Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Santa Barbara Beer Dinner

I am a beer advocate. I am not, however, an insatiable beer lover, a hop-head, a fanatic. I’m more of a wine guy so when a beer pairing dinner, one of Santa Barbara’s first, was announced with Firestone Walker Brewing Company, and Chef Budi Kazali of The Ballard Inn, well, that was a no-brainer. I had never been to a beer pairing dinner before, but have certainly been to my share of winemaker dinners over the years.

Wine pairing dinners are so common these days that here on the Central Coast you can find one everywhere you go, be that Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Pismo Beach, Paso Robles and Cambria. But surprisingly beer paired dinners are less common, though if you’re in micro-brew hot spots like San Diego or Seattle you can find a number of them. But they are starting to catch on in Santa Barbara. 
With over a dozen microbreweries in the region there should be several to choose from every year, but sadly, that hasn’t happened yet. More often beer dinners tend to be paired with pub and tavern food and that’s not a bad thing, but this beer dinner helmed by Budi Kazali meant that the food, and therefore the beers were elevated to fine dining – though still rambunctious what with a total of six beers.

The dinner was not created from a vacuum, actually the idea was prompted by American Craft Beer Week, a nationwide event celebrating the 2,800 small craft breweries who participated in events across the U.S. Budi choose the beers he wanted to work with, choosing less hoppy brew since bitter overly hopped beers don't pair well with most foods.

A brief run down of the menu is as follows:
1st Course: Tempura shrimp in a green papaya sauce, seared scallop in a saffron sauce, and seared tuna in a yuzu vinaigrette, served with a glass of Firestone Pivo Hoppy Pilsner, a classic Czech pilsner with only 40 IBU, so it’s actually not over hoppy. What was surprising was to see this beer work across such diverse flavors as these three bites that Budi created.
2nd: Crispy skin sea bass with the Firestone Lil Opal Barrel Fermented Saison which uses wild yeast aged in Opus One (a high-end Napa winery) barrels which has a light sour finish paralleling the crispy sea bass and the lemony tart sauce Budi crafted for the fish.
David Walker discusses his beers with guests
3rd: Kalua Duck, jicama salad with a Chinese black bean sauce with Firestone Unfiltered DBA, an English pale ale just slight hoppy which registered most obviously to me with the earthy mushrooms in the crisp jicama salad.
4th: Kobe beef short ribs (and stunningly tender) with a coconut sauce with the Firestone Rufus Wild Ale, a brew aged in 23 year old bourbon barrels. And here the almost sweet sense of the bourbon coaxed out the richness of the ribs.
Chef Budi Kazali
5th: Coffee pot de crème with bourbon whipped cream paired with one of Firestone’s best brews, the Parabola Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Long ago the Russian royal family seemed to love stouts but they wanted a kind of turbocharged version as David Walker put it. So, more hops, more alcohol and the Imperial was born. The Parabol was aged 9 to 13 months in barrel and it that kind of deep, rich earthy beer that completely stands on its own. Having been at this dinner it begins to ignite thoughts about experimenting at home. Beer and wine are food products and therefore should be an integral part of mealtimes (sure, breakfast works too) and what is exciting is realizing the endless possibilities to find flavors, textures and viscosities what work together to make a meal memorable.
So if you live in Santa Barbara or are planning a visit check out the brews of Firestone Walker – they have taprooms in Buellton in Santa Barbara, and one in Paso Robles – and make reservations for dinner at the Ballard Inn for some of the best food in the county – you can stay here too for a wine country, er, beer country getaway.

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