Can you remember the last time you drank twenty-one beers?
Maybe it was the night of your twenty-first birthday? Maybe a raging kegger for last year’s Superbowl, or that case of Natty Ice you singlehandedly slugged the day you graduated from university?
I myself can vividly remember the last time I drank twenty-one beers, because it was Monday evening. I’m not talking about twenty-one yellowish, watery light beers, my friend. Kickbacks Gastropub in Riverside hosted Lagunitas, a microbrewery from Petaluma, CA, for a dinner of eight courses paired with their brews. If you haven’t visited Kickbacks, you’re missing out on a selection of 60 beers on tap along with over 400 bottled options and a lengthy menu of bar snacks, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, pastas, and more. Kickbacks has been hosting beer dinners showcasing breweries across the country every six weeks or so, and the Lagunitas event was the biggest and most ambitious to date. The restaurant was closed to regular patrons and owner Steve and Lagunitas “Head Beer Weasel” Ron Lindenbush organized twenty-one beers to pair with the meal! According to Lindenbush, the Jacksonville event set a Lagunitas record for the most people in attendance and the most beers available for tasting. Jacksonville is a city that likes its beer. As we were getting seated and settled we were served a reception offering of Lagunitas PILS, a Czech-style Pilsner using Czech hops and water specially filtered to resemble that used to brew pilsners in the Czech Republic. Very clean and refreshing with a bigger personality than I’ve come to expect from many lagers. (Image from lagunitas.com) The first course was a spring mix salad wrapped in cucumber and drizzled with a vinaigrette made using the beer paired with the dish: New Dogtown Pale Ale. I thought the sweet note provided by a garnish of figs matched a caramel note in the brew, and the slice of pineapple worked with the citrus aroma of the hops. The vinaigrette was very tasty and I found myself wishing there were more on the plate to moisten the mass of greens that expanded when I unwrapped them from their cucumber constraints. Next up was a Lagunitas IPA paired with “Tacos de Cachete,” braised Piedmontese beef cheeks with jalapeno lime relish and cilantro in corn tortillas, by guest chef Brian Siebenschuh of Orsay. When devising the pairing, Chef Brian transported himself to Lagunitas’ California home and was inspired by West Coast taquerias. According to the chef, braised beef cheeks are common in tacos there. He wasn’t afraid to make the relish spicy both with jalepenos and whole pink peppercorns, and the spicy kick really worked with this IPA. The taco was an appropriate portion size for an eight-course meal. That being said, I could have happily eaten five more of these tasty hand-held treats. The first intermezzo offering was the Censored Rich Copper Ale (aka The Kronik) (American Amber/Red Ale). This brew is aptly named – it’s a penny copper color and I found it very drinkable.
Lagunitas Lucky 13 Mondo Large Red Ale and Imperial Red Ale were both paired with the third course of seared Mahi filet and coconut crusted shrimp with a mango reduction atop a small bed of haricot verts. The Lucky 13 Red Ale was my favorite beer of the night – very balanced without an overwhelming aftertaste, and well-paired with the spice rub on the Mahi (which was moist and perfectly cooked, by the way). Another intermezzo, another brew, this time the hoppy 2009 Correction Ale (American IPA).
The fourth course is when things started getting crazy. In general, any pairing dinner should start with lighter beers or wines and progress to the richer heavyweights as the evening evolves. Here’s where the heavyweights really started kicking in. We were presented with a vertical tasting of 2007, 2008, and 2010 Olde GnarlyWine (American Barleywine). At 11% ABV, these brews are no joke. Big brews need something flavorful and rich to stand up to them, and guest chef Michelle Ugarte from Salt at Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island really delivered with her pairing: Cajun cocoa-dusted braised oxtail over aged cheddar grits in a Gnarleywine, merlot, and chocolate stout mirepoix, finished with togarashi salt. Whew, a lot going on there! I could have eaten a vat of the cheddar grits, even at this stage in the game. The texture was perfect, and Chef Michelle didn’t skimp on the cheddar. I’m a big fan of oxtail and the chef thoughtfully removed the meat from the bones to make a more elegant presentation. A few of us at the table got a piece or two of gristly guys with our meat, but it didn’t distract me too much and really enjoyed the dish and the pairing. I especially liked the addition of togarashi – I tend to finish anything even pseudo-Asian I make at home with this Japanese spice blend and hadn’t thought to use it to add complexity to a rich meat dish. Awesome idea! The next intermezzo offering was Lagunitas Maximus (American Double/Imperial IPA, 7.5% ABV). Now here’s where my beer tasting notes lost their momentum and start getting a bit difficult to read... The fifth course paired three hoppy brews with cilantro soup. A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale (American Pale Wheat Ale), A Little Sumpin’ Extra! Ale (American Double/Imperial IPA) and Hop Stoopid (American Double/Imperial IPA). The creamy, slightly garlicky cilantro soup reminded me of the substantial herby broth of sancocho, a vitamin-packed stew considered a cure for hangovers in Latin America. (Maybe we should have been given this soup in a to-go container for lunch the next day? I sure could have used a hangover cure. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) Course numero six: 2009 and 2010 Hairy Eyeball Ale (American Strong Ale) paired with Jamaican goat wraps. You’re not going to get much in the way of insightful gastronomic elucidations from this point on. Perhaps this beer really does cause you to temporarily sprout hair on your eyeballs, as everything is a bit fuzzy from here on out. The wraps consisted of pulled goat meat, Caribbean rice pilaf, spinach, mozzarella and tropical sauce with mounds of mashed plantains and handmade guacamole. Does this presentation kind of sort of remind you of a certain male body part? Okay. Now I’m just getting silly. Apparently the next intermezzo was a glass of Cruising with Ruben & The Jets (American Double/ Imperial Stout/ Pepper Stout). I can’t seem to remember.
My memory returns for the seventh course, although I forgot to snap a photo of it until we’d already dug in: 2008 and 2009 Cappuccino Stout (American Double/Imperial Stout) served with beef wellington, garlic mashed potatoes and a Cappuccino Stout jus. My beef was tough but after I finished my taters and gravy I found myself reaching over the table stealing Phil’s off his plate. At this point all propriety was out the window. I’ll spare you the photo of my half-eaten plate and instead post this one I stole from Flickr. And…. finally! The eighth and final course! 2008 and 2009 Brown Shugga' (American Strong Ale) with a blondie topped with Brown Sugga’ caramel drizzle. Ooooh blondie! This was good! Like a really thick, warm, slightly undercooked, gooey chocolate chip cookie with extra chocolate chips and therefore extra goo. I really commend and thank Steve for pulling together such a major organizational undertaking and making this dinner possible. However, the night wasn’t perfect; at six hours, even the most seasoned session eater and drinker (me) couldn’t help but fall off at the end, especially on a Monday (Phil had a great time at the dinner but wasn’t feeling so hot the next morning when he had to get up at 6 and spend the day at work). And as much as I’ve been committed to learning about beer lately, I couldn’t help but lose interest in the nuances of a two-year vertical tasting by the twelfth and thirteenth beers offered in the sixth course. My best attempt to jot down tasting notes turned into illegible chicken scratch and random, meaningless phrases by the end of the night (just what did I mean by “I could smell the malt Maillard,” I wonder?). I do think the whole event could have benefited from perhaps a wee bit of restraint (from myself AND the organizers). This was Kickbacks’ biggest beer dinner yet so I’m sure the kinks will get ironed out for the next big event. All in all, I appreciated the infectious enthusiasm put forth by Steve and Ron and definitely got my money’s worth ($50 plus tax and gratuity), drank some great beers, made some awesome new friends, and generally just had a blast. The next Kickbacks beer dinner is with Terrapin on March 15th. You don’t want to miss out. Follow Kickbacks on Facebook for info on upcoming beer dinners, new brews, menu specials, and more!
910 King Street, Jacksonville, FL