The craft beer movement has been building steam for years now. Here in Michigan, we are near the top in terms of overall quality of beer being produced. From Bell’s (largest brewery) to Oddside (smallest) and everyone in between, our state boasts close to seventy breweries all brewing lovely, delicious craft beer.
Directly correlated to craft beer’s increase in popularity is beer finally getting a spot in the upper echelon of the culinary experience. Even though beer has been around for thousands of years, it has been viewed as somehow less than wine when it comes to pairing with food. Beer has always been pizza, burgers and nachos while wine is lamb chops, risotto and lobster.
Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub, home to an absolutely ridiculous amount of Michigan beer, is trying to change that perception, if it hasn’t changed already. Every third Tuesday of the month, Foran’s hosts a beer dinner featuring a different Michigan brewery and a guest chef or chefs. I have been lucky enough to attend the last four dinners. Consider this retrospective a call to get up and go to the last two of 2011.
My first experience at a Foran’s beer dinner was a pleasant surprise. Upon sitting down and glancing at the menu, it was immediately evident that these meals are not taken lightly. Two of the beers weren’t even readily available in stores. Each of the four courses include a full serving of beer. Beer is also used in cooking in each course.
For those who enjoy a little learning with their dinner, a representative from the brewery is always present at each dinner and describes each of the beers. In addition, each course is described by the chef who prepared it.
The most amazing thing about these dinners so far is that every dish has been good. Inevitably, there will be a miss, but for the sixteen dishes served thus far, all have been good to fantastic. Rather than discussing every dish, I’ll talk about one or two stand-outs from each dinner.
June: Short’s Brewing Company, Bellaire
Short’s Brewing is located way up north in Bellaire, about thirty minutes north of Traverse City. Known for their intriguing varieties like Black Licorice Lager or Bloody Mary beer, Short’s beers are some of the most sought after in Michigan.
Course three at the Short’s dinner was a mind blowingly tender roasted leg of lamb served with a parsnip and mint puree and Israeli couscous. The pairing with this herbaceous plate was the lip puckering, bitter Indian Spruce Pilsner. A rarely available beer, Spruce is brewed with hand-picked blue spruce tips. Refreshing and floral, this beer compliments the cool earthiness of the lamb and the accompanying puree.
After just one dinner, I was hooked and knew I’d be back for more.
July: Dragonmead Brewery, Warren
Located on the 696 service drive near Groesbeck, Dragonmead is smack dab in the middle of a whole bunch of industrial buildings. Their beer might not be as crazy as Short’s, but the focus is different. Instead of making key lime or peanut butter beer, Dragonmead has Final Absolution, a Belgian style tripel that is wildly popular for both its flavor and high alcohol by volume.
Instead of serving Final Absolution at the dinner (which would not have been an issue), Dragonmead brought four lesser-known beers – Sir William’s ESB, Ring of Fire, Castlebrite Apricot Ale and Evil Twin Sin Eater. At the time of the dinner, each of these beers were available at the brewery. Given the rotational (seasonal) nature of beer brewing, I cannot promise they will still be available.
As for the dinner, Wolfgang Puck Grille chef Marc Djozlija prepared the third course, a tremendous roasted pork loin with stone fruit compote and whipped potatoes with goat cheese puree. The pork loin was prepared with the Castlebrite Apricot ale, which was also the beer that accompanied the dish. Not overly fruity, Castlebrite finishes with tartness, which perfectly complimented the rich pork and decadent potatoes.
August New Holland Brewing Company, Holland
As a general rule, I lean more toward the savory range of eating than the sweet. However, it was the dessert course at the August dinner that resonated with me. You see, beer can be paired with every course, including (and sometimes most perfectly) with dessert.
Nevermind that I was able to drink a pint of El Mole Ocho, New Holland’s spicy and chocolatey stout brewed with cocoa, dried chiles and coffee. The real winner of the night was the Dragon’s Milk Ale paired with cheesecake and Dragon’s Milk reduction.
Dragon’s Milk is no slouch at 10 percent ABV and its caramel notes coupled with vanilla undertones make it an ideal dessert beer. Cheesecake is just sweet enough with just the right bit of tanginess and creaminess to balance the sweet bitterness of the beer.
September: Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids
If we judged these dinners on the beers’ rarity, this would have scored 100 on a scale of 1-10. Founders brought Cerise, Breakfast Stout, Nemesis and Blushing Monk to the dinner (not to mention a couple other “tasting” options, too). While Cerise and Breakfast Stout are usually available in a good beer shop, Nemesis and Blushing Monk are extremely limited and will last roughly 12 seconds in a store once they are put on the shelf.
Chef Andy Hollyday created the third course of the evening – barbecued short rib, cheddar risotto and apple slaw. Since this dish was paired with the high alcohol, bold flavors of Nemesis, the dish had better be intense. After one bite, it was clear that this dish was one of the finest I’ve ever eaten. Slow cooked short rib had become ridiculously tender and supremely beefy and presented atop a bed of delectably sharp risotto and piquant apple slaw. It is not easy to pair a dish with a behemoth like Nemesis, but Hollyday was up to the challenge.
If these dinners have shown us anything, it’s that food and craft beer have a long, happy future together. And let’s hope that it spawns more dinners of its kind to be enjoyed for years to come. And remember, you’ve got two left. Don’t miss ‘em!
Originally printed online for Real Detroit Weekly
All photos by Joe Hakim