CT Beer Week Recap, Part 1: Two Roads Brewing & Cask Republic Talk Beer & Eat Good Food

James Gribbon

Sometimes, when it comes to beer, I envy starfish. Nature can tear the humble sea star in half and it just returns with backup, like a teeny Lernaean Hydra. The creature that is "Connecticut Beer Week" underwent a similar duplication for 2014 - with one week in May and another in October - and, after trying to be everywhere at once, I failed, regenerated, and present the first in this three part recap. 

Starfish likewise have the remarkable ability to turn inside out to eat. I like to think this would give them infinite eating capacity, which would be handy at your average multi-course beer pairing dinner. Fittingly, beer pairing events with Two Roads appear to be binate: the first of which was held at The Cask Republic in Stamford to kick off Connecticut Beer Week: The Revenge, this October.

The hosts for the night were Two Roads Brewmaster Phil Markowski, who was debuting his Unothrodox Russian Imperial Stout, and Executive Chef Carl Carrion, whom I've mentioned before

The amuse was a snapper crudo under a passion fruit cloud of foam. The fish was firm, and a little slippery, but mild, and I could see why the sweetness of the foam was served alonside a Lil' Heaven IPA. The fruitier Azacca and Calypso hops in this session IPA added to the dish, with bitterness cutting through all the round flavors. 

The salad course started with the words "Serrano ham" (a phrase which, in its entirety, would be welcome on my tombstone), and continued with "ahi tuna and red beet ceviche, with wasabi pea powder and saffron-orange emulsion." Sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami, all on one plate. The beets and the emulsion provided sweetness shot through with citric acid, while the salty protein of the ham and tuna pulled the mix together into a cohesive and flavorful whole. 

Markowski is one of the original brewers at New England Brewing when it was still located in South Norwalk in the mid 1990s, and left to further his career at Southampton Publick House before being wooed back to the Constitution State. He informed the crowd that Two Roads is planning to launch a beer series with estate-grown hops by this time next year, and has gone so far as to start their own apiaries for both pollination and honey.

One of the first batches of Cascade hops from Stratford brewery flavored the cask of Honeyspot Road White IPA which was paired with the first course. The wheated Belgian ale is smooth, but its punched up bitterness from the secondary wet-hopping acted as a palate cleanser with every sip, and the lemony bite of the ceviche was like a reflection of the citrus in the hops through a filter. 

Roadsmary's Baby, Two Roads' pumpkin spice beer, has caught some flack in beer circles for spending less time in the advertised rum barrels than Admiral Nelson. Markowski explained his goal with the regular Roadsmary's was to tone down the barrel character, so it was bottled as a blend. Roadsmary's Other Baby, which we were then being poured, was straight from the rum barrels, of which only six were tapped for release. For the first time, there were significant rum notes to the nose along with the prickly spice notes which make up the lionshare of this beer's flavor profile.  

The dark, heavily spiced beer was paired with fried duck lollipops and sweet cornbread waffles. Spiced rum and maple syrup were used in the glaze for both, and it permeated the unctuous duck, which was coated in a crispy and piquant batter. The cornmeal waffles had a pleasing body which held up well to the more gamey protein, and I loved this dish, but it was wholly over the top paired with the sweet, heavily spiced beer. I'd suggest pairing this with a Belgian-style golden.

The third course backtracked a bit on the heaviness of its predecessor - the chef called it a "Pacific Island Carpaccio" - and it was a more proper salad of shredded young coconut, papaya and jicama, with cashew powder and a black garlic broken vinaigrette. This latest was paired with Two Roads' first sour beer, Krazy Pucker, which was released in April this year after undergoing ten months of brewing and souring. This event had the only log of 'Pucker to be released outside the brewery. 

I haven't reviewed Krazy Pucker here before, but it's a pale yellow color, with a big sourness to the nose. It has a super bright and fresh flavor, filled with distinct lemon notes and a slight, rounding sweetness of malt. The carpaccio had an enticing crunchiness, and the richness of the coconut and papaya and strong garlic were cut by the acidity of the beer, which was also used in the dressing. I can absolutely see where they were going with this course. 

Remember the part about infinite eating capacity earlier? I was beginning to reach the limits of my own by this point, but I'd been looking forward to the fourth dish ever since I clapped eyes on the menu: lobster three ways, paired with Conntucky Lightnin'. The foundation of the plate was a lobster hominy spread, topped with a lobster ragu, with generous chunks of smoked-butter-poached lobster on top. The ragu was slightly spicy, and it came through almost like a gumbo. The bit of capsacin which gnawed at the base of my throat after a bite was initially cancelled out by the sweet malt of the strong, bourbon barrel aged beer, but the alcohol made the burn stay. This is a good thing, in my mind. 

To make this dish, the chefs cold smoke three pounds of butter, and then poach the lobster in it. The stewed tomato in the ragu works surprisingly well with the sweet malts and bourbon notes of the beer, and the smoke comes out late in the flavor of the dish, almost as a reminder of the drink. This same cold smoking method is used by the restaurant in making their smoked grilled ribeye, which they serve with gorgonzola and blistered tomatoes. 

Russian Imperial Stout is meant to be a heavy, decadent beverage and, despite its name, Unorthodox fits the role. Naturally, it was for dessert, paired with a dollop of chocolate espresso mousse perched on flaky pastry with a strawberry ring.

Unorthodox is the little brother to the extremely limited edition Igor's Dream RIS, and isn't aged in bourbon barrels. It is a similar deep black color, and both the roasted malt and 9.2% alcohol are apparent on the nose. There is a big mouthfeel, and a slightly acerbic finish from what begins as an initially smooth and toffee-like flavor. Apparent in the aroma, the alcohol in this stout hides about as well as a toddler behind a sheer curtain. 

The pastry reminded me a bit of the crust on a croissant, but the sweetness of the strawberries and the coffee notes in the mousse were a great partnership with the stout, whose boozy nature left a hazy memory of fire. 

See you in part 2 for Sourcopia.