Stone Brewing Company comes to Julian’s
Stone is the country’s number one brewer. And they know it.
Stone’s popular ARROGANT BASTARD ALE insists, “You’re not worthy. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” Indeed, as an extreme brewer that amps up the hops and alcohol in most of its beers, Stone isn’t for beginners. But to serious hop-heads, this San Diego brewer deserves Beer Advocate’s distinction as best in class.
So Stone’s visit to the Biggest Little two weeks ago was kind of a big deal. Better yet, they were coming for a beer dinner at Julian’s, Providence’s premier craft beer destination. “Eclectic” best describes the motif, with brightly colored neon signs exclaiming nonsense like CHOP SUEY, the random chandelier, and a small TV in the bathroom playing classic cartoons on a loop. Julian’s also boasts rotating taps, elite Belgian beers, and food leagues beyond pub grub, with interesting ingredients and an obvious focus on presentation.
Now, as often is the case in the world of beer, food pairings are more of an art form than a science. In general, lighter beers go with lighter foods and darker beers with heavier foods. Hoppy beers tend to stand up better to bolder, spicier dishes. That said, where some want complementary flavors, others may seek contrast, highlighting the differing flavors in each.
For the eight courses of this beer dinner, Stone and Julian’s followed a simple progression: start strong and end stronger. We started off with one of my favorite beers, STONE’S IPA, and some pretzels . . . whole wheat pretzels, glazed with maple on top of arugula. The beer dominated this pairing, with the bitterness of the hops subduing the sweetness of the maple.
Honestly, I wasn’t especially excited for the next pairing: Stone’s red ale and chicken liver pate on rosemary foccacia bread. But I shouldn’t have written off the pate, as this flavorful, almost spicy dish was my favorite of the night. At 4.4% alcohol, LEVIATHAN ALE is almost tame by Stone’s standards and created a much more complementary pairing.
A very traditional pairing came next with an artichoke and asparagus salad and Stone’s Belgian option — the 2007 VERTICAL EPIC ALE. And then there was “Tres Bastardos”: three pork dishes paired with Stone’s Arrogant Bastard, DOUBLE BASTARD, and OAKED ARROGANT BASTARD. I was especially taken by the last of these, which was served with pork tenderloin glazed by the brewer’s Smoked Porter and served with a white bean and potato puree. Both the beer and pork had a depth and delicateness to them to make this a perfect match.
The boldest pairing of the night had to be my entrée of chili cocoa dusted ostrich and Stone’s 12TH ANNIVERSARY BITTER CHOCOLATE OATMEAL STOUT. The fact that the bitterness of this beer comes from bitter chocolate instead of hops really works well to accompany the spicy cocoa flavor of the meat. While this pushed the limits of how heavy a beer I would serve with this steak-like entrée, it worked. My wife equally enjoyed the alternative entrée of seared tuna and the dark and hoppy SUBLIMELY SELF-RIGHTEOUS ALE, its debut in Rhode Island.
But the heat of my entrée was nothing compared to dessert: Milk chocolate-crème caramel served on butterscotch chiffon cake, topped by habañero foam and toasted pistachios. And that habañero topping packed a punch! Of course, they finished with a strong beer for a strong dessert, breaking out rare bottles of the 2006 and 2009 IMPERIAL RUSSIAN STOUT. This is the highest-rated of Stone’s beers, and the 2006 version had mellowed to a magnificently balanced, flavorful brew.
I think my wife’s favorite part of the night might have been the fascinating narration provided by Michael Saklad of Stone and Michael McHugh of Julian’s before each course. It had the feel of being a judge on Iron Chef America.
Undoubtedly, this beer dinner was a special occasion at $75 a ticket. But after enjoying every moment and emerging with an even greater appreciation for food and beer pairings and Stone Brewing Company, I’d like to think we proved that Arrogant Bastard wrong: we were worthy.
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