The Monk’s Kettle: A "destination" beer tour for the refined yet unpretentious
By Susan White
If you’re looking for a classy way to get drunk in the middle of the week – sans the extravagant snobbery of the Marina – you might want to try partaking in one of the Monk’s Kettle’s beer-pairing dinners, now held the first Wednesday of every month.
The Monk’s Kettle is a craft-beer bar located near 16th and Valencia, smack in the middle of our city’s bustling Mission District. Unlike typical gastropubs, this one prides itself on its slightly upscale atmosphere and unique variety of brews (over 150 on its constantly rotating menu, not including the 24 they keep on tap at all times). Yet this tavern doesn’t harbor an exclusive or imposing attitude. According to co-founder Christian Albertson, who opened the establishment in 2007, the Monk’s Kettle merely seeks to "educate" its consumers on the extensive world of beer, providing a friendly and relaxed environment in which to do so. Each of its staff members are trained to recommend brews based on individuals’ tastes, and each course on the menu is listed with suggested beer pairings to go with it. Combining food and beer seems to be a tradition the founders have upheld from inception – only now have they decided to make it an official event.
On June 3, the Monk’s Kettle offered a five-course beer dinner featuring Deschutes Brewery of Oregon, whose representatives were there to host the event. Guests were required to pay a steep cover charge of 80 dollars per person and make reservations in advance (well in advance – according to Albertson, their beer-pairing dinners are now "booked until next April").
Those in attendance mingled with the staff and representatives during Happy Hour, sipping the complimentary "welcome beer" – a surprisingly potent amber called Green Lakes Organic Ale. The décor was warm and inviting, with candles lit around the room and an impressive display of beer glasses behind the bar. Yet the room’s sheer lack of size was often frustrating; I felt a little cramped by the partitions between each table, not to mention the general lack of surface area. (Keeping more than one dish – or indeed beverage – on one’s table at a time was a nearly impossible feat to accomplish.) I was also a little off-put by the scarcity of bathrooms, which became an increasingly precious commodity as the night wore on. (Surely a place that specializes in beer would have thought to build more than one restroom?)
Each course was preceded by a brief introduction by one of the representatives, who promised, "If you don’t know about beer, you will by the end of the evening." While I normally don’t like my eating experiences to be educational, the speakers were engaging enough prevent the whole affair from feeling like a lecture. Guests often chimed in to ask questions, and even teased the people who were speaking. It was more of a casual gathering, if anything, which captures the spirit of beer entirely.
Each dish (designed by chef Kevin Kroger) was marinated in the Deschutes beer it was featured with, including the first: a slightly adventurous mixed greens salad. It combined blue cheese and fresh strawberries, among other sweet and savory things. While I could appreciate this classic amalgamation of opposing flavors, I was somewhat disappointed by the bland salad dressing, which seemed to primarily consist of its corresponding beer (the Mirror Pond Pale Ale, one of Deschutes’ best-selling). I enjoyed it much better in beverage form, where it was easier to detect the wide variety of hops and bitter flavor.
The second course – the mouthwatering Roasted Tomato Basil Bisque – got me substantially more excited. It somehow managed to achieve the perfect combination of tomatoes and cream, with little hints of onion and basil thrown into the mix. I particularly enjoyed the texture of the soup, which was light and foamy, just like the beer it was paired with (Cinder Cone Red). Both had the same fluffy, air-like quality, with subtle suggestions of sweetness. It was a brilliant pairing; were it a regular feature on the menu, I would probably return for dinner on a regular basis.
For the third course, one had the option of trying the surprisingly tender rosemary game hen, or the cheesy vegetable timbale. I had a bite of the latter and wish I had gone with that instead; it had more of a full-bodied taste, which complimented the Red Chair beer quite nicely. (Everyone knows that beer and cheese are soulmates.) The hen was enjoyable, but could have used more seasoning; somehow, the jus de poulet (again, made with the corresponding beverage) wasn’t enough to suffice. I liked beer’s muted flavor, however, which lacked the bitterness of the previous three I had consumed. It had more of a creamy texture to it, which made for smoother drinking.
By the time the fourth course was brought out, the crowd was riotous. ("If you’re wasted, it’s okay," said the moderator to raucous peals of laughter.) Though I enjoyed the rare Chateaubriand I drunkenly consumed, I was slightly disappointed by the reappearance of the Yukon potatoes, which had also complimented the game hen (only now they were in mashed form). But the beer pairing more than made up for it – a sweet "wine-y beer" made with apricots and raisins, the perfect segue into dessert.
The final beer (Black Butte) was a confusing brew made with coffee and chocolate, which I half-expected to wake me up. This one had the strong, bitter aroma of an espresso, yet the after-effects of beer (which practically shattered the remnants of my crumbling sobriety). What chocolate I couldn’t taste in the beverage was more than compensated for in the delicious Fondant cake I devoured, with its succulent, beer-drenched cherries in the middle. It was the perfect conclusion to a delectable evening. I left the tavern both sated and drunk, yet in the most refined way possible. Mission accomplished.
Next pairing July 1 with Firestone Walker
Check Website for details
3141 16th St., SF