Last Thursday was quite an evening for me. South Bend was hopping with folks in town for the Jackson Browne concert at the Morris Civic. However, I was just a few doors down at the LaSalle Grill for a beer dinner featuring Dark Horse Brewing.
But before the dinner, I did make a quick stop to see what Chris was up to at Bare Hands Brewing, and also happened onto a beer tasting at the downtown location of City Wide Liquor. But more on those two adventures later.
Ben Amster from Indiana Beer (Indiana Beer is the local distributor of Dark Horse), had three other brewery accounts at the City Wide tasting. So I met up with him there, and then walked over to LaSalle Grill where we were greeted by Matt Johnson, the bar manager at Club LaSalle. The third floor in the past had been a cigar bar. But now with the smoking ban in place, Club LaSalle is focusing more on craft beer, which of course gives them the perfect opportunity to host beer dinners.
Before heading up to the third floor, I was able to peek into the kitchen to meet head chef Tom Sheridan and sous chef Eamonn McParland. Eamonn was the mastermind and imagination behind the beer dinner and is in charge of planning all menus for beer and wine dinners. He tasted every beer on the menu before pairing them with food.
LaSalle Grill is not new to beer dinners. However, this was my first visit for such an event. The atmosphere is very comfortable, with exposed brick walls, lots of windows and soft lighting. Currently they have four tap handles, but there are plans for more in the near future.
Hors d’ouevres were set on the bar as people were still making their way in and chatting with each other — haddock “fish and chips” on gaufrette, anchovy aioli, jambalaya fritters with red chile and sassafras sour cream, lamb meatballs with chickpea-mint puree, and spinach and ricotta flatbread with black pepper and fig compote.
Now let me first say, I love to eat, but am by no means a foodie. I was hoping that Marshall King would be there so we could talk food and beer during the dinner. However, he was not able to make it at the last minute. All of the food was spectacular, but mostly I’ll highlight how the beer was paired with the food. The hors d’ouevres were paired with Crooked Tree India Pale Ale (6 percent alcohol by volume) and Raspberry Ale (5 percent ABV). Both of these beers are available year round.
Since I am a huge hop head, I started with Crooked Tree. I am also mostly vegetarian (which I found out recently means that I am a flexitarian) so this was the most meat that I had had in a long while. While the lamb meatballs and fish and chips were quite good, I preferred the jambalaya fritters and flatbread. Crooked Tree is one of my favorite IPAs and the fruity and citrusy hops paired nicely with the spicy red chile sour cream. And the flatbread offered a nice combination of earthiness and sweetness, again paired well with the hoppy IPA. The raspberry ale actually served as a nice palate cleanser. Not sure if this was how it was intended, but it worked out great.
Eamonn told me that he usually plans some sort of seafood for beer dinners, but this time he was really excited to have duck on the menu. And as much as I love seafood, after tasting it, I am really glad he chose duck. The roasted duck breast taco with plantain-chipotle jam, queso fresco and frisee and duck confit salad was my favorite course. It was paired with a special Dark Horse treat — Scotty Karate Scotch Ale (9.75 percent ABV). This beer is only available part of the year, and it had just been released for this year. Both parings in this course were quite rich, with the beer contributing dark fruit (like figs) and big rich malt flavors.
The second course was most definitely my second favorite — apple, bacon and goat cheese tart with pine nut and rosemary crumble, fresh chives and date-honey gastrique. It was paired with Sapient Trip Ale (8.5 percent ABV), which is a big sweet Belgian-style tripel. I loved the tart. There was some sweetness from the apple that was balanced nicely with the goat cheese.
Eamonn was quite daring to pair a really sweet beer with this tart, and for the most part I think that it worked. Quite often sweet is paired with sweet in beer pairings. However, for my personal palate, I would have preferred something with a bit of bitterness, like a dry porter. But that is the really fun thing about pairing beer; we all have different palates, so more than one pairing can work.
Sapient is available part of the year and is at the end of its distribution for this year.
Marinated and grilled flank steak with cinnamon sweet potatoes, fried leeks, peach butter and ancho mole was the main course, paired with Reserve Special Black Ale (7.5 percent ABV).
As I mentioned above, I’m not much of a meat eater, however, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy some good pork or beef once in awhile. But that is probably why this was my least favorite of the courses. However, several at my table mentioned how great it was. This time I did think the pairing was right on. Rich flavors came from both the meat and the beer and paired well.
My favorite bites were of the smoky grilled flavors of the meat combined with the roasted malt and slight coffee notes from the beer. The thick mouth feel of this beer also was nice with the texture of the meat. Reserve Special Black Ale is available year round.
We ended the meal with a very nice dessert — coffee and bourbon tapioca with dried cherries and praline tuile, paired with Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock (7.5 percent ABV). This was a great pairing and a nice turn away from the traditional heavy, flour-less chocolate dessert with a huge stout (I do really love that combination as well, but it’s good to try something different). Kudos to Eamonn on this one.
Tapioca is a family tradition in my house, but I had never had anything like this. Big tapioca pearls were used and I’m taking a guess that the dried cherries were reconstituted in the bourbon. Overall it was just the right amount of sweetness for me in a dessert.
And who doesn’t love a cup of coffee after dinner? So why not Perkulator? This beer is coffee all the way through, with just a hint of sweetness. Mostly though, just good coffee flavor (from the fair trade organic coffee roasted at The Ugly Mug Cafe in Ypsilanti, Mich.) to balance out the sweet.
OK, that wasn’t really the end for a few of us. There were some tequila fans at our table, and I saw a few glasses come out during the meal. However, the ending highlight for me was two bottles — a 750 milliliter bottle of 2010 vintage Dark Horse Lambeak Wants Raspberry (fruit beer, 4 percent ABV) and a 12-ounce waxed bottle of 2011 Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead The 5th (14 percent ABV). Only a few of us were able to share both of these bottles.
The lambeak gushed a bit, but we were expecting that from a lambic style of beer. It had a nice raspberry flavor and just a little bit of funk. If you are familiar with New Glarus Raspberry Tart, think of that with a bit more sourness and a bit more funk.
Then, the only thing I can think of better than a cup of coffee after dinner is a bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout after that cup of coffee. Barrel Aged Plead the Fifth is one of my favorites, and one of the most solid beers of this style. The complex flavors of vanilla, bourbon, oak, chocolate, molasses and roasted malt were just the perfect way to end the evening.
Sorry this was such a long post, but there was just so much to write about this event. Thanks to Ben Amster of Indiana Beer, Matt Johnson and Eamonn McParland of LaSalle Grill, and all the folks that attended this wonderful dinner.
This column was adapted from Eric Strader’s Beer Nuts blog at blogs.etruth.com.