Before the Praying Monk faithful excommunicate me, it's important to note that my palate can't decipher every little nuance when it comes to food and beer pairings. Guess I should look into those BJCP classes. Class is now in session.
The fourth and final installment in their Summer Beer School sessions, this event was focused on unique and specialty ales. The evening's host, esteemed sommelier David Johnson, brings a plethora of wine knowledge to the Praying Monk. And while Mr. Johnson was a wonderful, affable host, beer is not his strong suit. But, he was wise enough to recruit beer aficionado Bobby Lindeman of Pitcher of Nectar Distributing to show up and share his knowledge of beers being poured.
First course: Freigeist Abraxxxas paired with an heirloom tomato in garlic cream with microgreens. The Lichtenhainer-style brew, which is essentially a smoked Berlinerweiss, gelled pretty well with the heirloom salad. The garlic cream was mild enough not to take away from the beer's subtle smoke and tart qualities. But I can't say the same for the vinaigrette, as the dressing's acidity somewhat drowned out the smoke. I would have been okay with this if there were more smoky qualities in the beer.
Second course: Moa Brewing's Breakfast paired with croque madame with a poached egg, baguette and Mornay sauce. I get the concept of pairing a breakfast beer with a breakfast-related dish, but couldn't get past the disconnect between the awful medicinal, faux cherry qualities and the croque. After I washed away the medicine, er, beer, I tasted the dish by itself — the egg was perfectly poached and the Bechamel-style Mornay sauce worked; however, I wish the uber-crunchy toasted baguette was a bit less, well, crunchy.
Third course: Hitachino Nest XH paired with a grilled king oyster mushroom with edamame and radishes. What was easily the best beer of the night in my eyes, the strong Belgian-style brown ale is matured in Shochu barrels for three months, imparting very subtle dry sake notes in the finish. The beer and food flavor profiles played well with one another, but the king oyster mushroom may have been over-grilled, as the texture was more rubbery than expected. Perhaps braising or sauteing would have been better cooking methods.
Fourth course: Fraoch Heather Ale paired with pork belly with a carrot confit, horseradish and microgreens. A unique beer indeed, heather ales are regarded as the oldest style still produced in the world. And Fraoch's version may be the best, as the herbal heather flower and mild honey notes hold up well to the richness of the pork belly and the just-right spiciness of the horseradish.
Fifth course: Well, there wasn't one. I've never attended a beer dinner that didn't include dessert, and my sweet tooth was sorely disappointed. So much so that it brought this class' grade down a bit.
Overall, the evening was enjoyable and the company even better. The four beers and dishes chosen were certainly unique (vegetarian options were also available). Would I go back to the Praying Monk? Absolutely. But I would like to see the pairings tightened a bit, dessert added, and the duration of the dinner elongated, as the entire soiree clocked in at a surprisingly quick hour-and-twenty minutes.
Overall class grade: C