Beer - a historically egalitarian and traditionally working-class beverage of the masses - is now becoming something for which a premium must be paid and only the privileged can afford (at least the good stuff). On the other hand, what this means is that, finally, craft beer is increasing in desirability among the elite and gaining the artistic and gastronomic credibility traditionally reserved only for wine. And with regard to food pairings, craft beer - with its diverse color, texture, flavor and aroma profiles - has the potential to blow wine out of the water .
I think most craft beer enthusiasts would agree that our technically proficient and creative craft brewers deserve this recognition. One also can't deny the necessity of charging more for beer that costs more money to produce and to age. The beautiful thing about craft beer is that it hasn't abandoned its beverage-for-the-masses roots altogether in that it remains relatively affordable, compared to wine.
The Upright Barrel-aged Vintage Beer Dinner - with a seven-course menu by Grain and Gristle chef, Nathaniel Price - was more than this writer-slash-beer-slinger could really afford, and certainly more than I've ever paid for any brewer's dinner. Still, I jumped on my ticket as soon as I heard about it. I wasn't alone. Despite the price, I was told that tickets sold out in less than a week.
The portions were a perfect size each time, artistically presented with a keen eye for balance and color. The flavors were a perfect match with each beer, providing both compliment and contrast - and all with mouth-watering complexity. Vintage Upright beers speak for themselves and are always phenomenal. Vertical tastings illuminated a stark contrast between the different vintages. Both educational and explosive, each course was a synergistic experience of orgasmic proportions.
Keep your eye out for future Upright dinner events, because experiences such as this are priceless...
Beer descriptions below are from the Upright website:
Ham hock rillettes, graham cracker, sour cherry and mustard seed - a perfect balance of sweet and savory in the dish, the tartness of the beer bringing out the sweetness and blending with the fruit. This was the an excellent indication of great things to come.
- paired with 2012 and 2013 Blend Love
- A mix of barrel aged Four (a wheat saison) and Six (a dark rye saison) using cherry and raspberry along with souring yeasts and bacteria. It's fruit forward in the nose with a balanced flavor bringing the malts and oak together. Named for friend and colleague Ben Love of Gigantic Brewing Company.
Strawberry, beet, chevre, fenugreek cracker, and rose - the complexity was phenomenal in this pairing, bringing together an herbal fruitiness, bitter greens balancing sweet beet and strawberry and floral tartness of the beer illuminating the same.
- paired with 2013 Flora
- The Flora Rustica (saison) is a prime candidate for barrel aging and much like the Saison du Blodget, produces a historic flavor profile in this bottling. Not quite as hoppy but drawing from the botanical elements of yarrow and calendula, the Flora displays a significant lactic edge to sharpen the otherwise earthy flavors.
Chilled almond and bread soup with chili oil - cool richness and warm richness combine to make a perfect pairing. The aging mellows hop character and adding malt complexity.
- paired with 2013 Sole Composition Single Cask Six
- Six is a dark saison textured with spicy rye across layers of flavorful malts, contrasted by delicate fruit notes and finishing dry.
Asparagus, fava, radish, fried salami, grapefruit and chile oil
- paired with 2011 Fatali Four
- A blend of gin and wine barrel aged Four that has fresh homegrown fatali chiles added for a couple months before bottling. It also incorporates light use of brettanomyces yeasts providing a contrasting earthy backdrop for the bright chile flavors.
Salmon tartare, green garlic, celery and fennel juice, sea bean and pretzel - this dish screamed fresh and cool, apricot and a lot of Brett character to add a earthy tartness which brought out the subtle flavors of the dish.
- paired with 2014 Anniversary Saison
- Beginning with the fifth anniversary of the brewery in 2014, an anniversary saison will be released annually. It combines gin and wine barrels with light use of apricots in a Cascade hopped brew, combining elements we love to produce a dry, snappy, and complex profile.
main, served family-style
Jerk pork, cauliflower and alliums, chicories, apricots and basil - this was certainly a rare treat as Fantasia tends to fly fast and I had yet to try it. All three years were excellent but vastly different. The real stand-outs for this pairing was, first, the color - of both the beer and edible flowers adorning the dish - then the amazing way tart peach complimented and contrasted the sweet pork.
- paired with 2011, 2012 and 2013 Fantasia
- A barrel fermented beer using fresh peaches from Baird Family Orchards. The Fantasia is firmly tart and hugely aromatic with a character not unlike Belgian fruit lambics. Minimum one year on oak before an extended bottle conditioning prior to release.
dessert, served family-style
Senneri Hittisau Bergkase (a cheese...yes, I had to look it up), pickled green strawberry, L'Amuse aged gouda, golden raisin and carrot five spice chutney, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen bleu, and smoked candied hazelnut - the rich sweetness of dessert was actually in the beer with this pairing, which was perfect. Brininess of the aged cheese contrasted the rich malt character while the chutney complimented.
- paired with 2010, 2011, and 2013 Billy the Mountain
- Inspired by the great Prize Old Ale once brewed by Gales in England, this beer is deeply malty and full of ripe fruit, leather, wine and oak flavors. The Billy is partially barrel aged with brettanomyces yeast, lending a distinct twang and developing unique aromas over time.