OK, ok: I know I've gone all 2Roads2Furious on you, but I did say these events arrive in pairs. Connecticut Beer Week ended as it began this October, with me sitting at a table and listening to brewmaster Phil Markowski explain his newest beers, this time beside Chef Plum, of Plum Luv Foods and The Taste. The event, Sourcopia, was the pre-release party for Two Roads' new collection of sour beers, a kriek, a gueuze, and the concoction 2R calls "Philsamic" against - it should be noted - the wishes of one Phil. He was pretty, pret-tay clear on that last part.
This was a beer dinner, but the portion sizes Chef Plum provided were more akin to a tasting menu. I appreciated this, since I've walked out of some previous pairing events in dire jeopardy of tipping over like a one legged T. Rex. I'm not sure if this was the plan all along, or it was a result of Chef Plum et al. having to work in an ad hoc kitchen on site.
To get us started off, Phil introduced the kriek by telling us the story of how he shocked the owner of Staley Farm in East Haddam, Conn. by asking to pick and purchase 300lbs. of sour cherries. The cherries were picked and stemmed by hand by a few pitiable bastards on the Two Roads staff, and used in the brewing of the beer before it spent two years souring. The kriek spent this time in bourbon barrels (almost all traces of the whiskey having been leached out beforehand) to create the slight air seepage which would allow the bacteria to do their work.
"Kriek" is the Flemish word for sour cherries, and this lambic takes a bit of color from the fruit, giving it a ruddy orange color under an incredibly sour nose. There is a significant sourness to the beer itself, but the cherries only come through as a vanishing sweetness in the background. There is a big pucker factor to this one, and it was easily the most acidulous beer of the evening.
The first course was a local arugula salad with crispy bleu cheese, smoked tomatoes and a sweet pepper vinaigrette.
"I was wondering how to balance a dish with the kriek, and I thought of mozzarella sticks when I was a kid," Chef Plum told everyone. "So we fried bites of bleu cheese and added smoked tomatoes."
I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise from a chef who's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, but the combination was a perfect example of how well even difficult beers can pair with food. The bitter greens made the sweetness of the cherries in the beer get up and show itself, while the rich funk of the cheese damped the sourness of the beer - sharp fangs becoming love bites.
We've talked about gueuze before in Friday Froth but, just to thumbnail sketch it, gueuze is an aged lambic blended with newer varieties, the way balsamic vinegar is made. Two Roads had been aging the older beer in this blend for 18 months until it was mixed with a younger lambic, plus honey from the brewery's own apiaries. Bottling began at the end of October, and all the sour beers mentioned in this piece are available for purchase right now. The gueuze is lighter in color, and slightly less tart than the kriek, but it's richer, and there were definite notes of peach skin to the flavor. I was an instant fan.
Chef Plum tried the gueuze and thought he'd pair it with sashimi tuna with compressed watermelon, sesame and baby coriander.
"The de-aired watermelon has the same consistency as the fish, and it tricks the brain," he said. The dry weather at the end of this past summer killed his cilantro plants, so he harvested the seeds and used them in the aioli, which added some fat to the lean dish.
The sweetness of the fruit and the meatiness of the fish played well together, but they were slightly overwhelmed by big, sour gueuze.
Philsalmic was named* by the marketing staff, Markowski emphasized, but it was the fruition of a souring program he had began before the brewery was even finished. The yeast strains in Philsamic date back to the 2012 Two Roads Holiday Ale, and the wild souring cultures were captured with members of the Sacred Heart University bio department during the time of the brewery's build-out. The next in the sour beer series will be called Workers' Stomp, and will be aged in wine barrels before bottle conditioning. Expect that one in Jan/Feb of 2015.
(*sales manager Meghan Zachry, in fact)
Many of the machines inside the old factory which houses Two Roads were built in Modena, Italy, and Phil took time during his trips there to visit a local maker of balsamic vinegar. He bought a selection of 12 year old (now 14y.o.) vinegar, and has been cogitating on how to work it into a beer for the past two years.
Philsamic pours a cloudy reddish color, and retains a head much better than the earlier lambics. It is a very different, much more relaxed sour, and the sweetness of the balsamic is its primary contribution. This isn't a vinegary beer, despite its name and contents (unlike the Duchesse de Bourgogne by Brouwerij Verhaeghe, which I find positively vile).
Chef Plum absolutely nailed the "Stratford Surf&Turf" which was the pairing with this course. Braised beef short ribs and scallops which were alive in Stonington that morning shared a plate with grilled bok choy - the whole plate being doused in a gravy/Philsamic reduction and dusted with fennel pollen. The rich, sour beer cut through the fatty beef and brown gravy, while the fennel pollen added a slight, licorice zing to what could have otherwise seemed like bit of a heavy dish.
Pork belly and seared pumpkin with crispy turnip and toasted nutmeg was the final course before dessert. No one at my table had ever seen turnips with the weight and consistency of friend pork rinds, yet there they were, and the pumpkin added a welcome dose of color to the plate. The pork lacked in color, but it was deeply flavorful, and perfect with the sweet spice of the roasted pumpkin; soft and chewy being given a bit of necessary texture with the light and crunchy turnips. The above was served with snifters of the new Unorthodox RIS, and they made an excellent autumn meal.
Dessert was similarly outstanding, and I seriously can't believe I ate like that at a brewery that doesn't even have a kitchen. The final dish was an "Inside Out Pumpkin Pie," with pie filling baked inside a miniature pumpkin, then topped with smoked vanilla bean ice cream, pie crust chips, and broken cinnamon sugar. Roadsmary's Other Baby - which, if you remember from Part 1, is the much more rum-heavy spiced ale from Two Roads - was in this case a very pleasant pairing, and I scooped out gobs of roasted pumpkin meat from inside the gourd and kept them on my fork with the pie filling and ice cream. THIS is how you do pumpkin spice, people of America.
I hope this has been a useful introduction to the new beers from our state's largest brewer, and I'll be back in part 3 with a look at imported German gose, and a Mexican themed rare beer night at Half Full Brewery.