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Last week, writer and beer aficionado Christian DeBenedetti invited me to a superintimate craft-beer dinner at Gramercy Tavern hosted by Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, and David Katleski, president of the New York State Brewers Association and owner of Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse. I’d just read Burkhard Bilger’s superbly written, compelling 10-page New Yorker article on the state of American craft beer and was excited to see what unusual seasonal brews Herz and Katleski would bring to the table. The revelatory five-course, beer-paired meal lasted nearly six hours and now has me obsessing over the idea of drinking beer seasonally. Here are some highlights:
* Harpoon’s Winter Warmer is available only from November through January. Its pumpkin-pie-like finish of cinnamon and nutmeg was a lovely complement to a duck breast served with quinoa and shiitake mushrooms.
* There is a growing trend in fresh hops beer (it was even added as a new style category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival). Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale, a supergrassy seasonal beer is an exceptional example of the style. We tried it with a pumpkin soup with peekytoe crab and celery root – delicious!
*A special treat was ODell Brewing Co.’s limited-edition Woodcut No. 1. The Fort Collins, Colorado, brewery released just 120 cases of this unusual oak-aged ale (it sold out in one day) before retiring the label. We poured bottle 125. It surprised us with an oaky Chardonnay-like nose, but it tasted of vanilla, almonds and aged fruit and worked brilliantly with the grilled sturgeon with brussels sprouts and chestnuts.
*Every year on election day, Empire Brewery releases a barley wine, and David brought a growler of the potent, malty brew (12.5% alcohol) to pair with our excellent desserts. We also tried Brewery Ommegang’s Chocolate Indulgence, a decadent chocolaty-malty drink that was a dessert on its own.
If the thought of pairing beer with anything other than wings and pizza sounds intimidating, check out the Brewers Association’s easy-to-follow beer-and-food-matching chart.