On Thursday, January 29th we had the privilege of attending an event hosted by Howells & Hood and Sierra Nevada Brewery. Dubbed the "Barleywine Blowout Beer Dinner," the evening’s pairings would feature an extensive vertical of Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine from years 2011 through the present 2015 vintages. Each of these five were served with a dish Executive Chef Brett Neubauer paired to compliment that particular year. Kim, of Hail To The Ale, and I found this to be the case in most every instance.
We arrived a bit early, and had the opportunity to get accustomed to the spacious, inviting atmosphere and Sierra Nevada’s welcome beer — a newly released German-style Pilsner, Nooner. It was a refreshing palate cleanser for the full-bodied beers we were about to experience. Howells & Hood is situated in the concourse of the Tribune Tower and it boasts one of the city’s most extensive number of beers on draught — 114 to be exact.
This particular event was unusual to the dinners we have been accustomed to in that it was served buffet style, with each of the pairing barleywines adjacent to its accompanying dish. The casual format seemed to work well for the downtown, after work crowd, looking for a unique event without too much fuss and rigidity. For those looking to learn more about the pairings, Chef Neubauer and representatives from Sierra Nevada were on hand to chat.
|Chef Neubauer shaving black truffles on the galette (left). Arancini (right).|
We began with the 2011 vintage, knowing that much of the American-style barleywine hoppiness would have mellowed with time. Its pairing was an Australian Truffle and Sweet Potato Galette. One of its main ingredients (and we would find out later was incorporated in other dishes as well) was Burton’s maple syrup. Looking like a beautiful gratin, it was filled with minced mushrooms and liberally topped with those delicious black truffles. The 2011 barleywine had an almost port-like backbone, and complimented this dish exquisitely. The hops were still present of course, and I began to wonder how the barleywines would differ from year to year.
On to the 2012 and its pairing — a Turban squash prepared with red curry, Israeli couscous, San Marzano tomatoes, greek olives and feta. There was a wonderful earthy, woody characteristic that was heightened with a spiciness from the red curry. The squash was perfectly al dente. Paired with the 2012 Bigfoot, the slightly younger barleywine stood up well with the heat and complexity of this dish’s flavor profile.
The next pairings (yes, there were two!) for the 2013 vintage were an Arancini made with buttermilk blue cheese and a venison sausage accompanied by pork belly, wild rice, parsnips, carrots and topped with a beautiful barleywine gastrique. The huge richness of the arancini (risotto in a ball form that is deep-fried) was expertly cut by the increased hoppiness of this particular Bigfoot. The venison, prepared in a terrine-style, had the coarse fattiness that stood up well to the caramelly, vanilla notes that were pronounced in the 2013. The gastrique only hinted at the sauces yet to come.
|Chef Neubauer carving the porcelet (left). Decadent butterscotch & chocolate bread pudding (right).|
The next station, paired with the 2014 vintage, was humbly dubbed the Carving Station. In my opinion, it was the penultimate course(s) of the evening. Wild boar with black molé, lamb chops with a juniper demi-glace and porcelet — a suckling pig that had skin so chewy and luscious in the maple glaze, we couldn’t stop eating it. When it came to the lamb chops, however, I felt nirvana. Perfectly cooked, the juniper demi-glace added a thick, smoky decadence for me that was sublime. The 2014 Bigfoot stood up to this pairing with its massive floral and hop character blending perfectly with the savory meats and decadent reductions. With each course we found the Chef's complex and flavorful accompanying sauces to be the thread that tied together the spices of the food and the hop/malt characteristics of the beer.
Last but not least we had reached the dessert pairing — a Butterscotch and Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding made with brioche bread, vanilla bean custard, 70% dark chocolate and topped with butterscotch sauce. The 2015 Bigfoot had the exact flavor I was looking for to pair with it. Vanilla, caramel and bourbon notes helped to seal the deal on what was a perfect ending to the meal.
After dinner we conversed with Matt and Bob of Sierra Nevada about the unique premise of basing an entire dinner on a beer style as bold as barleywines. I always expect them to be huge, filling and malty sweet. Somehow the American-style Bigfoot Barleywine, with its characteristic California hop-forward profile, the amalgamation of vanilla, oak, and caramel tones and its ability to stand up to the complexities of rich foods — just works.
|Matt (Sierra Nevada) pouring Bigfoot 2011 & 2012 (left). The barrel room (right).|
As a final parting gesture, Kim and I were kindly given a short tour of the barrel room where approximately 300 kegs, along with what seemed miles of pristine piping, valves and gas tanks were kept at a delicious drinking temperature. For a beer connoisseur, it was like standing at the threshold of paradise. Howells & Hood has certainly struck a chord with this reviewer, and my advice is to check out their event calendar and get to one of their upcoming beer pairing dinners soon.