A couple years ago we launched a new series of beer dinners at Lucky 32, where we highlight six brews from a local brewery and pair each of them with a dish. It’s been a blast, and so many wonderful folks (old friends and new) have attended. April kicked off beer month in North Carolina, so our most recent dinner was particularly special. We featured Olde Hickory Brewery, a favorite brewery of ours, that we had been eager to share with our guests for some time.
The genesis of conceiving a beer dinner starts with the brewery and its beer, and is a matter of figuring out what the beer needs in order for it to be balanced. It’s important to us to feature breweries with personality — breweries that have a lot in common with what our guests want to experience. A story, a great personality, and of course great beer are all very important. We then choose a date, and then cipher through the brewery’s beer portfolio to figure out which six beers we’d like to feature. It’s a progression of lightest to heaviest; gradually increasing the hops, and ending with something sweet, or malt-forward, such as a porter or stout. We learned that the best way to pair food with beer is by featuring lighter beers with lighter fare, such as salads and seafood. Then as the hops intensify in the progression of the beers you can make the food spicier or more substantial in heft. High gravity beers that are low in hops pair wonderfully with cheese.
We were amazed at how many styles of beer Hickory Brewing offered and how many styles they executed well. So it seemed fitting that we feature them for one of our beer dinners. We always want to feature beers that are unique, and/or seasonal, so after sampling many beers and scribbling down copious tasting notes, the menu started to take form.
We wanted to start with a salad, and because of the crispness of the Ruby Lager and its lingering sweetness, knew we could do something hearty and vegetal, but that the pairing would benefit from a little bitterness in the dish. We decided on a charred octopus salad with smoked tomatoes, white beans and rosemary, over a bed of frisee. Since there are minimal hops in this beer, by having frisee and lemon, and charring the octopus, we achieved a bitterness in the food that helped cut the sweetness in the beer.
For the next course we wanted to do an appetizer or a soup. After some brainstorming, we thought it would be cool to do individual pies, and decided on lamb samosas. We used puff pastry for the dough and made a curried lamb filling with potatoes and English peas, and lamb from Border Springs Farm. That was the foundation of the dish, that was meant to pair well with the Bee Student — a honey beer made in conjunction with Appalachian State’s brewing studies program. The dish begged for a sauce and an accoutrement to round it all out, so we served it with a coconut chutney and a dal with crimson lentils.
We’ve been trying to incorporate more vegetables in our dishes. We had gotten some positive feedback about having a vegetable course in the past, so opted for a hearty dish of three down-home vegetables that would all pair well with a pale ale. Turnip roots and shoots, Sea Island red peas with ham hock broth, and boiled peanut succotash are all things we’ve had on our menu, or featured as our vegetable of the day. All three complement each other well, and really stand up to the Table Rock Pale Ale, which has a nice bite to it.
For the entree we wanted to do something off the beaten path. We’d never served squab at Lucky’s and the concept was alluring, especially since it was something we’d never attempted before. I figured we could do squab with a black IPA if the seasonings were appropriate. We seasoned the squab with our fried chicken seasoning, roasted it, and served it atop some Carolina Gold dirty rice, with a rich chipotle jus. The dirty rice was earthy and provided grounding to the dish, and by having the chipotle in the jus, it elevated the spice and balanced out the hoppiness of the Black Raven.
Any big, funky cheese is fantastic with a barley wine, so we got a little whimsical and selected Chapel Hill Creamery’s Hickory Grove cheese with Olde Hickory’s Irish Walker beer (a limited-release barley wine). We had come across some ramps, so we grilled them and served them alongside some kale flowers and some naan, which helped cut the rich creaminess of the cheese.
For the final course, I wanted to showcase the Hickory Stick Stout, which had a nice nuttiness to it, and wasn’t too heavy, pairing it with a chocolate dessert that wasn’t too rich seemed like a good plan. We made a flourless chocolate cake with cold-brewed Counter Culture coffee, and Grand Marnier, and served with orange creamsicle ice cream, and the ice cream really helped balance everything out.
Ultimately, the goal is for attendees to leave sated – mentally and physically. There are always new flavor combinations to taste and ponder. We want folks to tell all of their friends about the amazing experience at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, and make plans to return.
Posted May 2014