Sunday, March 26, 2017

HopCat - Around the Bend Beer Dinner

I enjoy beer dinners and am always interested to see what a given chef can do when working with a specific brewery.  HopCat, part of a Michigan-based chain of beer bars with food is doing one a month, with the one this month with Around the Bend Brewery.  HopCat is a beer bar with over 120 beers on tap, so it;s a good place to come if you want to try something different.  They also have enough taps to support the small breweries as well as the big ones.  They have a large space with several dining rooms, so they can easily carve out a space to work with a brewery to do a special dinner without shutting down the rest of the business.  The room we were in was a side dining room on one side of the space with 3 large communal tables, and several semicircular booths along the walls.  There were also several colorful paintings/prints of rock musicians including, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Garcia, and Frank Zappa hanging on the walls.  Around the Bend Brewery is a small Chicago brewery that takes standard styles and twists them to see what's up "around the bend."  The beer we started with, our Welcome Beer, if you will, was Vera, which was a Pistachio Cream Ale.  While there were many people that liked this, I do not typically care for cream ales, and while the pistachio flavor was nice, I found the overall flavor to be a little astringent.  It was, however, a good example of the type of twist that we might get in our beers.
For our first pairing, we started with Silk Road, an American Pale Ale made with Galangal (Thai Ginger), which was paired with our first course of Marinated Jumbo Shrimp with Pickled Vegetables.  The beer was a copper-red color and cloudy with a nice head.  It had a mild hoppy flavor with some bread with an undertone of citrus and flowery ginger.  The ginger flavor wasn't strong, but it was very definitely there and it was persistent.  It went very well with the shrimp and the pickled vegetables, which included Carrots and Jicama.  The shrimp was tender and flavorful both as good shrimp and with the marinade which was spicy and tart with a little heat to finish.  The vegetables were very crisp and their flavors came through the pickle though the pickle did contribute to the overall flavor.
Our next pairing went with Villainous, Around the Bend's IPA, which was paired with an Endive Salad.  While many IPA's are pretty one note and salads are pretty simple, both members of this pairing were anything but simple.  The IPA was built with nothing other than the malt, hops, yeast and water, but it uses several hops giving it both a pine and citrus flavor, and several yeast strains which, reacted with the malt, give it a very complex bready flavor.  The salad, while called an Endive Salad was much more than that.  It also included Bacon, Apples, And Walnuts and had an Aigre Doux House Vinaigrette.  This was a wealth of textures and flavors, so much so, that while I am a huge fan of bacon, I thought that it was kind of unnecessary.  The bacon was good.  It added texture and flavor, but with everything else going on, it was kind of overkill.
For the main course pairing, we started with Mr. Marmelade, an Imperial IPA made with Seville Oranges and Orange Blossom Honey.  This was paired with Lime and Honey Glazed Chicken with Baby Spinach, Broccolini, and Asparagus.  Both pieces of this were my favorite of the meal both as a pairing and individually.  The IPA was bittersweet with a strong citrus flavor and a floral aroma.  It went very well with the flavor of the chicken.  The glaze had a strong and immediate flavor that started with the lime tartness and had a sweet finish which went well with the orange flavor of the beer.  The bitterness of the vegetables played well with the bitterness of the beer as well as with its floral quality.  It was a great pairing, overall.
Dessert finished with a Stout and Bread Pudding which is kind of standard for desserts (and their pairings).  The Stout was an Imperail Stout and was very appropriately named Black Forest because it was thick and black and finished with Cherries, which went well with the chocolate flavors that are inherent in stouts.  The bread pudding included Cocoa Nibs and Berries that had been soaked in the Black Forest beforehand.  To sweeten things up, they included some very fresh housemade Vanilla Ice Cream.

I really enjoyed the dinner here.  The food, while not the epitome of high end cuisine, was done very well and paired well with the beers that we were served.  HopCat plans on hosting a beer dinner every month, I will definitely keep an eye on their listings, because I would really enjoy this again.



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