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Abnormal Hosts a Sour-Lover’s Beer Dinner

The Rancho Bernardo brewery takes on a bold pairing challenge


The ultimate goal of any beer dinner is to pair each course with a beer that will not only enhance your experience of the food, but will also bring out new aspects of the beer itself. Most often, beer dinners feature a variety of styles—light and hoppy, crisp and spicy, dark and malty—each chosen specifically to coax out the nuances of the foods they accompany.

Well, the other night at Abnormal Beer Co., the talented resident chefs of The Cork and Craft, along with special guest chef Jose Ruiz of Lionfish, took on an extra difficult mission: Abnormal Brewer Derek Gallanosa challenged the team to devise a beer dinner that worked for six beers that were all different, but—in many ways—also very similar. The beers were brewed by a variety of excellent breweries, including Craftsman, Cellador, Council, Homage, Highland Park and, of course, Abnormal. Each beer incorporated stone fruit from Masumoto Family Farm, a renowned organic fruit farm near Fresno, and each beer offered its own unique combination of peachy aromas, and tart, crisp, acidity. This challenge was harder than it sounds. While most people assume the wine-like acidity of sours makes them perfect for food pairing, the addition of big fruity character—especially highly aromatic peaches—means the chefs had to make sure the fruitiness didn’t overpower the food, and vice versa.

To start the evening, guests were greeted with Craftsman’s Angelino Weiss, which had been fruited up by the addition of fresh peach purée. Essentially, it was a Berlinerweisse Shandy—light, tart, peachy, with just a hint of sweetness from the fruit. You be hard pressed (!) to find a more perfect pre-dinner beverage for a hot July evening.

The first course, devised by Chef Ruiz, paired a peach sour called Athletic Susan (Highland Park Brewery) with a scallop crudo. The scallop was accompanied by ratatouille, summer squash, slow-roasted tomato, corn aguachile and spiced pop corn. Here, the sweetness of the scallop and tomato worked nicely with the peach character of the beer as the acidity in the beer balanced the subtle spiciness in the food.

Dry-aged Pork Medallion with Chantarelles. | Photo: Kim Marcelo

For the second course, The Cork and Craft team prepared a boneless pork medallion that had been dry-aged for two weeks, topped with chanterelle mushrooms and a light chervil sauce. Glasses of Cuvée de Masumoto (a barrel-aged and blended peachy fruit sour from Craftsman) were poured to accompany this dish, which balanced the richness and inherent sweetness of the pork with the crisp, clean acidity in the beer.

Foie Gras Terrine with Nectarine-Miso Ketchup. | Photo: Kim Marcelo

Duck and foie gras terrine, prepared by Chef Ruiz, comprised the third course. Served with dandelions, radishes, grilled multigrain toast, and a nectarine-miso ketchup, this dish worked very nicely with Derek Gallanosa’s ingenious Masumoto Pale (basically a fresh-peach-infused pale ale). This beer—a slight departure from the others—had the fresh peach aromas of the other beers, but not the sourness. Its bright mix of fruitiness, hoppiness, and bitterness was an excellent foil for the rich, dense terrine and the fruity-spicy ketchup.

The fourth plate contained a small, delicate portion of sweet shrimp tartare drizzled in a yuzu cream with nori croutons and beets. Prepared by the Cork and Craft chefs, this dish was paired with a beer called Prunus Persica (Cellador Ales), a lighter-bodied mix of two blonde sours that had fermented with both brettanomyces and lactobacillus. This pairing highlighted the play between the creamy sauce and the crisp acidity of the beer.

Putting the finishing touches on the Swordfish with Grilled Stone Fruits. | Photo: Kim Marcelo

The final savory course, prepared by Chef Ruiz, paired a peachy sour from Homage Brewing, called Chat Flou, with a sweet and spicy combination of grilled swordfish, grilled stone fruits, stone fruit salsa rojo, avocado, pickled pearl onions, and cilantro. This dish, which had a little bit of heat, was tamed by the fresh fruitiness of the beer— it also provided a bit richer mouthfeel than the other beers.

For dessert, Cork and Craft’s pastry chef Brenda Gonzalez created what she called “Buttermilk Mochi,” which were served with fresh nectarines, raspberries, and sorrel. Chilled, sweet, creamy, and refreshing, this course was paired with Council’s Imperial Peach Beatitude, which provided a crisp, fruity counterpart to the umami-rich components in the dish.

It’s nice to have an opportunity, once in a while, to savor really well-made beers alongside high-concept food. Too often, I open the special stuff and simply drink it on its own, or with very basic food that’s not meant to pair, but rather, meant to simply sate hunger. A well-conceived beer dinner elevates both the food and the beer at the same time, enabling you to smell and taste things you wouldn’t otherwise. A good beer dinner also illustrates the fact that beer can be every bit as sophisticated and complex as wine, and it can certainly hold it own as a supporting element on any high-end menu.

The folks at Abnormal do these beer dinners monthly, as part of a regular series. The next one will include a menu that features Mikkeller beers and guest chef Jason McLeod from Ironside Fish & Oyster.

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