Beer, sweet beer

A surprising niche for suds
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In beer's ongoing search for a place at the table set with a white linen tablecloth, dessert presents itself as an unlikely but promising niche. Reputable brewers seem convinced that their offerings match up at least as well as wine with many savory dishes, in part because beer tastes less strongly of alcohol and is therefore the food's servant rather than its competitor, but during a recent beer-and-high-cuisine dinner at Rubicon, I found myself yearning for some nicely acidic wine — red, white, champers, I would gladly have taken a glass of any of it, though the menu had been chosen to flatter and be flattered by the accompanying beers.

The dishes certainly sounded beerworthy: crispy buttermilk-marinated quail (a tony relative of fried chicken) on a bed of tart onions and preserved lemon, followed by a slab of beer-braised beef short ribs, with carrot puree and roasted wild mushrooms. The fact that all of this was basically glorified pub food didn't diminish its tastiness, nor its compatibility with beer — but it was also cripplingly rich. Just one of these dishes would have filled my richness quota for a month. But there was dessert too.

The sweet course was remarkable not so much in itself — an oat crunch cake, spiced like a carrot cake and served with a pat of chocolate ice cream fortified with stout — as for what it managed to do for a pair of libations. Under its penumbra of sugariness, a dark cream stout tasted almost like black coffee, while a beer-derived postprandial liqueur — rather cloying on its own — acquired a steadying deepness on the tongue to accompany its deep, slightly cloudy caramel color.

The beer cordial (Utopias from Samuel Adams, if you're curious) is being marketed as a cognac and port alternative and is priced accordingly. On its own it was shapelessly sweet; it lacked cognac's clarifying fire and port's engulfing grapy richness. But this is America, and in America, apparently, there is no such thing as too sweet. While cognac and port have their grown-up stringencies, Utopias is soft and lovable, even when served in a sophisticated-looking brandy snifter. It is, however, 27 percent alcohol, which means that, like a chocolate martini, it's stronger than it looks. Be careful or you'll get tipsy, knock over your snifter, and stain the white linen tablecloth.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

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