By Julia Burke, Beer Editor
Rochester’s Old Toad Pub took its legendary beer pairing dinner tradition to new levels of decadence on Wednesday with "Beer and Beasts," a dinner devoted to all manner of tasty animals cooked in all manner of tasty ways.
While many of Old Toad’s past dinners have featured high-alcohol monsters by breweries notorious for pushing limits -- breweries such as Mikkeller, Dogfish Head, and Brewdog -- this dinner was unique for its use of lighter and more delicate styles. Pilsners and pale ales don’t often get to shine in the beer world, but they’re arguably the best “food beers” around, and they made excellent matches for the complex and rich meat dishes featured at this event. From goat sausage to tongue sliders, this menagerie of muscles called for a serious lift of hops and carbonation without any oppressive heaviness or extremity of flavor.
Out of six featured beers, three hailed from our fair state, and two in particular were my top beers -- and pairings -- of the night. It’s great to see New York brews starring on such an exciting menu. Chef Charlotte Cox demonstrated once again her prowess for flavorful spins on the northern European passion for the creative carnivorism.
The first course was a cured smoked brisket with soy, mint, and sesame dressing paired with Sixpoint Craft Ales Sehr Crisp Pils. “Crisp” is perhaps not the most accurate descriptor for this beer, which I found to be more slick and buttery than a typical pilsner. But that texture likely made it a better match than a more standard example for the dish, which balanced smoky meat and delicate mint zing deftly.
While I certainly wouldn’t kick the subsequent pineapple-glazed pork belly out of bed, the next dish featured one of my favorite beers lately: Ommegang Belgian Pale Ale with stuffed duck neck (pictured at the top of the post). The sheer size of the circles of duck neck warranted admiration; surely this was either a case of genetic modification experimentation gone wild or this duck died very, very well. Whatever the case, BPA belongs with the apricot and Stilton that graced the duck like Ingrid belonged with Bogey in Casablanca, and I found myself wondering less about the fate of the duck and more and more about how to get a larger beer sample during the slightly long wait between courses.
I can speak for most of my table when I declare one of the top dishes of the night to be the oxtail marmalade with duck egg paired with Three Heads Brewing Blimey. This English-style pale ale is tasting so good lately, I enjoyed a pint of it between courses even though I knew it would be on the menu.
The simple, balanced citrus fruit and malt notes popped alongside the sweet marmalade, and the chewy-yet-crisp texture was a perfect match for what was essentially the best open-faced sandwich ever.
I left the dinner impressed all over again by what’s come out of New York this year; amidst all the hoppy, dark, roasty, and strong stuff that tends to grab the lion’s share of attention, pilsners and pales are too often forgotten; events like this are important reminders that often these styles are just what the doctor ordered.