Hostess Melanie’s delicious pairing event (her last at Crown Wine & Spirits, by the way) may have taken place three days after Valentine’s Day, but there was plenty of sweet love (of beer and food) in the air as more than 25 beer aficionados sat down to enjoy some remarkable craft brews and homemade food at Crown Wine & Spirits, in Fort Lauderdale.
In keeping with the sweet theme of the event, Melanie chose several honey-based beers to pair with her food items. Don’t let the honey beer connotation turn you off; honey can impart a totally unexpected flavor profile that can surprise and delight, if you let it. Melanie provided us with a flier with tasting notes and recipes for the evening and we began the tasting!
Our first beer/food pairing was the Redstone Meadery Sunshine Nectar (8% ABV) which was something we hadn’t tried before. This particular quaff is a melomel, a mead that contains any type of fruit. It was extremely light in in color and was slightly tart, courtesy of the apricots it was infused with. Thankfully it did not have the extreme sweet we had experienced with other Meads. Melanie paired the Redstone with a goat cheese, apricot jam and a toast point. The contrasting taste of the cheese and beer melded quite well on our palates.
Next came the Dogfish Head Midas Touch (9% ABV), always a favorite of ours, an unusual brew created from an ancient Turkish recipe allegedly found in the tomb of King Midas. Its unusual blend provides lots of layers and complexity. It provided a nice balance to the Thai avocado and shrimp salad with its fresh lime juice and sweet chili sauce.
Our next beer was the Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 (9% ABV), an ale that has notes of honeyed dark fruits, citrus and spices. It was slightly hoppy, but the aforementioned mix of sweet ingredients balanced out the tart notes of the hops. The Brooklyn paired really well with the delicious ragout of wild mushrooms Melanie prepared. We could have eaten several bowls (with several beers, of course)!
Next, we moved onto the Dupont Biere de Miel (8% ABV), another new try for us, a classic Belgian-style brew that had hints of earth, herbs and white pepper, all mellowed by its subtle honey notes. I am not a huge fan of the Belgian style beers, but this one in particular changed my opinion immensely.
As a special treat (not mentioned in the flier we received at the beginning of the pairing) Melanie offered up a taste of Bell’s Hop Slam, the Holy Grail of honey-based beers, and easily one of the most amazingly complex IPA’s you will ever taste. It is brewed but once a year and released in small quantities across the U.S. Because of its cult-like following, it fetches nearly $20 a six-pack at liquor purveyors who are lucky enough to have it, but it is worth every penny. Melanie served up delicious coconut and passion fruit bars that accentuated the complex notes of the Hop Slam. After the event Melanie let us all purchase one bottle each of the Hop Slam, and we were all grateful to her for her generosity.
It is sad that this was Melanie’s last Beer –n- Bites at Crown, but she told us she would back with more pairing events at her new place of employ, Whole Foods Market, in Fort Lauderdale, where she will take over the beer-buying duties at this location. Thanks, Melanie, for some incredible beers and unbelievably tasty foods. Cheers!
Brew it and they shall come…
Every hop head in South Florida (and even parts elsewhere) circle it on their calendars, etch in their Stone Pale Ale, then commit it to memory and save the date: the annual Jupiter Craft Brewers Festival, which takes place at Roger Dean Baseball Stadium, in Jupiter, Florida.
We Wanderlushes piled into our vehicle and made the hour-long trek to this grand tasting event, which attracts thousands of beer aficionados, craft brewers and the beer curious alike.
The weather was perfect this particular Saturday, with highs in the low 70s, sunny blue skies and a light breeze—perfect for beer drinking. Learning from the previous year’s festival we all decided we would pace ourselves accordingly and limit our alcohol intake, drink plenty of water, eat some food and…oh well, that’s all great in theory until you see the galaxy of beer choices staring you in the face. We were issued badges and small 8-ounce plastic sampling steins, and then it was drinking time!
The beer stands were well laid out and accessible, though standing in line creates traffic jams with tipsy patrons meandering their way through the throngs of people anxiously awaiting their chance to sip and savor. Patience may be a virtue, but at an event like this it’s an absolute necessity. Alcohol, besides its mood-altering properties, also helps you maintain equilibrium with the environment. After a few hours of tasting you realize through half-closed, bloodshot eyes it’s not you who is teetering and tottering, it’s everyone else…and maybe the earth has fallen on its axis.
Our new Wanderlushes-in-training, Joel and Anelena, also came to the festival. In addition, we saw some other familiar faces at the event. Our friends in the “beer biz,” Blake, Ryan and Melanie, were all in attendance as well. We took a moment to chat with them and compare tasting notes. Like fine wine, everyone has a particular favorite style of beer (I prefer IPA’s because of their citrus-like hoppy tart taste and pronounced finish). After half an hour of tasting we decide to get some grilled sausage sandwiches to help offset the lingering effects of the beer, many of which hover at or above 10 percent ABV. This isn’t a place where the Coors Light/Schlitz chug-a-lug drinker can get away with the usual ball game 12-pack lazy Sunday and expect to save face.
Some of the beers of note:
After nearly four hours of tasting our way through the world of craft beers (or a small territory of it) we decided to head back home. We did stop in Lake Worth to enjoy some Mexican food at a famed local eatery Havana Hideout where we all ordered a small feast of tasty tacos, chips and salsa and empanadas. By the time we all made it back to Fort Lauderdale we knew our day was finished. But it was a good way to end an enjoyable Saturday of sipping and savoring some of the best craft brew this nation has to offer.
We were in a funk and needed to get into the “spirit” of the holiday season. What to do? Attend the 9th Beer n Bites “Hoppy Holidays” at Crown Wine and Spirits, of course! Who better to lead us through the offerings but Chef and beer connoisseur Melanie.
To begin Melanie had placed brandied cheddar pub cheese on each table in advance. To pair with the pub cheese had chosen the He’Brew Rejewvenator. The slight sweetness from the concord grapes in the beer (yes, grapes!) really pulled the Stilton blue flavor out of the pub cheese.
Next up was a beef and ale pie paired with a Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve. This beer had much stronger hoppy notes to it and paired well with the savory pies. The only thing missing for us was a gravy for the pies!
Between each tasting Melanie would work our brains by asking a few beer related trivia questions. Wanderlush Jen won a bottle of beer by remembering the New Zealand episode of Brewmasters and correctly identifying the tamarillo ingredient for the special collaboration brew between Dogfish and Epic Brewing. We’re hoping she shares!
After the trivia we moved on to the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (our favorite!) paired with a trio of gouda cheeses served with a pear paste. Each gouda brought out a unique quality in the beer.
On to the pink elephants…Delirium Noel! We often drink Delirium Tremens and now will be drinking the Noel when available. It has the sweetness that the Tremens has but also a caramel note that worked great with the sticky toffee pudding which was so good I was tempted to lick the bowl! I restrained myself, though.
The final taste for the night was a Lindemans Framboise Lambic and Creme de Cacoa shooter. Wanderlush Tim called it when he described it as a tootsie pop in a sip. It was a great way to end the event.
This is the second Beer n Bites we have attended and we will definitely be going to more. The good-natured comaraderie with fellow beer enthusiasts along with good food and drink is the best pairing of all.
The first weekend of this past November we jumped in the car and headed to Orlando for our annual weekend trip to one of our favorite guilty pleasures, the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival. Our room was reserved, our bags were packed and our bellies were ready for sampling.
Having gone to the festival several years in a row we had it down to a science. The first necessity was to reserve a hotel in the Epcot resort area. The ability to walk to the park, especially since we would definitely be sampling some “adult” beverages, was a must. This year it was Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, which put us in easy access to the International Gateway entrance of Epcot. Being slight control freaks, we had also prepared a list of the food and drinks we wanted to try and booked our wine and food seminars in advance. Finally, and most importantly, we had our handy wristbands ready to charge up for quick draw payments. We knew our hands would be too full to reach into our pockets! After checking in to the hotel we headed over to the Epcot ready to start our gluttony for the day.
Our first order of business? Get a drink—fast. We knew that we’d be encountering large crowds, so our goal was to relax, not rush, and just go with it. We had two days to drink and eat our fill, so we made it a point to pace ourselves accordingly. Drinks in hand, we started our trip around the world on our way to the Festival Center to attend the first of several “Deminars” we would be attending.
What is a “deminar”? Visiting wineries and chefs come to Epcot to give hour-long presentations and offer samples to the audience. In previous years there was no charge for these events, but always a long wait. Two years ago Disney instituted a charge of $8 to $12 for these events. This greatly cut down on wait times and crowds, but disappointingly the sample amounts did not change. After attending this year’s event, we will probably stick to the visiting chef events in the future as wineries participate and offer attendees larger pours and nice size food samples.
In addition to the aforementioned presentations, there are also special events throughout the weekend at an additional charge. This year we decided to attend a Saturday morning (10:30am) cheese seminar presented by David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery. As we stood in line sipping our coffee and waiting for the event to open, we noticed large plates of cheese and glasses of wine on the tables and thought we would never be able to finish all of it. We underestimated ourselves. Once we started the seminar and the sampling all we wanted was more. And more is what we received. The wine was flowing and the extra plates of cheese were passed around. By the time we were done we were walking on the clouds and feeling no pain. What next? More sampling, of course! We meandered our way back through the World Showcase trying as much as possible. Once we had our fill, which was much later, we headed back to the hotel for one last beer at Big Bear Brewing Company, then back to the hotel.
As always, we had a great time. The festival is somewhat smaller and you can see a change in the chef and winery participants, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The wineries are smaller production but we loved the ability to try wines we were not familiar with and to learn more about these family-run vineyards. Another thing we noticed was the more pronounced beer offerings from years past. Boston Brewing Company, a perennial favorite, has always participated. But this year there were also two additional booths dedicated to beer – 15 Beers and the Brewers Collection. We really enjoyed the availability of decent beer but wished they would lean a bit more towards craft brewed beers. It was a welcome addition, though. With all that being said we can’t wait to see what the festival will come up with next year.
There are three to four major food and wine events that we mark on our calendar every year. We circle it in red, program it into our phones and make a mental note not to forget. The New Times Pairings event at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in September is one of these can’t miss events.
Now, despite what you may have read, or heard—or both—many of you devoted readers of this blog have some serious questions about the New Times Pairings event that need answering. We aim to inform, educate and entertain in this blog, when possible, and sometimes all three, if we’re lucky. The most common questions people have about an event like Pairings are: 1) Is there a lot of food and wine to sample? 2) Is it that good? 3) Will they run out of any food and/or beverage before I’ve had a chance to sample it? The answers to these questions are, 1) “Yup,” 2) “Hell yeah,” and 3) “Are you serious?” Pairings is all about over-the-top, too-much-is-never-enough eating and drinking, though most people pace themselves in order to squeeze in as much as possible during the night. Good luck with that. With over 30 local restaurants offering food and scads of wine, beer and spirits available, you’d do well to pick and choose what strikes your fancy and not try to taste everything on the sampling menu—though it would be tempting to try.
For the first time ever, Kim and I decided to splurge and buy VIP tickets to this year’s event. Though the $75 per person cost was a bit steep, and it may seem so, especially to the casual gourmand—it was well worth it. VIP attendees
were offered access to the event one hour prior to the general admission ticket holders. Nice. Next, VIP members enjoyed mezzanine level access to some of the higher end wines and beverages, as well as several private cooking demonstrations. Very nice, indeed. Kim and I had a chance to talk to Andrew Lampasone, owner and proprietor of Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale, and he told us that the better wines we’d be taste this evening were VIP only, so drink up before heading downstairs to the general population. Damn, that sounded pretentious as hell, but when you pay VIP prices you expect VIP wine and VIP food, and that’s no L-I-E.
Among the whites in the VIP area worth noting: the Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer Alsace 2008, which was sweet, but not cloyingly sweet; the Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc Napa 2007; the Cuvaison Chardonnay Carneros 2008, which was the least memorable of the whites, though is still a far superior Chard that you will find for just $18 a bottle.
Among the reds, the Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon Chicken Ranch Napa 2007 was quite remarkable, with hints of oaky vanilla and light tannins; and the 2008 Luca Malbec stood out as well, though its $32.50 bottle price may scare away even the most adventurous red drinkers. Perhaps the highlight of the VIP reds that night was the Domaine Serene ‘Evenstad Reserve’ Pinot Noir, a light-bodied Pinot with a complex flavor profile and strong hints of ripe cherry.
Once the trough went dry upstairs, which is no surprise given people’s propensity for getting their money’s worth, Kim
and I decided to make our way downstairs to join the crowds, who by now were well into the event and getting happy. We have to mention that more often than not these events can get a little chippy. Some folks who literally try to eat and drink their money’s worth forget all about manners and common courtesy and turn into loud, drunken morons. Oh, and some of them forget the proper way to approach a booth or table and plow their way into the front like a fullback on fourth down and one. But there was none of that rude behavior at this year’s event…everyone seemed relaxed and fully enjoying partaking in all of the food and spirits (literally). The former can spoil any event; the latter makes it fun and enjoyable.
There were some outstanding food samples worth noting: the chilled cucumber mint soup with spicy shrimp from 3030 Ocean; Chef Allens mango roasted pork loin with macadamia rice; the beef short rib Shu Mai with Taleggio and balsamic mini cheese tarts with fig from Georgi’s Alibi was nothing short of amazing; the Hong Kong City sweet pork with plum sauce was anything but “take out”; the roasted corn soup and jumbo lump crab
from Sea Level; the meatball and ravioli served up by Solita; and for the vegetarians, the arugula salad, mushroom ravioli and coconut cake from Sublime. And did I mention it was all you can eat, stuff or otherwise cram into your stomach? Again, it’s all about pacing and knowing your limit, though that all goes right out the window when you have this much good food staring you in the face and bombarding your senses.
By 9:30 or so Kim and I just couldn’t eat or drink any more. As much as we hated to stop, we were stuffed. And, as tempting as it was to sample more, we just couldn’t do it. So we made our way (slowly) back to the car, well sated, and both agreed that this year’s Pairings event was a great success. It’s already penciled in for next year.