Our resident beer expert, T. Ballard Lesemann, gives his account of Wednesday night’s beer dinner at Carolina’s:
The flavors were mighty robust — in the beer vessels and on the plates — during the Belgian Beer Dinner. Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon and his kitchen staff presented five courses with five high-strength Belgian ales — Duvel, two from the La Chouffe brewery, and two from the Maredsous brewery — to a full house at the downtown bistro. It was another impressive installment in their seasonal and monthly beer dinners.
David Gonzales, a knowledgeable and articulate representative from the world-famous Duvel brewery, was on hand to explain the geography, cultural history, and complex characteristics of the beers. He mentioned the technical aspects of triple fermentation and bottle conditioning, the wine-like manner in which the brewers package and present their beers, and a few curious tidbits about alpine settings, monastic internships at commercial breweries, and gnomes (the La Chouffe labels feature a white-bearded character with a Smurf-like outfit).
All five beers were unusually high in alcohol, ranging between eight and 10 percent by volume. Yet none had the heaviness of Scotch ales, barley wines, or a doppelbocks of similar strength. They were spicy, grainy, fruity, and winey in different ways.
The first course featured a bowl of Duvel-steamed mussels with a char-grilled hunk of country bread. The intense saltiness of the broth and the crust of the bread was nicely balanced by the clean, crisp, pale malt flavors and mildly alcoholic spice of the strong blonde Duvel ale. Course two featured a stronger golden ale from the Benedictine monks of the La Chouffe brewery, paired with two enormous, locally-caught head-on shrimp, served on a small bed of extremely thinly-sliced pan-seared collard greens, lightly seasoned with pork and coriander and curaçao.
One of the highlights of the dinner came with the third course — a confit of tender pork shoulder wrapped in caul fat and pan-seared, with creamed spinach and carrot. The earthy, herbal dish was paired with a staggeringly strong but drinkable Maredsous Triple. This effervescent, hazy-copper, monastic style hovers around 10 percent (abv.).
[image-2] The Maredsous Dubbel — an eight percent brown ale of ruby-red color and raisiny aroma — accompanied the fourth course of pan-roasted guinea hen with black lentils and a creamy parsnip mash. These hearty courses might have been too heavy alongside beers with heavier malt and hop flavors, but the delicate character of the Belgian styles allowed for fine balance.
For dessert, Bacon and the staff served a thin nougatine brownie with an unexpectedly hoppy, caramel-colored “strong brown ale” from La Chouffe (the label on the bottle read “McChouffe” as a nod to the brown ales of Scotland). A creamy semifreddo prepared with the beer topped the dish. Pairing beer with dessert is a challenge. Fortunately, the nutty flavor and crunch of the brownie was less sugary-sweet than expected. The hop and malt flavors of the big brown ale elegantly enhanced the subtle chocolate and nut flavors of the dish. It was terrific clincher for an adventurous Belgian-themed meal.
Coming up, Carolina’s presents an authentically Bavarian “Oktoberfest” menu Wed. Oct. 29 at 7 p.m., with five classic German styles of lager and wheat bear from the acclaimed Weihenstephan Brewery (the “oldest brewery on the world”). Beers include Festbier, Kristallweiss, Hefeweiss, Doppelbock, and Hefeweiss Dunkel. The dinner menu will feature bratwurst, scallops, grilled tuna pave, pork tenderloin, and a tart flambe. The price is $55 per person, including beer and exclusive of tax and gratuity. Reservations are required. Seating is limited to 40 people. The following beer dinner event is scheduled for Jan. 28.
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