The word “epic” gets tossed around a lot these days. It has
become par to of the popular vernacular especially among the younger
generation. It suggests something that is very imposing or impressive,
something that surpasses the ordinary. With this in mind, it is safe to say
that the Beer Dinners held periodically at Kickback’s Gastropub in
Riverside/Avondale are epic.
The most recent culinary and zymological wonder took place
Monday, August 29, starting at 6:30. The beer pairings for that night were 38
beers from both Cigar City Brewing in Tampa and St. Somewhere Brewing Company
in Tarpon Springs. Both are legendary breweries in their own rights, each with
their own style and flair. Cigar City is known for their superb Jai Alai IPA
with its over-the-top hoppiness, attained through the use of six different
types of hops, and its upright malt backbone that balances the hops to create a
remarkable – and highly awarded – IPA. St. Somewhere, on the other hand, is an
acolyte of the Belgian style of brewing, producing exceptional saisons and
Belgian-style ales with aroma and taste profiles that keep their groupies
coming back for more.
The beers were paired with an eight course meal created
especially for the beers presented. This included several courses prepared by
guest chefs who are just as passionate about beer as they are about food.
Several items were finished with sauces by local Jacksonville sauce producer
Bander’s Butt Sauce.
As the evening began, the heat outside made the cool, dark
environs of Kickback’s even more appealing than normal. Steve Flores, the
wizard behind these magical dinners and owner of Kickback’s, did his best to
control the sweating, excited crowds filing in, he and his seasoned staff
herding guests to their assigned seats. The tables were set with three tasting
glasses per setting along with a placemat that detailed the night’s offerings.
A virtual Who’s Who of the Jacksonville beer Preferiti were in attendance in addition to
luminary guests from further lands. An intrepid table even trekked down from
Athens, GA to enjoy the beer and food. Folks like Steve Rushe of BeerJunto.com,
Scott Hall, one of the owners of Tallahassee’s Fermentation Lounge, David Rigdon
from Team Hopheads, Eric Luman owner of Green Room Brewing, and Carolyn Graham
from Brown Distributers (and one of the masterminds behind the dinner) gathered
to drink, eat, laugh and learn about the dizzying number of brews offered.
And, of course, the
most honored of guest were the brewers and representatives from Cigar City and
St. Somewhere. Throughout the evening the brewers took turns talking about
their beer offerings and providing interesting insights into the processes that
went into making them. Joey Redner is the man behind Cigar City. As a Tampa
native Joey is passionate about beer, he has owned a bar and sold beer at a
number of levels. Bob Sylvester is the owner and brewer for St. Somewhere
Brewery, and is dedicated to brewing beers in the Belgian style using authentic
ingredients and traditional open-fermentation methods.
Speaking of beer,
there were so many it was difficult to keep notes on them all, however I did
manage to jot a few things down.
The reception beer
was the Cigar City flagship Jai Alai IPA a very hops forward beer that has set
a high standard for American IPAs. The second reception beer was Cigar City
Xenu Honey Cream Ale. For those of you unfamiliar with the teachings of L. Ron
Hubbard, founder of Scientology, Xenu is sort of the Scientology devil. And,
since Scientology is based near the Tampa area, Xenu Honey Cream Ale is a sly
nod to Scientologists everywhere.
The first food
course to arrive was beef tenderloins sliced then and wrapped around cucumber,
sweet red pepper, carrots, and garnished with light horseradish, served on a
bed of lettuce. With the appetizer, Cigar City El Lector – named for the men,
lectors, who read to the Tampa area cigar rollers before the days of radio.
Also served were Cigar City Minaret ESB and Cigar City Florida Cracker White
Between courses two
beers were typically served. Between courses one and two were two exceptional
saisons from St. Somewhere. Saison Athene was the first pour with wonderful
funk and spice flavors just as a good saison should have. But, it was the
second saison to be poured that really caught my attention. It was a twist on
the same beer but this time the Saison Athene was dry hopped with whole cone
Citra hops. The hops lent an herbaceous aroma and flavor to the already complex
saison and really amped up the flavor profile. This was one of my favorite
beers of the night.
Course two arrived
and for a few moments had me perplexed. I had never heard of anything called
tempeh. I n research for this article, I learned that it is a traditional soy product originally from
Indonesia employing a controlled fermentation process that binds
soybeans into a cake form. The patty was a bit dry for me, but had an
interesting texture and pleasant, spicy, nutty flavor that was accented by Jai
Alai vinaigrette. The beers paired with this dish were Cigar City Tocobaga Red,
named for the first inhabitants of the Tampa area, Cigar City Jai Alai Cedar
Aged IPA – Humidor Series, and Cigar City Jai Alai IPA – White Oak. Both the
cedar aged and white oak aged versions of the Jai Alai IPA lent new dimension
to the beer opening characteristics that go unnoticed in the pure version.
two offered a vertical tasting of Cigar City Bolita Brown Double Nut Brown Ale,
edition 2009 and 2010. The “bolita” – Spanish for little ball – referred to in
the name of these brews is a reference to a lottery-like game of chance that
was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
within the Cuban and Hispanic communities of Florida. Essentially it was a scam
and became synonymous with a cheat. But, the beers that bear the name are
anything but cheats. Both displayed considerable character and richness, with
the older version truly opening to thick, rich, malty flavors.
Pork loin with
smoky cumin rub and stuffed with granny smith apple chutney and smoked gouda
served atop grilled asparagus spears and drizzled with Mama’s Southern Mustard
Sauce from Bander’s Butt Sauce came as the third course. This decadent dish was
served with the Cigar City/St. Somewhere colaborative brew Vuja De a sour
American Wild Ale with a pronounced tart character. It was also paired with Cigar
City Sea Bass – affectionately named for former Cigar City employee, Sebastian
– a refreshing saison and St. Somewhere Pay Du Soliel another stellar saison
from the Belgian-minded brewery.
The next between
courses pair pitted two Cigar City collaborations with Hill Farmstead of Vermont and Grassroots Brewing of Denmark, Either and Or against each other
with the winners being the drinkers. Both brews are dark, thick, chewy black
IPA brews that really play the hops up, but cut the bitterness with Thai Thai honey.
The next course
was prepared by Chef Michelle Ugarte of the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island’s
Salt Restaurant. Michelle has become something of a “resident guest chef” in
that she often prepares at least one dish for Kickbacks’ beer dinners. This
dinner saw her dish shine and was easily the favorite of everyone. The dish was
a preparation of seven pepper braised short rib spring rolls with salt-roasted
peach-harissa sauce and pickled red onion. This outstanding dish was served
with Cigar City Hillsborough River Irish Dry Stout, Cigar City Jose Marti India
Porter, and Cigar City Puppy’s Breath Porter.
After this things
began to get fuzzy and run together. But, one of the highlights was St.
Somewhere owner Bob Sylvester jumping on stage and giving a beatnik-poet diatribe about beers and yeasts to
the smooth sounds of the evening’s house band.
Towards the end of the night Chef Paul Crump presented
dessert, chocolate cheesecake with Grand Marnier biscotti crust and Chantilly
cream. This rich dessert was paired with Cigar City Tiramisu Sweet Stout, Cigar
City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale – Oatmeal Raisin Cookie, and Cigar City Good
gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale.
In the end many attendees just couldn’t hang with the
aggressive number of beers. But, for those of us who stuck it out to the end,
we were rewarded with an evening of lasting memories and wonderful food and
Until next time,
Long Live the Brewers!