer was aged in. This beer, since it wasn’t in ice as long, was the perfect temperature for enjoying. At 8.5% ABV, the alcohol was well hidden. Very enjoyable,

Next up was another beer I hadn’t tried, Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux. It was paired a garden salad with a balsamic dressing and was a great match for this beer. Being a big fan of Belgian beers, I had high hopes for this beer and wasn’t disappointed. It had an aroma of clove and fruity esters, creamy head with lots of lacing, flavors of banana, clove, and spice, and high carbonation. At 9.5% ABV, the alcohol was noticeable but not overwhelming. Another excellent beer.

Following the salad, came the pizza. This was BJ’s Sweet Pig pizza with ham, pineapple, and tomatoes. The pizza was deep dish style and was paired with Affligem Noel, another Belgian holiday beer. Both were very good. The beer was very malty with low hops and notes of clove, dried fruits, and nutmeg. I’ve enjoyed this beer before and enjoyed it here but would rate it behind the Fuller’s and Dupont offerings.

Next in line was what turned out to be my favorite beer of the night. BJ’s own Grand Cru (just released) was paired a Balsamic Glazed Chicken with fried onions and mashed potatoes. Both were quite good and the tartness/spiciness of the Grand Cru went well with the balsamic glaze on the chicken. The Grand Cru is almost orange in color with notes of banana, spice, and orange, and very complex. This was a great beer that I look forward to having more of.

The final beer/food pairing was the BJ’s big chocolate chip cookie served warm with chocolate ice cream and Ghirardelli chocolate, and the Ayinger Dopplebock. Again this was a beer I had enjoyed before and was a perfect match with the chocolate in the food. A little lower in alcohol than most of the others at 6.7%, this dopplebock’s aroma is of caramel malt and some maple syrup. The taste is raisiny in the beginning with notes of cherry and chocolate, and some roastiness in the finish. A very good beer for the winter.

So what did we finish with? Nothing other than Samichlaus, the world’s highest alcohol lager at 14% ABV. Reddish orange in color, this beer is very sweet and sherry-like. The head quickly dissipated and the aroma was of dried fruity, brandy, and alcohol. Flavors were molasses and dark fruit but the alcohol was pretty well balanced. A great way to end the night but a beer that even in a 12 oz bottle is meant to be sipped and shared.

Thanks to BJ’s for a very enjoyable evening, to Claire for her great service, and to Nick and Tina for the conversation. Final voting at our table for best beer was a tie with two votes for the Affligem Noel and two votes for the BJ’s Grand Cru,

Let’s have more of these events!