For those who know me, I’m a big foodie as well as a beer lover. Having grown up Scandinavian in Minnesota (in the 1980’s) I was not raised to eat much fancier or flavorful than meat & potatoes or sandwiches on Wonderbread. Once I spent some time in Asia with my dad, then in The South for college, I started to try some new things and widen my net. Then several years of medical school and residency left me eating hospital food for most meals and my budding culinary excitement was dashed on the rocks of under-seasoned mediocrity. Finally things calmed down a bit, my wife and I were able to eat meals together again, and even to eat out at some restaurants. Our minds were blown the first time we went to a fancy wine pairing dinner–not only were the dishes fancier and more unusual than we were used to, but the pairings with wines made everything sing in a way we were not expecting. Once the craft beer scene started to blossom in Minnesota, we started to see beer pairing dinners around and my new culinary “hobby” was born. I love beer dinners!
Over the past 3 1/2 years Nick Collins, the bar manager at McCoy’s Public House in St. Louis Park, has started to run monthly beer dinners in their event room. The first one we went to was the very first Steel Toe Brewing beer dinner and we had a great time at that one. The Green Flash dinner is apparently the 34th beer dinner at McCoys! Since that first one, we’ve been going sporadically depending on the brewery involved, but always having a good time. Through this series of family-style seating dinners we’ve actually become great friends with a group of fellow beer geeks who we now socialize with all the time. Beer, food, and friends? Count me in!
I haven’t written up a beer dinner in a while, mostly because these are “after the fact” and are just going to make my readers hungry and jealous! However, since these McCoy’s dinners are so regular, I figure you can get a feel for what these are like and might enjoy signing up for one in the future! If you do, tell Nick I sent you! Oh, and if you aren’t careful you’ll likely learn about a new culinary term, cooking method, or ingredient at most of these…
This particular dinner was focused on one of my favorite San Diego area breweries: Green Flash Brewing Company. Green Flash claims to be the originator of the term “West Coast IPA” and has specialized in those styles over the years, but currently their second site Cellar 3 is doing some very interesting sour beers. Alex from Green Flash gave us a bit of background on the brewery and talked about the beers between each course, which is one of the fun and educational things about beer dinners. Head Chef Brian Kooman and Sous Chef Cale Nunnelee were hard at work in the kitchen preparing our food but made sure to swing into the room and talk briefly about each dish as well as how they felt the pairing should work. I’m going to just work through the menu and give you all an idea of what this night was like!
Starter: Sea scallop ceviche with pickled red onion, grapefruit supremes, jalapeno & avocado puree. Paired with Green Flash Soul Style IPA
I’ve never had this beer before so it was a fun new treat for me. The beer had a decent balance to it with a nice bitter finish and lots of grapefruit flavors. The grapefruit atop the ceviche really worked well with that flavor in the IPA. A refreshing, light dish and pairing.
Second Course: Ginger jumbo lump crab cake with blood orange gastrique & wasabi cream. Paired with Green Flash Nugget Single Hop Pale Ale.
I had never had this beer either! Nugget hops are one of the “old school” American hops that not a lot of breweries use much anymore, so I was interested to see what kind of character this single hop beer would have. On aroma I got an earthy note and mild citrus. Flavor was black pepper and bitter grapefruit rind with decent balance of bitter and malt. The crab cake was fantastic! I don’t generally like crab cakes (maybe one two many with crunchy shell bits in the past) but this one was perfectly seasoned with a bright with ginger flavor. This pairing worked very well for me. The subtle earthy-zingy wasabi cream accentuated the earthy character of the nugget hop, and the blood orange reduction really amped up the citrus peel flavor in the beer. This pairing actually improved both the beer and the food above their individual characters.
Third Course: Roasted mushroom-stuffed agnolotti in miso-ginger broth with crispy Thai basil & candied grapefruit rind. Paired with Green Flash West Coast Double IPA.
This beer used to just be West Coast IPA, but not too long ago Green Flash has bumped it up a bit to make it a double IPA. I get a lot of pine in the aroma. Flavor is malty up front but with a very firm bitter middle, and borderline astringent finish. Citrus and pine. No fruity Mosaic or Citra in this one! The pairing with this dish is stellar. The crispy grapefruit rind bits adds crunch to the dish and makes the citrus in the beer POP! Earthy mushroom and umami miso broth works well with the woody pine character in the beer.
Fourth Course: Braised short ribs with smoked paprika squash, charred cauliflower planks & pickled mustard seeds. Paired with Green Flash Dia de los Serranos Double Stout.
This beer is fairly bursting with deep dark chocolate, bitterness, with a spicy green chili burn on the finish. Really nice! The short rib was probably the best dish I’ve had at McCoy’s–crisp outside, fork-tender inside, and caramelized roasted beef flavors of pure wonder. The slightly spicy squash puree was Fall incarnate. With the food, the beer becomes brighter, zippy, and even more complex.
Dessert Course: Passion fruit tres leches with lime gelee. Paired with Green Flash Passion Fruit Kicker.
I’ve had this beer on tap at Iron Tap in Waconia before (well, I had some of my wife’s anyway) and thought it was pretty good that time. Today I get a bit of chemical pool-water on the aroma that was off-putting. Flavor of tart kettle-sour character with a slight passion fruit and hint of black tea tannin on finish. The dish was good with very similar tart passion fruit and lime flavors, but I was so full after inhaling that previous course that I didn’t have much room left!
This was really a special dinner for McCoy’s and I think Brian really outdid himself on the menu and presentation. In between taking notes and pictures of the beautiful food, I was basking in the communal nature of our table–talking with our friends, bouyed up by the general rising din of happy and full revelers. These beer dinners are all a bit different, but the constant is access to education about food and beer and meeting like-minded people in a fun social situation. The next McCoy’s beer dinner is scheduled for 12/8/2016 and features Modist Brewing from Minneapolis. I’ve been pretty impressed with this newer brewery so I’d recommend checking it out!