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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.