For those who have never
met the man behind one of the most successful breweries in the world, these
dinners are a great time to do it. I can remember meeting Sam Calagione
many years ago and thinking that his wacky way of doing things could possibly
be the "hook" that everyone looks for in business. Well, it has proven
to be a successful formula but only because Sam is doing it. He has more
energy and charisma than any 10 people I know and a brain full of ideas
that some people have called "gimmicky"(though he has made many of them
believers). He has also assembled a staff of brewers and salespeople that
think a lot like him..."off-centered ales for off-centered people" has
become the company's motto. But you can't argue with the growth that this
company has had in the last decade. Sam and crew may make some quirky beers,
but they are good beers and show that innovation is not only "trendy" but
tasty as well. Many of his beers have proven to be so popular, they worked
their way into their lineup as regulars or seasonals. But I digress.....as
one of his biggest fans(Michael Jackson) used to say.
This event sold out long before the day and Tom Peters decided to open up the whole restaurant for the dinner and used the waiting list+ 8 extras to fill the place. That made a lot of people happy! As a matter of fact, my friend Tony couldn't attend, so our friend Kevin Kelly made the journey with us. BTW, Kevin is a vegetarian and Monks assured us he would be accommodated.
The dinner began with the usual introduction by the famed George Hummel. Sam got the troops ready for a great dinner prepared by Mr. Peters and staff talking about some of the beers we were to drink. The anticipation was growing to get started!
Out came the first libation of the evening...an '04 Festina Lente. This sour ale had aged to perfection in my estimation. It was only slightly oxidized and retained a strong tartness. Unfortunately, there was only a limited supply of this fine beer, so only 4oz. was served to each! Bummer!!! Sam brought 9 bottles of this out of his private stash and Tom Peters added another 9 from his. Only 24 bottles remain in Sam's collection! For the Amuse Bouche, we were served a Foie Gras Torchon w/Peach Compote. I'm not a fan of pate, but it paired well with the Festina.
Next was Pangaea, the beer made with ingredients from all 7 continents.....crystallized ginger from Australia, basmati rice from Asia, water from Antarctica, muscavado sugar from Africa, South American quinoa, European yeast and North American maize. For the uninformed, Pangaea was the name of the large land mass that inhabited the oceans before it split up into the separate continents as we know it today. To accompany this, we had Scrapple "Toast" w/a Roquefort Deviled Egg. I love scrapple, but bleu cheese does not sit well with me, so I passed that on to my wife.
Our next beer was one that I was not able to taste at other events, so I was glad that Sam brought it. 75 Minute IPA was formulated for firkin distribution and being a lover of cask ales, I was real happy with this beer. A most unusual food was served with this beer...a Chinese Pancake w/Pork Belly and Uku(grey snapper) and scallion, cilantro and plum sauce. Very tasty however and a great accompaniment to the 75 MIPA.
Another beer I've never sampled before was Black Thai, a 9% brew made with blackberries and basil. Extremely good! Served with Pasta w/Tomato Concasse w/shaved fennel, garlic, chili d'arbol and basil. The pasta was quite spicy on the tongue which was a pleasant surprise but the Thai stood up to it well.
One of my favorite beers made by DFH was the next offering. Red & White is made with pinot noir juice and aged in pinot noir barrels giving it a nice fruitiness and just a touch of oak. All the oeniphiles I know who have tasted this beer love it and has opened up their palates to try other beers. I have several bottles aging and I just bought some of this years vintage to add to the collection. We were served Filet Mignon w/pinot noir sauce, herb roasted bliss potatoes and young bulls blood beet tops. Everything about this course was excellent. The steak was melt-in-your-mouth, potatoes savory and the beet tops an interesting touch.
For the dessert, we had a nice Tart Tartin, a sweet caramel apple tart accompanied by Palo Santo Marron, a 12% monster aged in a 9000 gal wooden cask of the same name. DFH had this cask built at a cost of $120,000 just for this beer. This shows the dedication to his craft that Sam exhibits. One of the densest woods in the world, it comes form South America and was not easy to work with. The beer exhibits a distinct woodiness to it and imparts flavors of caramel and vanilla bean.
Kevin said that his vegetarian selections were excellent despite being the only one that had to be specially prepared.
Another fantastic showing by the Monks crew and DFH's imaginative products. If you ever get a chance to go to a dinner with Sam, do it! You won't regret the money spent!