The Brewer’s Table Kitchen at Surly

20150519_151107There are a lot of restaurants that do beer and food. Some of them do it very well. Most of them though, click are working with an ever rotating set of taps from an ever changing array of breweries. The beers change faster than the menu, meaning that the food is curated for beer generally, without a focus on particular flavor parings. Brewpubs have the luxury of working with a set list of beers made on premises, but in my experience, most of them don’t seem to put much thought into how the menu and the brews might work together. Pub grub is generally the rule.

But what happens when you give a talented and adventurous chef the opportunity to create an entire restaurant from scratch that is centered on the flavors of a single brewery’s lineup. The Brewer’s Table Kitchen at Surly is what. Opening this Friday, May 22nd, the second-floor, fine-dining venue at Surly is a foodie-friendly laboratory for beer and food pairing.

Given the sophistication of the beer hall menu I had lofty expectations for the Brewer’s Table. Chef Jorge Guzman had set the bar high. Judging from the samples offered at a recent media preview, he has deftly met the challenge. The menu is loaded with items, the descriptions of which make me say, “Oh, I want to try that.” Tantalizing treats like a Reuben made with beef heart, octopus with romesco sauce and chorizo, or lamb sweet breads immediately set my salivary glands atwitter. The dishes we were served not only offered layers of flavor to explore, they were pretty to look at as well. Like colorful paintings on a plate, they were almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Beet Salad paired with Pentagram

Beet Salad paired with Pentagram

I love beets, so one of my favorites was the beet salad. Guzman likes to use ingredients in multiple ways in each dish. This one has beets roasted, charred, pickled, and pureed. On top is fois gras that has been cured, passed through a tamis, fortified with beet gel, frozen and then shaved. It looks almost like wood chips or pencil shavings on the dish, but eats with a luscious, creamy richness. The pairing with Surly’s sour, wild ale Pentagram was surprisingly good. The interaction of acids in the dish and the beer toned down the sour, but still let the beer cut the richness of the fois. Earthy notes from the Brettanomyces fermentation bridged nicely to the earthy beets.

Tea Egg paired with Cynic

Tea Egg paired with Cynic

The Tea Egg was another favorite. A five-minute egg is cracked and then poached in tea and truffle powder to give it a tie-die appearance. It’s served on a bed of sheep’s milk cheese, puffed quinoa, and black garlic puree, with marinated asparagus. There is a lot going on in this dish, which makes it a particular pairing challenge. Which flavor element do you aim for when selecting a beer? Guzman went with Cynic, which he called the “easy” route. Easy or not, it worked. The soft sweetness and spicy/fruity yeast notes of the beer at least touched on nearly every layer of the dish.

Pork Jowl  paired with Todd the Axeman

Pork Jowl paired with Todd the Axeman

If you are looking for something rich, the Pork Jowl is the way to go. Guzman envisions this dish as a taco. This gorgeous hunk of meat is cured, sous vided, and roasted to fatty, pink perfection. It’s layered on puffed amaranth and a black bean puree made with Mole’ Smoke beer, and topped with a hazelnut vinaigrette. A picadillo sauce of the type used for empanadas completes it. This one was paired with Todd the Axeman, a West Coast-style IPA brewed in collaboration with a Danish brewery. It’s the hoppiest beer Surly makes, but the focus is on flavor and aroma instead of overly-aggressive bitterness. It cut through the richness of the jowl without taking out your tastebuds or preventing the subtler flavors from coming through.

Guzman and crew encourage diners to explore their own pairings, but they are happy to make recommendations if desired. For those who want to turn it over entirely to the whim of the chef, a Chef & Brewer pairing menu will take you through a five-course meal with a pairing for each course.

20150519_150435The décor of Brewer’s Table is in keeping with the rest of the building – sleek and elegant, yet not too stuffy. The long, kitchen bar would be my choice for seating, but I love to watch chefs at work. In the summer the outdoor patio overlooking the beer garden would also be very nice. Reservations are available and recommended. Bar seating is first-come, first-served. The Brewer’s Table is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5-11 p.m.

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Octopus paired with Overrated IPA

Octopus paired with Overrated IPA

Seattle Cider Company Semi-Sweet and Dry

I have been getting deeper and deeper into cider. I really love the stuff and really want to learn more about it. I’m early enough into my cider love-affair that I am going through a cider-snob phase, just as I did with beer early on. Talk to me about Newtown Pippin, Gravenstein, and Espopus Spitzenberg apples and I’m all ears. Give me acid, tannin, bitterness, and vinous apple flavor (is that a thing?) and my salivary glands start a flood in my mouth. I pooh-pooh the use of culinary apples and am generally quick to eschew what I perceive as overly-sweet commercial brands. I know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to really know what I’m talking about.

I admit it. When it comes to cider, I have become the kind of person that I hate in the beer world. It’s a phase. I’ll get over it.

A new crop of cidermakers might help me hasten that transition. They are using culinary apples to make ciders that aren’t just syrupy fruit juice. Through careful blending and high attenuation, they are crafting more complex and refreshing ciders that have the bitter and acid edge that I crave. And some of them come in cans.

One such producer that just entered the Twin Cities market last week is Seattle Cider Company. They kicked off here with three varieties – Dry, Semi-Sweet, and Citrus. All of them use Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Gala apples. They are fermented to dryness with white wine yeast and then in some cases back-sweetened with cane sugar. The Citrus is infused with grapefruit, lemon, and orange peel. Seattle Cider does have some limited-release brands that are made with those heirloom, cider apples with the cute names, but these are not currently available here.

The cider snob in me is inherently suspicious of new, commercial ciders. But I was anxious to give these a spin. I got hold of the Dry and Semi-Sweet. Do they stand up to my unreasonably harsh judgement?

Here’s my notes:

semi-sweetSeattle Cider Semi-Sweet
Seattle Cider Company, Seattle, Washington
Style: Apple Cider
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
6.5% ABV

Aroma: Sweet-tart green apple. Low peppery spice and citrus pith. Pear. Slight sulfur character.

Appearance: Pale straw. Brilliantly clear. Effervescent bubbles. No head.

Flavor: Medium-high sweetness with a sharp, bitter, mineral edge to balance. Moderate acidity. Apple Jolly Rancher. Low peppery spice. Grapefruit citrus and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Finish is off-dry, not too sweet. Tart apple and low mineral taste lingers.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: When I read “semi-sweet” on a domestic cider, I usually anticipate the sticky, mass-market profile. This one is less sweet than expected. There is some residual sugar, but the bitter, mineral edge keeps it balanced. It should please those who like a sweet cider, but it’s crisp and refreshing enough for those who don’t.

seattlecider_dry_hardciderSeattle Cider Dry
Seattle Cider Company, Seattle, Washington
Style: Apple Cider
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
6.5% ABV

Aroma: Vinous. Red apple. Low sulfur. Grape. Lemon peel. Powdered sugar.

Appearance: Very pale straw. Slight haze. Effervescent bubbles. No head.

Flavor: Tart. Puckering. Tear-inducing and mouthwatering acidity. Bright, sour, green apple. Faint orange and lemon citrus. Pears. Sweetness is very low. Low sulfur. Medium-high tannin. Finish is very dry with acidity lingering on the back of the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium-low carbonation. Puckering.

Overall Impression: For fans of dry cider and sour beer, this one is for you. The tart profile reminds me of a good Berliner weisse, right down to the lemony highlights. A decent, dry cider can be hard to find. Here it is.

These ciders may not be up to the level of an E.Z. Orchard or Farnum Hill, but they are pretty darn satisfying, nonetheless.

Altbier in Düsseldorf

In the days of old, viagra prescription before the advent of railroads, medicine freeways, and automobiles, people traveled less. The distances between the cities and towns felt further than it does today. Commerce did occur, of course. But generally, each village was a semi-isolated community where residents identified more strongly as citizens of the town than of the nation or state.

This relative isolation led to the creation of local specialties – crafts, cheese, cuisine, and even beer. Brewers brewed beers that were adapted to locally available ingredients and water supplies. Einbeck had bock beer. Dortmund had Dortmunder lager, a strong-ish, balanced, golden, lager with a pronounced hop presence. There was the weissbier of Berlin and the altbier of Düsseldorf. It’s not that these brewers set out to create a “style,” they just made beer the way it was made in that particular place.

Düsseldorf’s altbier wasn’t always called “alt,” the German word meaning “old.” It was once just called “beer.” Through the 1800s the new-fangled lager beers were on the rise. The crisp, clean, cold-fermented brews caught the imagination of beer drinkers and quickly spread across the land. But there were a few holdouts. In places like Düsseldorf and Cologne brewers clung to their old-style, top-fermenting ales. And so the term “alt” was applied to differentiate them from the rapidly encroaching “new” beer.

Altbier is an amber-colored, malt-forward style that features the warm, nutty, toasted bread flavors of German, kilned malts. Bitterness can be assertive, but is never harsh. Low notes of spicy, German hops complete the picture. It’s a crisp, easy-drinking beer designed to enhance social gatherings.

Zum Uerige

While it was originally a wider regional specialty, altbier is now heavily associated with Düsseldorf and especially with that city’s Altstadt or “Old City.” The city center was mercifully spared bombardment during World War II, leaving its cobblestone streets and medieval structures intact. With over 300 bars, the Altstadt is known in Germany as “the longest bar in the world.” It is the historical and cultural heart of the city.

Im Füchschen

The Altstadt is also the heart of modern altbier. Many of the brewpubs that have defined the style for our age are located there within a few hundred yards of each other, including the famous Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen and Zum Schlüssel. The oldest altbier brewpub, Schumacher, is only a 10-minute walk. It opened in 1838. There are bigger altbier breweries, but these quaint, old pubs where beer is poured from wooden casks, are the best place to get the true feel of the style. A relaxed stroll from one pub to the next is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Altbier is drunk from distinctive, straight-sided glasses in 0.2-, 0.3- or 0.4-liter sizes. When your glass is empty, waiters will quickly set a new one down in front of you, making a mark on your coaster to keep track of how many you’ve had. The beer will just keep coming until you tell them to stop.

The Altstadt of Düsseldorf is one of the stops on the Grains & Grapes Adventure Tour – A Taste of the Rhine River. We’ve teamed up with Altbier Safari to give you guided tours and samplings at five Altstadt brewpubs – Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen, Schumacher, Brauerei Kürzer, and Zum Schlüssel. You’ll taste the best that altbier has to offer in the place that it was meant to be experienced.

In addition to altbier in Düsseldorf, A Taste of the Rhine River will take you to a kölsch brewery in Cologne, and wineries on the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. We’ll visit castles, cruise the Rhine, and end up at the greatest beer festival on earth, the Munich Oktoberfest. It’s going to be a great trip.

To learn more or to sign up visit our friends at Defined Destinations.

Cooking Spring Hop Shoots

New Spring Hop Shoots

Spring is finally here and the hops in my back yard are crazily sprouting. It can take three years for hops to really establish and mine are in their third year. These bines were pretty productive last year. The sight of bright green cones dangling from my pergola was beautiful. This year the early shoots are much more vigorous and numerous that in the past, cure so I am expecting great things from them come September.

When growing hops it’s common practice to snip off the first growth and go with the second. The initial bines grow super fast and can end up hollow and weak. They can be less productive and less able to withstand the winds that can whip them around on their string trellises. I’ve not snipped mine for the past two years, but with them coming on so strongly this year, I decided to do it right.

Now, I hate to see anything go to waste. I could have composted the sprouts in my backyard bin, but lately I’ve been reading quite a lot about eating them. I’m an adventurous eater and I love to cook, especially new vegetables. And hop shoots supposedly taste like asparagus, one of my absolute favorite veggies. Why not give it a go?

Chopped and Ready

One recommendation I have read was simply to sauté them with a little garlic and butter. This sounded quick, easy, and delicious, so that is the route that I chose. I clipped my bines, chopped them into smaller chunks and got to work melting butter and chopping garlic. Into the pan they went.

Into the Pan

I had let a couple of the bines get a bit too long, I think. They were woodier and more fibrous than the shorter shoots. In order to soften these up a bit I opted midway to braise. After tossing them in the garlic butter for a few minutes, I added a quarter cup of water, covered the pan, and lowered the heat. I let them simmer there for five minutes and then cooked off any remaining liquid. I added a bit of salt and pepper and they were done.

After the Braise

The bright green shoots looked great on the plate. I served them with a mashed mix of red and sweet potatoes and simple grilled chicken thighs made the way my dad used to make them – cooked over coals and brushed with a butter/Worcestershire glaze.

And onto the Plate

Those who say that young hop shoots taste like asparagus are right. They are lightly sweet with that vegetal/chlorophyll flavor that makes asparagus oh-so delicious. From the texture of the raw shoots, I expected them to be more fibrous and prickly. With the exception of the couple that I let grow a little too long, they braised up nice and tender. And not a prickle in the bunch. The tougher ones though did suggest that it’s better to cook them earlier than later. I would recommend not letting them get more than four or five inches long before you snip and eat.

I only have two plants, so cooking hop sprouts is a one-meal deal for me. But I can say with confidence that I will do it again next spring.