Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb, Authors of the New World Atlas of Beer, hosted a series of “Tutored” beer dinners at several of the Flying Saucer locations to promote their book. When General Manager of the Flying Saucer Sugar Land location, Jake Rainey, told me that Ben Rabbani (formerly of Rainbow Lodge and Bootsie’s) was the chef designing the menu, with help from Randy Rucker (also formerly of Rainbow Lodge and Bootsie’s) and dessert by Mark Clayton of the new Oxheart (with serious accolades already under their belt) I knew I had to attend. Jake had given me a few clues about the beer, but for the most part I was going in blind. This beer dinner was a bit different, it wasn’t about rare (with the exception of one) beers, but rather, about taking classic examples of beer styles and pairing them with excellent food. With each course, Tim and Stephen discussed various parts of the book, like visiting countries all over the world and compiling information for the main theme, where beer is right now all over the world. Needless to say, and as if you didn’t already know, beer is “sexy” (as Tim Webb put it) and the market is exponentially growing, all around its a fantastic time to be a beer lover.
Appetizer: Sesame Popcorn & Duvel Green Devil Cocktail
Absinthe, gin and Duvel
Beer cocktails are a relatively new phenomenon in the beer world, and apparently we have Stephen Beaumont to thank for them. After his time in France, where beer cocktails are commonplace, he exported the idea back to his restaurant where they quickly caught on. Green Devil is another name for absinthe, and this cocktail definitely smelled of absinthe (licorice) with a touch of carbonation in the taste from the Duvel and an herbal note from the gin that I enjoyed. Gin and tonic is my go-to cocktail when no good beer is available or when I need a break from beer. The popcorn had a nutty quality from the sesame and was a nice way to get the dinner started.
Amuse Bouche: Carrot and Lindemans Cuvée René
Carrot cooked in soy powder, Mirin and lime
When the servers started bringing out large chopping boards with carrots on them, I wasn’t sure what to think. Tim was going on about lambics, as we were all sipping on the Cuvé René and I drifted off into thoughts about visiting Belgium next year (hopefully) while chomping on my carrot, much like my childhood pet rabbit did. The soy powder and lime balanced out the sweetness of the carrot quite nicely. In a room of unfamiliar beer nerds, I wondered what people who had never ventured into the crazy world of lambics/gueuzes/ etc. thought about this beer. It has quite a pungent horse-blanket, barnyard smell followed by a very tart shock to the palate. Obviously, right up my alley. The pairing was interesting, sweet and salty paired with a foul-smelling and tart, bubbly beer.
First Course: Little Neck Clams and Jester King Commercial Suicide
Little Neck clams marinated and cooked in white wine, butter, and clam juices with pickled potato and locally foraged (in the Brazos river area) golden chanterelle mushrooms, capers and garnished with purselane
I was pretty surprised to see this beer at the dinner, after a long hiatus, Jester King has begun brewing this beer again (I think?) and it really is the definition of session beer.With an ABV of just 3.3% it packs a lot of flavor, a common misconception about “lighter” beers. The clams were also lightly prepared, not doused in butter or some heavy cream sauce and I think the beer was paired perfectly. I have slowly come around to the idea of mushrooms, they have never been my favorite, but these gave the dish an earthy element that worked very well.
Second Course: Octopus and Deschutes Black Butte Porter
Charred octopus with avocado leaf cream, sour grass, wood sorrel, crisp masa, and pistachio
I haven’t had a Black Butte Porter in such a long time that I was excited to revisit this classic beer. Black Butte porter embodies the porter style, it’s dark color, light body and roasty flavor, without being bitter. The salt of the octopus paired very well with this toasty porter. I wish our plates would have had the crisp masa cracker that was supposed to be there, it would have been nice to have juxtaposition in regards to textures. The octopus had been charred and it wasn’t chewy, which has been my experience in the past. The (smuggled) avocado leaf cream was a unique accompaniment to the other flavors of the dish.
Third Course: Antelope Heart Tartar and Rodenbach Grand Cru
Raw South Texas Antelope heart with mint and dehydrated red onion and jalapeño
I was definitely most excited about this dish, finally some meat! I have had heart recently, at Oxheart (go figure) and absolutely loved it. The Ox heart had been lightly cooked, so having a tartar version was a new experience for me. The dehydrated jalapeño was HOT, and made a good match for the slightly sweet dehydrated red onions and mint. The South Texas Antelope heart meat is rich, succulent and tender, a perfect partner for the Rodenbach Grand Cru, another favorite of mine. The Grand Cru is acidic, sweet, fruity with a nice brown ale backbone that complemented the heart very well. This was my favorite dish of the evening.
Fourth Course: Malted Pork Shoulder and Ayinger Celebrator
Vienna malt, herb and spice marinated pork shoulder vacuum-cooked for 12 hours, plated with roasted pumpkin puree and a garlic flower garnish
Ayinger makes nothing I don’t enjoy. All of their beers are stellar and usually represent a benchmark for the particular style. Oktoberfest definitely comes to mind here. I was pleased to have this beer as part of the dinner because I don’t usually revisit a lot of beers from the past, there is just too much in the way of new beer! It’s nice to be reminded of classics. Celebrator is a Dopplebock, known for their big malt profiles and higher alcohol content, which happened to be perfect for the huge hunk of pork shoulder we were served. The pork had been marinated with herbs, spices and Vienna malt, a nice touch to bring the pairing together. The barley risotto and pumpkin puree were also excellent ties to the beer and the garlic flower gave it that little something extra the dish needed flavor-wise and a nice pop of color as well. This dish was presented by Mr. Will Sandifer (who also helped to prepare it), whom I had no idea dabbled in the cooking arena. Very well done, Will!
Cheese Course: Selected Cheeses and Karbach Rodeo Clown
Cabot clothbound cheddar and Roth Case buttermilk blue with honey, red and green grapes and crackers
Irrationally, I judge restaurants on their cheese plates or lack thereof. There’s nothing better to me than a nice cheese plate accompanied by fig jam or honey, nuts, crackers, and grapes or apples (both, please!). This cheese plate featured Cabot Cheddar and Roth buttermilk blue, both excellent choices and very accessible to most. What was most surprising was my actual liking of the beer paired with the cheese. Karbach’s Rodeo Clown. A double IPA. Yes, that’s right, I enjoyed an IPA. Though it’s technically a double, or imperial, so maybe that’s cheating. Rodeo Clown has a heavier malt profile which helps balance out the hop bitterness. This was a great segue course from heavy pork into dessert.
Dessert: Pecan “something” and Unibroue Don de Dieu
Mark Clayton of famed Oxheart prepared a creamy white chocolate pudding with a preserved citrus layer and preserved citrus cream topping garnished with pecans and toasted rye bread croutons
When the participating chefs first told Stephen and Tim about the menu, they said dessert would be a pecan “something”, well that something was absolutely delicious. A great balance of tart from the preserved citrus and rich, creamy sweetness of the white chocolate pudding. The garnish of pecans and toasted rye bread was a nice texture change, even though I’m not a fan of most nuts. The pairing was a bit off, admittedly by Stephen. I’m not a big Unibroue fan, their beers all seem to be very one-note. It didn’t matter though, I was busy emptying out mine and John’s jars of pudding, citrus deliciousness.
I’m so glad we made the out-of-the-loop adventure to Sugar Land (my hometown) for this beer dinner. It’s not always about that rare or super limited beer, but about what the chefs pair with it, that makes the meal. I hope to see more dinners like this at the Saucer, especially so reasonably priced. Thanks to Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont for coming out and chatting with everyone, and a huge thanks and congratulations to the Saucer staff and guest chefs for such a successful dinner. Cheers!