This post begins (what will hopefully be) a series of posts I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time, but (obviously) have not actually gotten around to yet. To briefly catch you up, I have recently moved from Athens to Winston-Salem and into the real world (college finally ran its course and I had to find a real job). Athens still holds a very special place in my heart and while I won’t be there nearly as much, I look forward to watching its beer culture continue to grow and blossom from afar. I look forward to exploring the local beer culture of Winston-Salem and the rest of North Carolina, as well as the entire Southeast region (and I plan to share as much of that as possible with all of you). But first, let’s travel back to May 5th for a bittersweet, but incredibly delicious event.
As someone who loves great food and great beer, and really loves the two smartly paired, I’m immediately interested in attending almost any beer dinner. When I heard that Richard Miley, chef at Chops & Hops, was hosting a beer dinner to bid farewell to two friends and fellow beer lovers who were leaving Athens, though, I didn’t have to think about whether or not I’d be attending. The night ended up being one I won’t soon forget and was full of some wonderful pairings of food and brew, but more importantly some awesome fellowship among beer lovers and friends.
For those of you who haven’t been to Chops & Hops, I highly recommend it. Chef Miley’s cuisine shows his training and technical ability as well as his Southwestern influence, but leaves no question of his unpretentious character. You’ll see no difference in the playful, but flavorful food from this dinner.
The evening began with a reception accompanied with a cask of Lazy Magnolia Reb Ale, a pale ale, on cantaloupe. Lazy Magnolia, a craft brewery from Mississippi that seeks to highlight classic Southern ingredients, recently launched in Georgia and has featured a limited lineup locally (only their Southern Pecan has been available in bottles with a few others intermittently on draft). The cask was a great beginning, with a light and moderately-hopped base and subtle cantaloupe flavor. I would reach for this beer a lot this summer if it were regularly available.
Once we were seated, the meal began with a course of beef carpaccio served with a homebrewed pecan pie brown ale. The roasted, nutty, and sweet flavors of the beer played perfectly with the beef, which seemed to melt in my mouth. The beer was unmistakably Southern and the carpaccio Richard’s Southwestern tinge, yet they worked together. I was so consumed by everything going on that I forgot to take a photo, so your visual experience will begin with the second course.
Next, we were treated to an oyster course which included buffalo fried and raw varieties of the molluscs with a habanero cocktail sauce, accompanied by a guava saison. As someone who has grown tired of the overplayed chipotle and other assorted pepper craze (I’m looking at you Bobby Flay), the habanero cocktail sauce was really great and provided a nice twist on the traditional horseradish kick. The spice and texture of the oysters worked really well with the saison, which brought plenty of tropical fruit flavors and just a hint of funk.
Shortly after finishing the second course, a slew of paper boats emerged from the kitchen with the third course: chili cheese fries made with Terrapin Moo-Hoo braised boar and habanero cured bacon. Chili cheese fries are about as “typical bar food” as you can get, but this deluxe version was full of rich, deep flavor in the boar meat, a bit of heat from the bacon and diced peppers, and an awesome combination of crisp and soft potato from the fries. Paired with this course was Founders Double Trouble, which enriched the boar with its hearty malt backbone and accentuated the heat with its ample hop profile.
Glancing at the menu ahead of time, I was a bit worried about this next course. I didn’t worry about how the yard bird & waffle topped with bourbon maple syrup and powdered sugar would taste, but it seemed like something that may be too heavy after three courses and…well, we’ll just say many beers. I shouldn’t have worried, though–the waffle was light and crisp, and the savoriness of the waffle and bird melded beautifully with the sweetness of the syrup and sugar. Paired with this course was Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton. The oak-aged hybrid of an Old Ale and Double IPA somehow snuggled right in between the savory and sweet of this dish and the wood lent a bit of earthiness to the protein.
Continuing the now ridiculous parade of gluttony was jerk swine, beans, and pineapple jasmine rice paired with Avery Maharaja. The jerk swine actually came from a whole hog, whose head was shared with the guests of honor (I may have stolen a bite as well). As the third Imperial IPA in a row, you might think that the beers were getting a bit boring. The nuances in each beer, though, were so well matched with each course that I don’t think anyone even thought twice about having three Double IPAs consecutively. In this course, the rich pork worked perfectly with the malt sweetness, while the spiciness and pineapple sweetness of the beans and rice enveloped the flavors of the hops. Another play on sweet and spicy, but somehow completely different.
As a sweet end to the bittersweet night, we were served Pastel Barracho made with Founders Breakfast Stout and Terrapin Moo-Hoo paired with a glass of the former. Meaning “drunken cake”, this Tres Leches-like cake was light on the dairy and heavy on the booze. The creamy and caramel flavors of the cake were exactly what you’d want with the dark Breakfast Stout and chocolatey Moo-Hoo, lending them levity and underlining their heft at the same time.
After dinner, I was treated to Cigar City Brewing Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, a local beer from Charlie’s, one of the guests of honor, future home. The bottomless pit of a stout was a great ending to the evening, with all the deep, robust flavors of an ideal Russian Imperial.
Lastly (yeah, I thought it was over too) before we left, I tried some of another special cask: Terrapin Monk’s Revenge aged in a Calvados barrel. The Belgian yeast and brandy notes made an awesome pair, and were still quite enjoyable…even after the entire dinner.
The entire meal was a great exhibition of Chef Miley’s mastery of the ingredients and understanding of how the each course would play with each beer. The sense of community felt that night as many of those who produce, sell, serve, and lovingly consume beer in Athens came together to send off a few of their own. As I prepared to leave town myself, it cemented the great things I had come to feel about the Athens beer community.