Thursday, March 6, 2008

Clipper City Dinner with Lucy Saunders

Wednesday evening I had the pleasure to attend a fine beer and food event at Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg, VA. Chef Patrick Dinh prepared 6 dishes from The Best of American Beer & Food. The author of this cookbook, Lucy Saunders, along with Hugh Sisson and Tom Cizauskas, both of Clipper City Brewing were our hosts and all regaled us with interesting information about beer, food and Clipper City.

Since I'll be marking half a century of life in a couple of weeks, my ticket to the event was an early birthday gift from my wife. It wasn't feasible for both of us to get away to attend the dinner as it was a 2 hour drive from home, and on a "school night." So Colleen said I should go AND spend the night in Leesburg to avoid the long drive home after dinner. Clipper City is one of my favorite breweries, and that we're fans of Lucy Saunders' book is no secret to readers of this blog. So this was an exceptionally special gift. (Dear reader, your envy is forgiven, I am indeed a lucky man.)

The Menu

Course 1: Lager Steamed Mushroom Dumplings with MärzHon Sweet and Sour Sauce, served with Balto MärzHon

Course 2: Angry Shrimp "Szechuan" Style, served with a fresh cask of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale

Course 3: Fennel Crusted Rack of Lamb, with Barley Risotto and Peg Leg Stout Sauce, served with a fresh cask of Peg Leg Imperial Stout

Course 4: Holy Sheet Glazed Angus Skirt Steak with Cumin Pepper Onions and Raclette Potatoes, served with Holy Sheet Über Abbey Ale

Course 5: “Hooks 1 Year Blue” with Nut Bread, Pear Coulis and Micro-herb salad, served with Below Decks Barleywine (2007 vintage)

Course 6: Coconut Cream Pie Dessert with Hang Ten Marshmallows, served with Hang Ten Weizen Dopplebock (2007 vintage)

Now that you are salivating, let me add that the experience exceeded all expectations. Chef Dinh prepared a repast extraordinaire. All of the pairings worked extremely well. You will notice in the list above, not one, but two casks. Good beers on cask are not common finds, but this night we were treated to two casks of fresh ale.

The six beers selected for the evening were served in order of increasing ABV. I knew we where in for an extrAARGHdinary experience when by the third course the beer was already up to 8% ABV!

One topic of discussion during the evening was "are cask ales better than their non-cask versions?" That's probably a rhetorical question as they are often different beasts and hard to compare. However, when I was enjoying my fresh-casked Peg Leg Stout, I remarked to Tom Cizauskas that this was the best Peg Leg I'd ever tasted. The flavor is full of roasted malts and chocolate, highly drinkable with just enough bitterness to keep it interesting. The casking really smooths out and blends the flavors. If I had to pick one course as my favorite, I'd say it was the lamb and Peg Leg Stout.

Before the second course, Lucy Saunders, Hugh Sisson and I were discussing how to pair beer with spicy food. Does one want a highly hopped beer to accentuate and continue the flavor on the palate, or does one want more of a palate cleansing beer with the food? Well, I don't believe there is a definitive answer. But we do know in this case, the Loose Cannon Ale was a perfect match for the "Szechuan" spice of the shrimp. The spice wasn't fire-hot but it was very present, and the hoppy ale enhanced the flavoring on this dish. This pairing gets the vote as my second favorite course of the evening.

It was a pleasure to finally meet in person, both Lucy and Hugh, having had only electronic exchanges with them in the past. And it was fun to meet up with Tom Cizauskas again. Besides beer-related conversation, we both enjoyed a laugh over our fond remembrances of phonograph records. Of course I dropped another hint for a Clipper City dinner in Fredericksburg. :-) Shawn Malone, and the entire staff at Tuskies, did a superb job in presenting this dinner. If you find yourself in Leesburg, be sure to visit Tuscarora Mill. When it comes to craft beer and food appreciation, suffice it to say, they get it.

In the top photo are Chef Dinh, Lucy, and Shawn. At the bottom, Shawn and Tom successfully tap the Peg Leg Stout.
More photos from the evening are posted here.

Update, March 9: Tom Cizauskas has posted his notes on the dinner here.

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