This past wednesday night, dozens of beer fans braved the afterwork LA traffic to descend on 38 Degrees Ale House in Alhambra for the Stone Brewing 5 Casks, 5 Brewers, 5 Courses dinner. At $55, it was a total steal, and both the team of Stone Brewers and Executive Chef James Boyle came to impress.
When it comes to cask ale, I talk a lot about how added flavors can really transform a beer than you have had a thousand times before. This event in particular took 4 beers that are part of Stone’s regular line up and added ingredients that both complimented the dishes, but also really changed the nature of the beer to become something quite different.
Right as I sat down, I was handed the first beer of the lineup, a Stone IPA with Lychee, Yuzu, Toasted Macadamia Nuts, and Grains of Paradise. Immediately I was struck with how little this smelled like the Stone IPA that we all know and love. The hops seemed to be totally muted in the aroma and the taste followed the same trend. The additions of macadamia nuts and grains of paradise added a earthy nuttiness that seemed to completely overtake the hops, to the point that if you didn’t tell me this was an IPA, I wouldn’t have known. For some, this may be a criticism, but once paired with the first course of cauliflower and uni bisque (with duo of morels and chanterelles and chive oil), the hops suddenly reappeared, as though it needed the natural sweetness and earth-tones of the soup to wake them up. It was an incredible first course that really highlighted the natural ‘ping-pong’ between beer and food and how, when paired properly, they can bring out the best in each other.
The second course also featured a variation on Stone IPA, this time with french oak and a experimental hop known as Vic’s Secret. Visually it was very similar to the first beer, with a pale orange color and a great bubbly head retention. The hop character was interesting and when combined with the french oak it created a very odd character on the back end. Not a bad taste, just something I haven’t had in an IPA before. Its a great adjustment to the Stone IPA, but I’m very curious to taste something that better showcases this new hop, because just as the hop kicks in, the oak subverts it. This beer was paired with smoked trout on a cilantro blini stack, with salmon roe, crème fraich, and a pomegranate gastrique, which was delicious on all accounts. The smoked trout really highlighted the oak in the beer, with the sweetness from the gastrique helping complimenting the natural citrus of that hop.
In terms of food, the third course was the highlight of the night, featuring a duck breast, roasted candy beets, parsnip puree, micro green salad with a granny smith apple and pancetta vinaigrette. Its hard to go wrong when you serve an entire duck breast, but everything about this dish really came together beautifully. The beer pairing however, was the only real misstep of the night. This cask was a Levitation Ale with chamomile tea, tangerine zest and emerald hops, but in both the aroma and the taste, the tea totally took control of the beer. The hop addition was nowhere to be found and ultimately this beer just fell sort of flat and perhaps was a poor choice to pair with duck, as the richness of the meat really needs something brighter to compliment it.
After polishing off an entire duck breast, its hard to imagine another two courses were on their way. The fourth course brought us braised pork ossobuco with cheddar grits, roasted heirloom carrots, in a red ancho mole, paired with Arrogant Bastard Ale with Chipotle peppers. While the first few courses really highlighted the back-and-forth dialogue between contrasting and complimentary flavors, this course was all about two things being in total sync. The Arrogant bastard was perfect, with a great smokey heat from the chipotle that tickles your throat as you sip. The spice was really well managed without overtaking the beer and the malt backbone of the beer really holds everything together. The ancho mole accented all of these flavors beautifully, with the cheddar grits being the perfect relief for those less heat-inclined.
Finally, we hit the final course of gelato Affogato, lavette coffee gelatin, little john english toffee and rosemary syrup paired with Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA with Crystallized Ginger and Cacao Nibs. The aroma on this beer was pure 100% cocoa but the sip really showed off what cask can do to a beer like this. The body of the beer was smooth and silky, with all the different flavors arriving in waves on your palate. The ginger comes in nicely on the front end without being overwhelming, and the chocolate finish really brings it home. There’s a smooth, confident hop backbone all the way through. The gelato was a perfect ending to a huge dinner. Already quite light as a desert, the addition of coffee gelatin really elevated everything. I didn’t get much in the way of rosemary, but to be honest, I’m a little thankful for that.
What 38 Degrees and Stone Brewing did with this dinner really highlighted the best of cask ale and food/beer pairings. We were able to see how your standard Stone releases could evolve in a firkin to become something totally new, while also being able to see how a well-curated menu is able to compliment, build and sometimes even release flavors you never knew were there in the first place. Who knows if 38 Degrees will have another dinner like they had tonight, but take this from me – buy a ticket as soon as they are on sale, and make sure you arrive hungry.