By Robyn Johnson
The second decade of the millennium has ushered in some upheavals, and whether they’re for the better or worse it’s hard to say. Tea Partiers are the new Republicans. Doughnuts are the new cupcakes. And now, beer is the new wine.
I recently attended the increasingly popular SF Beer Week, specifically the “A Taste of the Rogue Nation” event at the Rogue Ale Pub House, featuring a delightful cornucopia of their popular brews. Beer sommelier Sheana Davis of the Epicurean Connection elevated the status of the tasting from a mere beer bust to a frou-frou gourmet gathering with her artfully chosen pairings of artisan cheeses and chocolates. Although a little under a dozen samples were served, the following are the highlights -- and what I could mostly remember to take notes on after several drinks. (Like true beer badasses, we did not expectorate.)
The tasting started off with Dirtoir Black Lager. Obsidian in color, it looked like coffee, it smelled like coffee, and it tasted like… coffee-ish beer: dark, roasted, and bitter. It was tasty in itself, but the lager became quite a treat when paired with the sampling of Rouge de Noir Le Petit Dejeuner—a sweet, creamy cheese with a white rind covered in penicillium fungi. Our lovely hostess Sheana told us it was mostly eaten as a morning cheese, which partially explained how well it complemented a coffee-like lager.
The Morimoto Soba Ale was also interesting, at least conceptually. A collaboration between Rogue and Chef Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame), the specialty grain ale makes use of buckwheat—the same grain used for the flour of soba noodles. The taste was reminiscent of my favorite cheap beer, Asahi (Don’t kill me, beer aficionados, or Chef Morimoto.) In other words, it was refreshing, crisp, light, and on the dry side. I had a hard time placing the buckwheat nuttiness, though.
Not originally included in our tasting menu, John John Dead Guy Ale snuck in as an additional round. Another collaborative product, it’s comprised of Dead Guy Ale (creative contribution of Rogue Brewmaster John Maier) that has been aged in the leftover barrels of Dead Guy Whiskey (Rogue Spirits Master Distiller John Couchot’s input in the unholy scheme). It was delicate and sweet with the oaky notes of whiskey. To give us a basis of comparison, Double Dead Guy Ale was served immediately afterwards; with twice the normal amount of ingredients, it’s also twice as alcoholic. More bitter and less carbonated, it had a ghost of a caramel flavor.
While I did not care for the next round of Yellow Snow IPA, the immediate and bold hop flavor really assaulted my palate (for you hopheads, though, this beer’s for you), it’s worth mentioning because the cheese pairing was manna from heaven. Aged for 8 years, Widmer Cellar’s special cheddar actually develops crystals of condensed cheese, which adds a fun consistency to the concentrated, tangy flavor. It’s really the Übermensch of cheddar.
Finishing as the appropriate crescendo to the evening with rich, deep flavors, the Russian Imperial Stout, paired with Sheana’s espresso cookies, conjured up leather and smoke and the flashing eyes of Ivan the Great as he took to the battlefield against the advancing Mongol horde: earthy and full. I have to point out that at this point my intoxication level was at its peak, perhaps affecting my judgment. But the beer and its pairing were good in the way that dark, strong, and chocolatey foods are good.
All in all, my first foray into the complexities of beer and its relationship to food was edifying, especially in the case of the delicious synergism between the Dirtoir Black Lager and Rouge de Noir Le Petit Dejeuner. The conclusion? A pint glass can replace my wine glass any time.
Rogue Ales Public House
673 Union, SF
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