Editor’s Note: None of the regular LouisvilleBeer.com contributors made it to this event, so our friend Mark Robinson, submitted this review:
What Happens When Fusion Meets Tradition?
When I first got the email from Varanese restaurant about a beer pairing dinner, I was really stoked. Then I saw the beers were from BBC and had a bit of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been going to BBC St. Matthews since it opened and am in the tap room at Clay and Main at least once a month, if only for the L.A.G.E.R.S. home brew club meeting. But the beers they had chosen for the pairing were the mainstays of BBC. I wanted some of the more creative beers, like Homewrecker or something Joel was fooling around with at the tap room. But then I thought what better way to showcase the qualities that have made these beers BBC’s favorites than to challenge John Varanese to bring out the best in both food and beer. So I emailed some of my beer buddies and home brewing friends and got pretty much the same reaction from them as my initial one. Eh. Only one adventurous home brewer responded simply, “I’ll go”. So Zane Thorn and I braved the now familiar insane cold on a Tuesday night and settled in for some introductory comments from Phil Dearner of BBC who talked a little about how the pairing had come together and a little about the beers. Then the meal began.
The beer: BBC Amber Ale
BBC’s venerable alt-bier. Renamed for the masses. If you like alt-bier, pour it in a glass and hide the label.
The beer: BBC Nut Brown Ale
Paired with: Tempura Fried Laughing Bird Shrimp with Popcorn, Peanuts and Popcorn Shoots Tossed in a Sweet Chili Thai Butter Sauce
Take me out to the ballgame. Popcorn and peanuts in a classy joint like Varanese? The buttery popcorn shoots take the spotlight here. The chili butter sauce added just enough bite to set your taste buds up for the smooth Nut Brown Ale to take this across the finish line. If you haven’t tried BBC’s Nut Brown in a while, you should revisit this old friend. It has nice caramel notes but the hop balance keeps it from being too sweet.
The beer: BBC American Pale Ale
Paired with: Crackling Breaded Fried Sharp Cheddar
Served with Baby Romaine with Bacon Lardons and Grape Tomatoes Topped with a Gorgonzola and Buttermilk Dressing
A mozzarella stick – only with sharp cheddar – on steroids. Creamy cheese innards are the glue to the crackling breading. The crispy romaine and bacon add the crunch de resistance. The tartness of the dressing makes one bite a mouthful. Then, voila, the APA cuts right through it all. This standard-bearer of BBC really shines on this pairing. A very well-balanced beer, with good hop flavor and aroma.
The beer: BBC Dark Star Porter
Paired with: Slow Roasted Smoked Leg of Lamb
Served with Lamb Belly Baked Beans, Napa Cabbage Slaw and Tobacco Onions Finished with a Dark Star BBQ
Who says you can’t tailgate in winter? I’m no connoisseur of lamb, but I’ve never seen it prepared like this. Like a boneless filet. In the dinners I’ve been to at Varanese, the meat can be the weak spot and this was true here in my opinion. The outside had a great grilled flavor and consistency. But the rest was chewy or fatty. However, the juice oozed into the baked beans with a hardy savory result. The tobacco onions added to the earthy saltiness. The slaw brought a much-needed tartness in relief. All of which gave the Dark Star Porter the foundation it needed to strut its stuff. The first whiff and taste telegraphs its roasty character. A little fruitiness comes out in mid-palate and then it finishes dry. Touchdown.
The beer: BBC Bourbon Barrel Stout
Paired with: Custard Battered Deep Fried Banana French Toast With Sorghum and Dried Cherry Syrup Served with Brown Sugar-Bourbon Ice Cream
A great dessert and a great beer. Just not together. This was the only miss of the night. The complex dessert was all about sweet caramel flavors. As clichéd as it seems, stouts work so well with chocolate and dark fruit it’s a shame that John (Varanese) didn’t go with it and work his creative magic in that tried and true arena. BBC’s flagship beer didn’t disappoint, but would have been more enjoyable with a dish that brought out its smooth roast and slight alcohol warmth.
So at the end of the night was it worth 50 bucks? I think so. I’ve suggested to them to reach out to some other breweries, like Apocalypse, to pair with a wider range of beers and hopefully, they’ll continue these pairings. If so, I hope to see more of the true beer geeks at one in the future.