Florida Dinner Report

Next year, try an elegant and relaxed approach to the Emerald Coast Beer Festival’s Friday night frenzy!!

For the past six years, Emerald Coast revelers have had the opportunity to begin the festival on Thursday evening with a beautiful beer dinner featuring the offerings of top notch craft breweries around the country. Brooklyn Brewery was the inaugural co-host with Seville Quarter. The goal of the events has been to feature the pairing of food with beers, not the cooking of food with beers (which so often results in stews and sauces). The culinary staff at Seville Quarter has been uniformly excellent and avant garde in this endeavor.

The other breweries featured over the years have been Bell’s, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, Rogue, and Southern Tier. Richard and I have attended all but the Brooklyn dinner. We didn’t find out about it until after the fact. Quel dommage!

The founder and owner of Bell’s was there the second year to discuss the beers and their beginnings. He began as a home brewer – no surprise there! He told of his first large fermenter, a yellow Rubbermaid trash can with an altered lid to make it tight -fitting. Making beer became his passion. His passion became Bell’s. He was funny and eager to share his stories – a very good MC. His beers were fantastic. Now, every year we bring some Bell’s beers back from Florida. (We start the weekend with lunch at Four Winds in order to beat the festival rush and get first pickings of their beer inventory. Then we attend the beer dinner.) One pairing still comes to mind from this dinner. The entrée was a perfectly prepared (not-quite-yet-medium-rare) coffee and black pepper encrusted steak (filet, I believe) paired with Java Stout. Wow! No hope of sleeping after that. Scalloped potatoes provided just the right creamy counterpoint.

The Dogfish Head Dinner (year 3) introduced us to such push-the-envelope beers as Midas Touch, Black and Blue, and Red and White. The discussion of the brewery was a video. There was a sales representative in person, but this was not the same as having the owner/brew master present. The food pairings were terrific. Red and White was served as the palate cleanser before dessert. It was surprisingly wine cooler-like and amused the mouth nicely. Black and Blue, made with blackberries and blueberries, was served with dessert. Yum. Brewer Sam Cagalione doesn’t think outside the box – he doesn’t acknowledge that there is a box!

THURSDAY NIGHT

Fast forward to this year – Southern Tier Brewery from western New York. The commentary was supposed to be live via Skype. It worked very well for the brewer, Dustin, in New York. He could see and hear us. We could see him. Three out of four ain’t bad. We couldn’t understand word one he said, and the poor thing had no idea. He just kept talking, breaking up, and pixelating. Perhaps the technology will be better next year. Fortunately, the dinner was one of the best ever. All the beers were top-notch. The food was bountiful and delicious.

The menu was well-balanced between quadrupeds, bipeds, and sea creatures. The dishes were expertly prepared and presented. The passed hors d’oeuvres (three tasty appetizers) were paired with two firkins of ale: Phin & Matt’s Extraordinary [American Pale] Ale, 5.7%, and Un-Earthly Imperial India Pale Ale, 9.9%. A glitch: there wasn’t enough Un-Earthly to go around and the curried shrimp puffs were just okay. But, the smoked salmon flatbread with herbed crème and fried pork sticks with spicy barbeque sauce more than made up for that. The smoky salmon flavor paired beautifully with the APA.

The first course was a hit. Tupelo Honey Roasted Quail was plated with Sweet Potato Johnny Cakes and Jack Daniels Beurre Blanc. The description of Harvest ESB, 6.7%, says is pairs well with strong spicy foods. It also pairs well with delicate and succulent quail. The judicious hopping did not overpower the bird in the least. The citrus notes gave a nice light finish to this medley of flavors.

Next we had a sausage and cheese plate paired with 2XIPA, 9.0%. The Boudin was very un-Boudin like. To me, Boudin is essentially portable dirty rice. This version had no rice and no liver or gizzards. Red peppers did make it warm and spicy. Ground beef made it substantial. It was very good, but not a Cajun Boudin. Perhaps I am too fussy. The Andouille was much more traditional. Aged cheddar cheese rounded out this plate. The strong and spicy flavors would have steam-rolled a milder beer. The very hoppy and high alcohol IPA was up to the challenge. Its malt foundation was made of steel. By the end of this course, we could have stopped. So much food – but there were two more courses to go!

The evening’s entrée was Cold Smoked Flank Steak, Porcini Jus, Truffled Gratins, and Grilled Brocolini paired with Inequity Imperial Black Ale, 9.0%. The tender and juicy steak was seared to rare, and carved thin. Delicious. The roasty, bitter, bitter black ale added the kick for the course. Portions were substantial, large enough to rival McGuire’s. No one at our table could finish it all. But somehow, we managed to find room for dessert…

Imagine a hearty stout mixed with Smucker’s Sundae Sauce – bittersweet and complex. That is Southern Tier’s Choklat, 10%. Now imagine that beside Heavenly Mint Choklat Mousse Cake. Divine. The mint got lost in the flavor shuffle, but no one noticed. A neat alternative would have been a Choklat Float with a scoop of Blue Bell Handmade Vanilla Ice Cream. Gorgeous ending to a gorgeous dinner.

Richard and I recommend this addition to the festival. You cannot beat the price. This year it was $55 per person plus tax and tip. Make reservations early! Talk to Nancy at Seville Quarter. There are only 100 or so seats, and they sell out well before the event.

FRIDAY NIGHT

Upgrade your Friday night tasting tickets to VIP status for an additional $30 each. The VIP room opens 45 minutes ahead of the main gate. It is air conditioned with clean, uncrowded bathrooms. There is a buffet prepared by Seville Quarter (remember the luscious dinner the night before) that is kept stocked all night. There are beers poured inside that are not available to the masses outside. And there are tables and chairs for resting and relaxing out of the heat. The door is open to the main tasting 15 minutes before the crowd is let in. That is not a lot of time, but that is the earliest that the vendors are willing to do. The price per person is worth it for the bathrooms alone. (Is that Mardi Gras mentality, or what!)

Bottoms up!

Carol and Richard

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