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Independence Beer Dinner at Grand Prize Bar

Chef Philippe Gaston
Chef Philippe Gaston
Photos by Neil Dalal, Independence Brewing

This past Monday evening, I attended a beer dinner held in conjunction with this year's Texas Beer Fest, hosted by Grand Prize Bar and sponsored by Independence Brewing Company, with pairings created by Chef Philippe Gaston. As a wine-dinner girl, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But having been apprised on very good authority that the dinner would be "wicked," my excitement mounted.

Wicked? It was mind-blowing. On all fronts. This was well-crafted beer and five courses featuring fresh Gulf seafood from a man who's worked at both Kata Robata and Reef. Here's the breakdown:

Snapper Crudo.
Snapper Crudo.

The first course was Freestyle Wheat paired with a snapper crudo. The beer had a fresh, soft wheat taste and was crisp with a light clean finish. The snapper had been caught fresh the night before and was paired with blood orange segments and a strawberry vinaigrette. The snapper was delicate, with a barely detectable salt taste, sparked by the acid sweetness of the blood orange and strawberry.

The second course paired Independence Pale Ale with a beet "gazpacho" puree, graced with shaved celery and carrot and dotted with bits of prosecutor. The entire affair had a light dusting of sea salt. The pale ale was lightly floral with citrus undertones and finished with a gentle bite from the hops.

Beet Gazpacho Puree.
Beet Gazpacho Puree.

It's an all around solid pale ale without the almost skunky hops finish other IPAs tend to have. The puree had a soft, slightly sweet, earthy taste, and the crunch of sweet carrot and green bite of the celery balanced the beet perfectly. A touch of prosciutto and sea salt were pleasant surprises.

Austin Amber began the crescendo into bolder flavors on both fronts in the third pairing. The beer is slightly malty, with a deep hops flavor and a heavier, albeit delightful, finish. The seafood bisque, a light consomme, was delicately rich from a light touch of cream and saffron. It was light with nice heat on the follow -- I'm guessing cayenne. Fortunately, this Gulf seafood "latte" was served in a cup, as most abandoned their spoons to sip the last drops.

Dirty Shrimp and Grits.
Dirty Shrimp and Grits.

Bootlegger Brown and dirty shrimp and grits climbed to bolder heights in the fourth pairing. The beer was malty with a slightly heavy chocolate finish -- very smooth and bold, but again, no hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. The dirty shrimp and grits were the best I have had, anywhere. I like my shrimp and grits like I like my martinis and men: dirty. Garlicky, creamy grits enhanced with a brown roux gravy and seafood stock made a bed for three perfect jumbo shrimp. Each bite had a deep flavor, not unlike a good gumbo, and finished with the delicate salty shrimp and a wonderfully sneaky after-heat.

Finally, sadly, we arrived at the fifth and final pairing and a bold and perfect finale to the experience: Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout paired with braised short ribs over a butternut squash silk with chocolate shortbread "dirt" and a side of thick, creamy navy beans. The Stout was rich with a creamy, roasted barley taste and a bold finish. The short ribs were braised in the stout and fork-tender. The butternut silk was the perfect complement to the richness of the ribs. The slight crunch of chocolate shortbread-based dirt added the perfect texture and warmth to each bite. The navy beans were rich, creamy and satisfying -- a delicate palate cleanser before the next perfect explosion of rich ribs and silk.

Every Monday should end on such a note, with excellent company, outstanding beer and an elegant meal. For other Texas Beer Festival events, visit the website.

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