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Southern Star Beer Dinner at VOICE

Wine is typically the chosen buzz agent at fine-dining establishments, but chef Michael Kramer and the Southern Star Brewery are out to break some habits. Last week, VOICE hosted the latest in a string of dinners in which beer takes the supporting role alongside a multi-course meal. And not just any beer -- Southern Star. Brewed locally in Conroe, Southern Star has quickly risen through the ranks of the hopperati, popping up in bars, corner stores and conversations all over town. The young brewery offers three craft beers -- a blonde ale, a pale ale, and a stout -- and VOICE chef Michael Kramer used them each to demonstrate that, yes, beer does just fine with white linen.

Course one matched roast Lincolnshire sausage with Southern Star's Bombshell Blonde. The sausage, made in-house, was chunky and juicy, with a tremendously smooth flavor that paired beautifully with the golden-hued, light-tasting ale. Alongside the sausage came truffled frisee, currants and roasted potatoes; the mellow, uncomplicated flavors were almost like a palate cleanser, setting the stage for the courses to come. The second course featured Chef Kramer's classic chicken with bacon, caramelized onions and a garlic pan sauce, served with Southern Star's Pine Belt Ale. The chicken was fine -- nothing spectacular -- but complemented the copper-colored ale exceptionally. The hoppiness of the beer played well with the simplicity of the chicken, leaving even the most skeptical among us in awe of the artistry involved in creating these pairs.

Course three paired a softball-size portion of braised beef short ribs with Southern Star's Buried Hatchet Stout. Topped with a stout beer sauce, the dense, hearty meat gave way instantly at the touch of a fork. And while the dish was well-prepared, a hearty, heavy meat paired with a hearty, heavy beer was overwhelming on a warm spring night. Still, the pairing was right on.

The dessert plate featured a hazelnut shortbread and raspberry ice cream sandwich with a Chapeau Framboise Lambic from the Belgian brewery DeTroch. Cutting into the unbearably dense shortbread was a formidable task, and it's always a little odd when the pairing is sweeter than the actual dessert. The dessert was a bit of a let-down, but no matter -- it was a clear step away from the evening's purpose and spotlight.

The Southern Star / VOICE dinner was a refreshing meal which inspired a new way of thinking among its diners. Never once did the beer seem base or out of place. Rather, the three Southern Star beers earned gold stars across the board. My $50 bought me a fleeting full stomach and a lasting education.

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