Monday, July 5 was the Crane Alley and Founders Brewing Company Beer Dinner. I gotta say, I was a huge fan. I love Founders beers. There aren't many in their lineup that aren't awesome examples of their style. Brewers in the midwest can make some great beer, Bells, Great Lakes, Three Floyds, and Founders are all great breweries that make great beer. Founders everyday lineup (and things you can still find on shelves at stores and at bars, here in central Illinois) are some of the best beers you can have. If you don't get Founders in your area, chat me up, we might be able to work something out.
When I think of regional specialties, I think the west coast is probably best known for their work with hops. The southeast (below North Carolina) to me is an area that works well within their restrictions (ABV and other weird laws). To me, the beers that are done best in the midwest are stouts and other black beers. If you look at the Beer Advocate top 100 US beers, you'll see a lot of stouts (imperial stouts) from the midwest. Three Floyds Darklord, Founders Breakfast Stout, Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout, Surly Darkness, Great Lakes Blackout Stout, Bells Expedition... sure there are stouts on that list from other places in the US, but there seem (to me) to be more that are located in Big Ten Country: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota. We do stouts right.
So, going into the dinner, and just knowing what was on tap at the bar that night, got me real excited. Looking at the beer on the menu, there's probably things you've never heard of, there are things I've never heard of. I was joined for the evening, by Kridz and Kellz.
The first course was a butternut squash soup with pine nuts. It was served with the dry hopped pale ale. The soup was awesome. It seemed to have the consistency more of baby food, than of a soup. It wasn't a stew, and wasn't liquidy. It was great. Overheard outside was that the pine nuts added a nice crunch to go with the smooth texture of the soup. Some people thought it had some spice to it, which was cut nicely with the pale ale.
The second course was a scallop with citrus supreme, sriracha glace and leeks. It was served with Devil Dancer, which is a triple IPA. Kellz is relatively new to beer, and she doesn't seem to be too much of a hophead, so the triple IPA was probably overwhelming to her. Additionally, she didn't like the fishy taste to the scallop. (She's new-ish to being a foodie too). Kridz ate her scallop, I got to eat about 3/4 or more of Kellz. The scallop was fully cooked (at the last dinner with them, Kridz' was sort of pink/fleshy) but this time, it was white all the way through. I didn't expect that I'd like the citrus on it, but was pleasantly surprised. The leeks were awesome.
The next course was awesome, and worth the price of admission to me. (Also worth the price of Kridz ticket too). It was a Mishima Ranch Wagyu Tenderloin, with mussels, chantrelles, and madeira. This was served with Black Biscuit. Black Biscuit was an awesome beer, I figured it was a dark (black) Old ale. It's 10.5% ABV so it packed a punch. I believe it was aged in the same maple syrup bourbon barrels that Founders uses for the Canadian Breakfast Stout. It was a delicious beer. Brad (chef at Crane) actually used some of the Black Biscuit for the cooking of the mussels. According to the Founders sales rep, only one sixth barrel made it downstate, and Crane Alley used some of it for cooking!!! The beef was served rare. Yes, it looked pink and almost purple. You can see the marbling in the picture, even if you don't click on it. It was fatty and tender and delicious. Neither Kridz nor Kellz like rare meat (both would prefer it almost medium) so I got lucky and got to have most of their portions too. I don't think you can see it in the picture, but there are two pieces of the meat on the plate. Due to their not liking rare, I pretty much got to have almost 5 pieces of this awesome meat. You'll also notice on the plate that there were chantrelles mushrooms. These had a strong nutty flavor, and seemed to go well with the beer. Neither of the girls were big fans of the mushrooms, so I ate a couple, and then passed them to the wine guy from Piccadilly, who was more than happy to eat them.
The next course was an Ellensburg Farms lamb rack. This was served with a pear and chayote (like a pear) mix, along with red potato and lots of mint butter. It was paired with El Diablo Del Noche. The beer was a black double IPA. This was also served rare, so I pretty much got to eat three lamb racks. You can see the pear and chayote mix at the top of the plate. I thought that was rather good, and was surprised that I liked it. Why is lamb served with mint? It was too minty. Granted, that's just my tastes, but I didn't like the mint. All the other foods let the course be the star, but the lamb had a huge mint flavor. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but just wasn't for me.
The final course was a goat cheese cheesecake, with a brandied bing cherry, and a chocolate covered bacon. If you've never had chocolate covered bacon, you may think it sounds terrible, but I assure you, it's AWESOME! This was served with Cerise. To me, Cerise tastes like a tart cherry pie filling. It's not sweet like a maraschino cherry, it's got a slightly tart bite to it. It went really good with the cheese cake. You'll notice there's a chunk taken out of my slice, it looked so good when it came out, that I forgot to take a picture until after I tasted it. I love cheesecake. I love soft goat cheese. This was outstanding. Samantha Duce did this desert, and she's great with deserts. I could probably eat this all day, every day.
But, since Kellz gave me most of her main course foods, I took two bites of the cheesecake and gave the rest to her. Yes, I'm a nice guy. I bought Kridz ticket, so I figured if I ate most of Kellz food, she could eat the part she liked best from my plate. *edit; Kellz says Kridz ate my cheesecake... I did mention the beers were strong, didn't I?*
Upon completion of the dinner, the Founders rep had a quiz, if you got the question right, you won a Founders shirt. The first question was "where is Founders located?" I had my hand up at "where" so I won the first shirt... yay me. Kridz also won a shirt, and I think Kellz did too. Everyone got a Founders magnet and a bottle opener.
After the dinner, Aaron tapped Canadian Breakfast Stout. This beer was awesome. If you can find CBS, get CBS. It's the same beer as KBS (not breakfast stout though), but there's a little twist to the story. KBS is aged in oak Bourbon barrels. But Founders doesn't get all the barrels from that distillery, some travel up to Canada (eh) and are then used to hold maple syrup for a while. After that, Founders gets the barrels and then puts the beer into them. So you get a lot of maple flavor, oaken flavors, bourbon flavors, coffee... the flavors go on and on. It's an outstanding beer.
The meal was awesome. The beer was awesome. The company was awesome (we sat with Tom, Nancy, Eric, Ellen, and... um... that guy from Red Star). It was a good time.
If you are into food, you should try to get to a beer dinner, if you don't want to do a Crane Alley dinner, Radio Maria also has beer (and wine) dinners sporadically.
Some of the upcoming Crane Alley dinners sound spectacular. I have no idea what the food is going to be, but the breweries make it worth the while. An upcoming one will be with Brewdog, rumor is James Watt will be at the dinner. Another one that is about a year away is a Mikkeller dinner; where Mikkel himself is supposed to attend. If you are into beer, and want to eat great food, come to those, you will probably not get the opportunity to get that close to some of the best brewers in the world, without abducting them.
Now, to see if I can get them to come over and brew a batch on my stove.