Monday of Philly Beer Week saw me getting an early e-mail from Jon at Chick's Cafe: we had a beer change. The Italian chestnut beer we had scheduled for the main course (a wild boar dish on polenta) was not available, we were getting Chocarrubica instead, a chocolate/carob beer. Okay, let's put that with the dessert, and we decided to put the BB10 with the boar instead, a choice that turned out to be brilliant...wish I could say it was my decision, but I think it was Jon's. I spent the day working on my vodka story for Massachusetts Beverage Business, and left for Chick's about 4:30 for our "That's not Belgian!" dinner (which was, I'm gratified to find out, the FooBooz "Beer Week Pick of the Day" yesterday).
Traffic wasn't too bad, and about 5:20, I walked into the bar at Chick's, said hi all round, and went over the menu with Jon one last time. We made a decision to roll the cheese course before the entree; I wanted the BB10 later in the dinner. That done, I sat and awaited developments. Pretty soon Suzanne Woods developed, always a pleasant situation, but she was just stopping in to say hi to Jon and all before heading off to run the Beer Geek Trivia semi-final at Triumph. Not long after she left -- ships passing in the night -- Iron Hill West Chester brewer Chris Lapierre and his assistant showed up. For the dinner. Really? I was honored.
Eventually, closer to 7 than 6:30 (with Jon tossing out a variety of samples of really interesting Italian beers not on the menu to keep folks interested), we got started. The first beer of the night, Sesonetto from Birrificio Piccolo, was perhaps the best beer of the night. It's brewed with juniper, coriander, and chinotto fruit, an Italian bitter orange that is at the heart of many of the Italian amari, the bitter digestif/aperitif drinks that the Italians prize (because they assist in eating more delicious food). The nose was sweet orange, the flavor was dry and bitter...but still wonderfully orange. Great stuff.
The food was also excellent. After that, we had a smoked mussel tart with goat cheese and green apples (with La Bavaisienne Blonde, quite nice pairing); a selection of Spanish and French cheeses with a Spanish cider (okay, but not great) and La Choulette Framboise (excellent: not syrupy, almost a bitter raspberry; I had Jon re-fill me on this one); and a wild boar and mushroom ragout on polenta that was everything you hope for with 'wild' food: rich and earthy and bold. That was with the BB10, a 10% beer made with Sardinian grapes that was neither overpoweringly strong or more than faintly grapey: it was actually dry and hinted with cocoa. Impressive display of brewing. The chocolate truffle tart for dessert was insanely good (at $9 on the menu, this is one dessert that is perfectly priced and proportioned for sharing), and the Chocarrubica...had brettanomyces character. With chocolate and carob. Still, as I told the diners, I'm not sure if that's intentional or not, but it worked: really dried out the chocolate.
The dinner was a great success. Everyone seemed to have a very good time, we talked, we laughed, we enjoyed the food, the beer, and the pairing. Jon brought out some Haandbryggeriet Norwegian Wood afterwards, made with malt smoked with juniper, and it was striking. There are amazing things going on at microbreweries in Europe, and while I suspect some of them will pass without note, some will become established and spread.