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Food and wine is like Ethyl and Lucy. Old-but classic. Beer and food is like having HBOgo on your iPad. Ever changing and never boring.
So it’s not surprise that laid back beer dinners are replacing what was once stuffy black tie affairs held in sterile dining establishments filled with people using their “library voices.” Jeans and t-shirts are replacing lapels and cufflinks, the atmosphere is light and fun, and the pairings are seemingly made in heaven.
Even at an establishment as upscale as Geoffrey Zakarian’s The National (located in Midtown East on Lexington Avenue), with a little beer flowing, everything seems relaxed.
On February 1, 2G1P was cordially invited to such an event at restaurant at the Midtown hotspot where a four course dinner was designed around four of Widmer Brother’s award winning brews.
To begin the evening, we were greeted with a pint of Widmer’s Columbia Common, a ‘steam’ beer made with Columbia hops. Not a bad way to start. The slight sweetness of the malt and the low abv (4.7%) made for a great palette teaser. Hors d’oeuvres served to us were mini reuben sandwiches which complemented the slight sweetness of the beer perfectly.
After imbibing and chatting with fellow beer kin, we were seated in the grand dining room. Our first course consisted of house-cured salmon with tangerines, lentils, and a carrot vinaigrette paired with Widmer’s flagship Hefeweizen. The clean, citrusy beer balanced the acidity of the tangerine while bringing out the tanginess of the vinaigrette.
Next up: grilled quail with pork fried rice and a apricot ginger glaze. Accompanying the dish was Widmer’s Alchemy Ale. This sweet smelling ale is made with a proprietary blend of hops which yields a brew both aromatic and slightly bitter. The caramel backbone of beer mixed beautifully with the slight spiciness of the pork fried rice, as well as downplayed the gaminess of the quail.
For our main course, we were treated to a tender, juicy pork loin with roasted brussel sprouts, speckle pear, and cheddar grits. As if things couldn’t get any better, we were privy to one of the best Russian Imperial Stouts I have ever had: Widmer’s 2013 Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout. Made with real raspberries, the result is a chocolaty, aromatic, berry smelling, plum colored stout with a creamy brown head. The saltiness of the pork was balanced perfectly by the slight sweetness of the beer. The berry notes meshed well with the brussels as well which were coated in a sweet apple glaze.
To finish the evening, as if we needed more to eat or drink, we were treated to two grand finales: Chocolate whiskey mousse and Widmer’s Gentleman’s Club Ale. The Gentleman’s Club is a collaboration ale made with Cigar City. The concept behind the beer is to mimic the classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned. In order to do this, the mad geniuses decided to age an Old Ale in rye whiskey barrels, then add cherries from Oregon and whole oranges from Florida (get it? Cigar City and Widmer Brother’s home states). The result is a beautiful burnt sienna colored beer with multiple levels of complexity. On the nose there’s the oak and sweet smell that only aging in barrels gives to beer. On the palette there’s coconut, oak, cherry, slight booze, and citrusy notes.
Our night ended at a reasonable time considering the amount of beer we’d consumed! There was no dancing on table tops, no unanimous singing of Journey songs, no raising of voices. Surely a dinner involving beer would involve more debauchery, one might think. I left the National with nary a stain on my light dress and all of my belongings securely affixed to me. As I boarded the 6 train back to Brooklyn at 9:15, I couldn’t help but worry that maybe in fact beer was the new wine.
Nah…beer is way more fun.