How do you kick off a $100-a-head beer dinner at Catalan? If you're head chef Chris Shepherd and Anvil co-owner Kevin Floyd, you start with Keystone Light and bologna sandwiches.
To be fair, the sandwiches were water buffalo bologna on rye with bread and butter pickles, and the Keystone Light was served in champagne flutes. Floyd explained, "I chose to open with Keystone Light in as an example of what most Americans consider beer to be, and the sandwiches...well, we just thought it would be a funny way to start a $100 dinner." Bologna was one of the dishes Chris Shepherd enjoyed eating with beer; a simplistic decision making process that would be the recurring theme of the next six, massive courses.
Course 2 "Traditional Belgium Pairing"
Food: The largest, most amazing mussels we've ever seen in a spicy buttered broth.
Beer: Saison de Dottignies (De Ranke). Grassy farmhouse ale with heavy notes of citrus. Not yet available for sale in Texas.
Course 3 "Fish & Chips"
Food: Delicately fried Gulf Coast hake with salt and vinegar potato chips and a side of roe.
Beer: Polestar Pilsner (Left Hand Brewing Co.). A crisp, clean, delicious example of a style rarely seen in craft beer due to the long fermentation time and unforgiving allowance for error. Floyd asked us to think back to the Keystone Light (also a pils) and note the staggering difference in taste. He explained that one of the main reasons so many mass-produced American Pilsners (Budweiser, Coors, Miller) lack a distinct flavor is the use of rice in the brewing process.
Course 4 "Spicy"
Food: Incredibly flavorful soft tacos with shredded pork and a red onion relish. Served with Shepherd's homemade verde hot sauce.
Beer: Imperial DunkelWit (Nøgne Ø - Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri). Spicy dark wheat beer with strong nuances of coriander, orange peel, licorice, and chocolate. Not yet available for sale in Texas. Floyd explained that words like "Imperial," "Dopple" or "Double" often seen on labels all mean the same thing: Super (as in to the max).
Course 5 "Funky"
Food: Shepherd's self-described "Wild Card," a rich plantain-based Puerto Rican mofongo in a rich gravy, topped with shredded goat meat. Our favorite course of the meal.
Beer: Wild Devil Ale (Victory Brewing Co.). Our first experience with sour ales. Wild yeast (floramyces) is substituted for the well-behaved saccharomyces cerevisiae normally used in top fermenting styles. It behaves similarly to a wild animal, creating unpredictable variations in the formula. This beer smelled funky, but the flavors of banana, clove, and citrus were a spot-on match for the mofongo. A very stinky beer.
Course 6 "Burgers & Beans"
Food: Mini-burger on a pretzel bun. Patty was cooked rare and stuffed with melted Swiss cheese. Baked beans were actually local peas prepared in a vinegar-based sauce.
Beer: Hop Stoopid (Lagunitas). Although not particularly fond of this beer, we did appreciate how the sharp flavor cut through the heavy burger and complemented the vinegar in the baked beans.
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Course 7 "Chocolate + Stout = Heaven"
Food: A divine, velvety "chocolate pudding thing" (Shepherd's words) served with a caramel wafer, topped with chocolate ice cream.
Beer: Imperial Russian Stout (Stone Brewing Company). A rich, bitter stout flavored with black currant and coffee. We put our scoop of ice cream directly into our beer for the ultimate flavor combination.
For gastro-adventurers, Catalan head chef Chris Shepherd will be teaching a "Pig Butchering" course on October 27 where he'll show how to break down an entire pig. Not for the faint of heart (call 713-426-4260 for more info, to reserve your spot). Kevin Floyd will hosts another Houston Beer Week event on Friday, October 15, at Anvil Bar & Refuge (Gravity Cask 2010) featuring beers custom-made for Anvil with unique casks from local and continental European breweries.