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Friday, May 25, 2012

Beer and Bacon Dinner- Tuscarora Mill Restaurant

For our next beer related post, we figured we'd talk about a beer dinner we went to back in February right here in Leesburg, at Tuscarora Mill Restaurant. They run a number of beer dinners through the year, each one featuring a specific brewery, or in this case specific foods to pair with beer. This was our first beer dinner at Tuskies, and we'll be going back again! As forewarning, the photos aren't great since they were taken quickly with an iPhone, since we didn't want to be the jerks with a flash going off at every course, and we weren't about to wait to compose a perfect picture while bacon got cold!

For this, both Amy and myself will be commenting on the food and beer for each course. As you'll see, we'll put our names in big bold print before our options after an initial description of each course and it's beer pairing.

Upon entering, we were given glasses of Lagunitas Censored Ale (AKA Kronic). This is a fairly hoppy red ale. As with all Lagunitas beers, you can definitely smell and taste the hops.
Zach- I enjoyed it, and could imagine it being good to pair with a spicy soup. Lagunitas beers don't shy away from using aggressive hops, and that was evident with Censored. It's definitely a step up from a pale ale, maybe bordering on an IPA in terms of hop presence. All in all, a drinkable beer.
Amy -- This was a good beer, though a bit hoppy for my tastes but the hops were used in the way I like, mostly as aroma and not leaving the bitter taste in my mouth.  I thought it was a great opener to sort of wake up your palate and get you ready for the bacon-centric (ie pork fat filled) foods to follow.  

Lagunitas Censored Ale

Our first real food/beer pairing was a mini BLT (with tiny waffle chips) with Stone Pale Ale.
Zach- The BLT itself was tasty, but the bread was a little dry without the toasty brown color I would expect. Tasty, but not excellent. The Stone Pale Ale is a prototypical American Pale Ale, full of hop aroma but not overly bitter. It poured a nice orange-amber color, and I would enjoy drinking it again.
Amy -- I LOVED the waffle chips/fries/whatever they were.  They were crispy and delicious and everything that a fried potato product should be.  The BLT was good, nothing special, just a basic BLT but I find that to be comforting in a simple way.  The beer was a good pairing, as usual I prefer any pale ales with food.  On their own I find them to be too overwhelming, but this pairing worked.  
Stone Pale Ale with Mini BLT

The second course was pancetta wrapped monkfish on creamed spinach with bacon, paired with Bell's Two Hearted Ale.
Zach- The monkfish was fantastic, but really what wouldn't be fantastic when wrapped in bacon? As far as the beer, I enjoyed the Two Hearted, but after sampling a fellow homebrewer's attempt at a clone, I have to say that the homebrewer made a much better beer. Now, when I drink Two Hearted the hops just seem subdued and dim. I wish there was more hop aroma, but overall it's quaffable.
Amy -- This course was my second favorite.  But, I agree with Zach, what isn't good wrapped in bacon??  Again, I liked the pairing and didn't mind the hoppiness of the beer when matched with food.  I enjoyed the big portions of beer to really be able to evaluate it on it's own and with the food.  
Delicious monkfish with Bell's Two Hearted Ale

Next up was one of our favorite courses: spicy bacon sausage bits over a chipotle tomato sauce with a smoked gouda crostini, paired with Founder's Dry Hop Pale Ale.
Zach-This was a great dish, with a lot of spice from the sausage that was inspired by a Portugese lingua seca. Lots of flavor, and the little crostini was deliciously crispy. The beer was pretty well paired for a dish like this, with the pungent hop aroma mixing well with the spicy sausage. In this case, I think the beer and food combo was great, but by now I was looking for something other than hops to pair with the food.
Amy -- This was definitely my favorite course.  The sausage was spicy and juicy and delicious and was a great pairing with the beer.  I do agree with Zach that the hoppiness of the successive pale ales was getting to be repetitive and would have enjoyed some other styles of beers somewhere along the line.  
Spicy sausage with Founder's Dry Hop Ale (on the left)

The next entree/beer combo was orange braised pork belly with spicy kimchee, soba noodles and crushed peanuts, paired with New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale.
Zach- I really liked the pork belly, and thought the overall dish worked very well. I like the Asian flavors, and a big piece of pork belly paired with noodles is ok with me any day of the week. The Cabin Fever Brown Ale was nice and malty, and we finally got something that didn't feature a ton of hops. There was good maltiness to this beer, some slight hops, and a long lasting nutty finish. I would definitely drink this beer on it's own.
Amy -- This dish was 'ehhhhh' to me.  Not my favorite, and not bad, but not great either.  I didn't get to finish mine, the staff took my plate away while I was in the restroom, but I wasn't entirely disappointed about that.  If it had been the previous course I would have been much more upset!  I was glad for a new style to pair with the food, and this beer was great.  I'm finding I enjoy brown ales more than I thought I did and have started ordering them as an option for drinking more often, probably partly due to this great beer experience.  
Noodles and New Holland Cabin Fever

Our final entree combo was fatty smoked brisket over saffron mashed potatoes with bacon braised brussels sprouts, paired with both Stone Smoked Porter and Great Divide Smoked Porter.
Zach- Absolutely nothing was bad on this plate of food. The brisket was smoky and tender, the potatoes smooth and creamy, and the brussels sprouts were just like we would make on our own. All in all, a fantastic plate of food. The beers were spot on in terms of matching the plate of food. Both were big, intense porters with a lot of flavor. The Stone Smoked Porter had a ton of smoke flavor in it and a really nice mouthfeel. The Great Divide was a little more bitter from what I remember, and had a lot of roasty flavors. If you haven't had a smoked beer before, the comparison of bacon in a glass is fairly apt. Look for lots of roasty flavors in this case from the dark malts used, as well as huge smokiness. I'm a big fan of smoked beers, and I would add both of these to my growing cellar to enjoy on their own. However, I do feel both of these would be great for a summer BBQ.
Amy -- I liked that this course came with two beers that were the same style but from different breweries.  I think that was a great way to be able to compare the beers to each other alone, but also be able to compare them as partners for the food.  I liked both beers, but I like anything smoked, so that's not a surprise.  The smoked beer was a great pairing for any dish with bacon, but I think it was the perfect choice for this dish since the porters really balanced the fattier brisket and sometimes bitter brussel sprouts.  
Brisket (yum!) with Stone Smoked Porter (left) and Great Divide Smoked Porter (right)

Our dessert consisted of a bacon brownie paired with Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti and Bell's Java Stout.
Zach- The brownie itself was good, but at this point we were pretty full. It had good chocolate flavor, and nice chunks of bacon. I would have preferred a slightly gooey-er brownie, but this was probably much easier to cut up for large scale service. Both beers were good, but again at this point we were starting to cut back on drinking and were simply too full to enjoy all of the beer. There was a lot of coffee flavor in both stouts, and you could definitely pick up the oak on the Yeti. I would drink both of these stouts on their own at any time.
Amy -- I was stuffed at this point.  I remember the candied bacon on top being excellent, but not being able to finish my brownie from being so full.  The beers were super, so I saved my little remaining stomach room for them.  The coffee flavors of the beers matched really well with the chocolate of the brownie and it was a great way to end the evening!
Bacon+brownie=awesome. Also with Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti (left) and Bell's Java Stout (right)

So to summarize, we got a ton of food, and very generous beer pours at each course. We went in expecting to get 4 oz pairings with each course, but instead were served almost full glasses of each beer! It felt bad to leave behind undrunk beer, but we had to be responsible and make sure we could drive home. Next time we will not make the mistake of grabbing a pre-dinner beer! The Tuskie's Beer and Bacon dinner is going on our calendar as soon as it's announced next year, and you'll find us right there.

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