Recently, I had the luxury of participating in a beer pairing dinner at the resort's Angle restaurant, which featured an impressive five course meal with six different Ommegang Brewery beers, including the just-released Game of Thrones inspired beer Three-Eyed Raven.
I joined some other industry veterans and hotel staff as the case was made for a fine dining experience that encompassed the spectrum of flavors that beer can achieve. Granted this spectrum was limited to a distinctly Belgian-oriented spin, but it was something that a small but growing group of elite restaurateurs are attempting to do differently.
The goal is to no longer be able to see only a long and detailed wine list for a meal, but to find something similar among the beers of the world.
On this evening, however, we were sat to experience first hand the flavor combinations that were possible between haute-cuisine and beer. Some had never feasted in such a way, with wine their usual go-to for these types of events. It was a time to get a little adventurous and jump off script for a while.
After an amuse-bouche of steak tartare, we settled into the first course, charred octopus confit paired with Ommegang's Hennepin saison. The eloquently prepared octopus was perfectly tender, with bits of crispy suction cup adding a divine texture to a remarkable piece of seafood.
For each course, Duvel USA's (the parent company of Brewery Ommegang) South Florida representative John Oteri talked us through each beer, it's history, and how it would pair with the dish. Crispy pork belly, paired with the Valar Morghulis dubbel, was thick and meaty, while the succulent and tender duck confit paired perfectly with the hazy and dry Tripel Perfection.
Each course came and went, and the benefits of beer as a food companion were becoming clear. As Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, explains when he describes the connection between beer and cheese, "It's got a cutting power. I mean, it's a physical scrubbing action. I call it 'scrubbing bubbles' — you know, literally, lift some of that fat off your palate. Whereas, famously, cheese is quite mouth-coating, and often doesn't even allow you to taste the wine." Though these courses were not cheese, the hefty umami fat character to most of them allowed the beers to work in the same way.
"I always get chefs to pair the dessert with Three Philosophers Quad," he said. "But Chef Robert said 'no', and instead picked out Gnomegang." Luckily someone decided to just do two desserts, and we were presented with a duality of sweetness: a chocolate panetone topped with toasted marshmallow paired with Three Philosophers, and kettle corn ice cream sandwiched between gingerbread paired with Gnomegang. This time, chocolate wasn't able to save itself, and the Gnomegang / ice cream sandwich combination blew most everyone away. The nuances between the slightly sweet and yeast forward beer locked in step with the spicy gingerbread and the milky and grainy ice cream flavors.
The resort isn't just doing events like this as simple one-offs. There is word that they will pushing towards introducing large format beers (750ml bottles and limited release bombers for example) into their restaurants, as well as incorporating local craft breweries into their ocean-side bars. From the looks of things, they are seeking to shrug off some established luxury elements in order to experiment and move onto the cutting edge of taste and interest. That same day, they featured numerous beer activities centered around National Beer Day. You don't see that happening at most 5 star hotels.
For those seeking a place to elevate their beer and dining experience, look for more beer dinners and events at the Eau Palm Beach Resort in the future. Maybe this will spur some more high end restaurants in the area to offer a beer program. Wouldn't that be something?
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.