On Saturday, February 24, I was invited to Mark's house (aka 'maltydog' on RateBeer.com and Beer Advocate) along with Bill (of Marzoni's) and Jeff. Also in attendance were Bill's wife and son, and Mark's wife and kids. It was, without a doubt, the best meal I've ever had at someone's house (sorry Mom).
Mark, Bill, and I had been tossing around the idea of having a Belgian-themed dinner for quite some time, and finally it came to be. All of us brought some beer, and Mark planned the menu around them - all seven courses! I walked in; I waddled out.
We started with some truffle oil and garlic bread sticks and a Sicilian olive medley, with which was paired Saison Dupont Vieille Provision (Brasserie Dupont). Saison is, without a doubt, my favorite beer style, and this is a fine example of the style. Spicy and floral, with some nice farmhouse funk to it and a smooth finish.
After some conversation and munching, we sat down to the appetizer. Mark presented mussels on the half shell which had been poached in Grottenbier Flemish Ale (St. Bernard Brouwerij), served cold with Scaldis aioli. These were complemented with a 2001 Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze (Cantillon), which I purchased at the brewery in 2004 (see pics) and brought back with me. It was aging in my cellar, waiting for a special occasion to uncork - and this was definitely a good time! Gueuze is an acquired taste - a lot of acidity, with some yeasty funk. This was particularly smooth with a clean, crisp finish.
Next was a salade frisee with Serrano ham, poached egg, and croutons dressed with pomengranate vinaigrette. The vinaigrette paired wonderfully with a New Glarus Raspberry Tart (New Glarus Brewing Co.), a fruit beer supplied by Mark. Tart and sweet, with an intense raspberry flavor.
Hutsepot was served next, a creamy-clear broth with fresh basil, croutons, and escargot. I enjoyed this, particularly since I hadn't had snails since living in France, though it wasn't to quite everyone's taste (snails, not the soup). This was paired with a bottle of Abbaye des Rocs Tripel Imperiale (Brasserie de l'Abbaye des Rocs) that I picked up over New Years at State Line Liquors in Maryland. The sweetness of the tripel went well with the earthy, chewy escargot.
Next came the entree. A frikadelle - like a meatloaf made with beef, pork, lamb, and veal - was served with a black cherry sauce and accompanied by Belgian endive covered in ham and Chimay cheese sauce. Paired with this was the New Glarus Belgian Red (New Glarus Brewing Co.), a cherry fruit beer supplied by Mark. The beer went very well with the cherry sauce on the frikadelle, and the tart/sweet tastes lent a good contrast to the bitterness of the endive and saltiness of the ham and cheese.
By this time, all of us were wondering how we were going to handle any more food, but we got up and walked around a bit in the kitchen while dishes were cleared and the remaining food was prepared. There were several beers to try with the cheese, a tasty English Royal Blue Stilton. These included a 1989 and 1997 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, a 2004 J.W. Lees Sherry Aged Harvest Ale (both of J.W. Lees), and a 1994 vintage (pre-1999) Thomas Hardy's Ale (Eldridge Pope - out of business). The 1989 J.W. Lees was sublime, complex and malty with plum, raisins, and smooth alcohol warming and paired particularly well with the sharp, tangy Stilton. Mark also shared a preview of his homebrewed saison, which has been sitting in secondary for a year now. He added Brett to it and it was superb - can't wait to taste the final product!
Dessert was a Schokiang 71% Cacao and Casa Don Puglisi Chile chocolate fondue, into which we dipped chunks of Belgian waffle, bananas, apples, and pears. The cheese and dessert were out at the same time, and by now we were all just snacking and trying the remaining beers. First was the Lost Abbey Avant Garde (Lost Abbey/Port Brewing), a biere de garde brought by Bill. This was my first experience with Lost Abbey, and I was not disappointed. Biere de gardes rank right up there with saisons, and though not a strong tasting beer, it still went well with the fondue. A slightly disappointing beer for the evening was the Harvey's A le Coq Imperial Stout (Harvey's). Both bottles were a 1999 vintage, and both seemed to have a heavy amount of oxidation going on. The predominant flavor was a tangy, soy-like maltiness. Tart, with the roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate flavors coming only at the end. Perhaps they were a bit off.
My final tasting of the evening - and what a way to cap it all off before bidding au revoir - was two bottles of Westvleteren Abt 12 (Westvleteren Abjij St. Sixtus). These were two bottles of eight I bought while still in France that I brought back, and I must say they traveled well. Quite a treat, as they are always in limited supply and even greater demand these recent years. There was still a few bottles of Thomas Hardys and another Lost Abbey offering, but it was time for me to hit the road home. Everything written above suggests that I should have been passed out, but all of my drinking was limited to very small tastings over four hours (on top of all that food!).
My thanks to Mark and Erica for their hospitality and culinary skills and beer, and to Bill for great beer offerings. This was truly a remarkable evening and an extraordinary dinner - one that I had to share here. Mixing great food and great beer, along with company who can appreciate both, makes for an unforgettable experience.
From left to right: New Glarus Belgian Red, Saison Dupont, New Glarus Raspberry Tart, Thomas Hardy 1994, Harveys a Le Coq Imperial Stout, J.W. Lees 1989 Harvest Ale, Westvleteren Abt 12 (back), J.W. Lees 2004 Sherry Aged Harvest Ale, Grottenbier Flemish Ale, 2001 Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze, Lost Abbey Avant Garde, Abbaye des Rocs Tripel Imperiale, Lost Abbey Lost & Found.