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Eat Drink RI contributor Adam Baffoni was a guest of Julians at their Vintage Beer Dinner in April and offers this coverage of the evening. Julians has their next beer dinner, the Fourth Annual Allagash Brewing Company Beer Dinner, coming up on Sunday, June 22. Check our Upcoming Events page for the details on attending that event.
Since opening in 1994, Julians has been a hub for craft beer and creative food, so it only makes sense that they’ve also managed to gain a reputation for being able to pair the two exceptionally well. For years, they’ve been hosting multi-course beer dinners, showcasing some of their favorite craft brews, and serving them alongside a well though out succession of courses designed around each beer. For their Vintage Beer Dinner, they brought out some very special selections from their cellar. The meal was held at a communal table, which was perfect for this type and size of event. There were just over twenty guests, and we ranged in beer knowledge from hardcore craft beer advocates to less experienced beer drinkers who were exploring a new interest in craft beer.
To start the evening, a giant bottle was brought to the table, containing a 2008 St. Feuillien Tripel, which was golden and unfiltered. It was malty without being the least bit heavy, and had a light fruitiness. To accompany this selection was a mussel and caramelized fennel fritter with cultured butter. To me, the link that connected the dish with the beer was the fennel, which shared a sweet, spiced quality. Next was a 2005 Schneider Aventinus Weizenbock paired with a beef wellington topped with a vinaigrette made with a reduction of the beer. This was the oldest beer of the night. With a strong aroma of dates and ripe bananas, this was a rich beer, although it smelled much sweeter than it tasted. Using the beer in the vinaigrette brought out an entirely different malty quality to it.
Next was a 2009 Dogfish Head Black & Blue paired with a baby romaine salad with pheasant and dried cherries that had been rehydrated in the beer. The combination of the pheasant and cherries had a flavor reminiscent of turkey and cranberries on thanksgiving, and the dried fruit created a great link to the beer, which is brewed with black raspberries and blueberries. Next came a 2012 Brooklyn Black Ops, paired with an espresso rubbed pork tenderloin roulade with goat cheese, spinach and honey. The rich flavors of the honey and espresso mirrored the bitter, chocolate-like flavor of the beer.
The final three courses of the evening were each paired with multiple beers, staring with a harissa stewed lamb which was paired with a 2009 and 2012 North Coast Old Stock Ale. We were told that this beer was designed to be aged, and not surprisingly, the 2009 beer was favored over the 2012 by most of the people at the table. Even though the 2009 had a much higher alcohol content, it had a milder flavor because it had time to age and mellow. The lamb took on a pork-like quality due to the smoky flavors of the harissa and long cooking method. I found this to be one of the most creative pairings of the evening. Even though there were no flavors in the dish that directly corresponded with the beer, the smoky undertones of the lamb held up to the strong flavors of the beer, and the Greek yogurt ice cream which it was served with, acted as a great counterpoint.
For the cheese course, we had house-made farmers cheese and port salut with plum jam, lemon jam and cashews. To pair with the cheeses, we had Southern Tier 2008 Cuvee 1 and 2009 Cuvee 2. I found this to be the most interesting beer pairing, simply because of the educational value. Prior to aging, these beers were brewed in the same way. The only difference between the two is that the Cuvee 1 was aged in French oak for six years while the Cuvee 2 was aged in American oak for seven years, yet the flavors and colors of the two beers were completely distinct. This course was a great example of just how much can change about a beer by adjusting tiny variables in the aging process. It was nice to have two cheeses to match the two beers, but my favorite component of the plate was the tart lemon jam which had a recognizable, pure lemon flavor without being unpleasantly sour.
Our final course of the night was a trio of desserts—mascarpone ice cream with coffee mead brittle, porcini mushroom fudge and ladyfingers with apricot preserves—served with a trio of beers from the Firestone Walker Anniversary Series (14, 15 and 16). Each of the beers is a blend of ales, and each was brewed only once for this special edition series. Although each of the beers had a similar dark, rich quality, they each had unique qualities which set them apart. My favorite was the 15, which had notes of spices such as nutmeg and clove. All the desserts were unique and well-paired, especially the porcini fudge which was just sweet enough to match the sweetness of the beers, and equally rich.
Thanks to twenty years of experience, Julians manages to create an experience that you won’t find anywhere else. What impressed me the most wasn’t the beer or the food, but the way that each course was paired in such a creative and meticulously thought out manner. Sitting in on one beer dinner makes it clear that the team at Julians has an exceptional amount of passion and knowledge for great food and drink.