Sunday, April 22, 2012

Moonlight Brewery Dinner

Last month, I had the lucky fortune to attend the Moonlight Beer and Ale Molecular dinner at Beachwood BBQ.  The 6-course dinner featured the cooking of Chef Gabe Gordon and the rare opportunity to taste 7 different beers from Moonlight Brewing.  The Santa Rosa, CA based brewery only sells beer in kegs that are very rarely found in Southern California.   
Moonlight brewer Brian Hunt introduced each beer pairing with colorful anecdotes and opinionated (yet good natured) discourse about beer styles.  The passion with which he spoke of beer, so characteristic of the craft beer community, was what made me love this event right away.  While discussing his black lager Death and Taxes, he said it was born out of his longing for a beer that tastes good on a hot 90+ summer's day, like iced coffee.  It's the beer he craves in the summertime when he's working out in the hopyard pulling weeds.  And although I was drinking it in an air-conditioned restaurant, this refreshing beer (my favorite of the night) tasted perfect to me.  
Hunt said at one point that beer drinkers have a good sense of humor, and I have to agree with him.  It only takes a few months of studying terrifically pun-laden craft beer names (read: Reality Czeck Pilsner) to start getting a kick out of this quirky, creative niche audience.  So when Gordon and Hunt paired a modernist take on a BLT (one you could shoot) with Moonlight's beer Toast, it was a fitting compliment to the imaginative playfulness of the craft beer community.
The intimate quality of the dinner allowed beer drinker, brewer, and chef to share many toasts together.  
At the introduction Moonlight's Uncle Ølsen beer, we all shouted "Skål!", a drinking toast that made me feel right at home (I spent an undergrad semester living abroad in Denmark.)  Uncle Ølsen, which he refers to as a Norwegian farmhouse style, is inspired by Norway's historical use of conifers as a substitute for hops when the commodity was unavailable.  
Hunt, remembering an ethereal smell emitted by cedars during childhood trips to the Sierras, said he knew he had to make a beer out of them.  The legend goes that he was hunting for just such an ingredient when was driving along one day, a mile from his house, and saw a row of 20 forty-year old cedar trees.  A knock on the door later, and his neighbor (who serendipitously had just returned from a beer-drinking tour of Belgium) agreed to let him use the trees for his brewery located a half-mile away.   Gordon paired Uncle Ølsen with a dish of cured baby abalone, peas and melon.  The highlight of this dish was the flash-fried nuggets of horseradish-infused cashew butter, something I never knew I always wanted to eat.    

My favorite course by far was the sweetbreads and gnocchi paired with Moonlight's Bombay by Boat IPA.  Inspired by the citrus quality of the beer, Gordon made a kumquat butter sauce for this dish.  He poached the sweetbreads in orange blossom water and used potato starch to make a crust.  Then, he dehydrated orange and tangerine zest, ground it up, and added that to the potato starch on the sweetbreads.   Due to his affinity for cheese with IPA style beer, he created an intense cheese flavor for the gnocchi by making a cheese water out of a vintage aged sheep's milk gouda.  He then cooked this in a water bath for 12 hours, added kudzu (a Japanese root), cooked it again for another 2 hours, then added more cheese.  To add more texture, it was rolled back in the starch and flash fried, then served with a garnish of chives and lemon sorel.  This gnocchi immediately became a lifetime favorite, and I could have stopped eating then. 
But just when I thought I had already experienced my favorite food moment of the night, it turns out I was destined for another.  Along came the Modernist Cheesecake dessert, which was paired with Moonlight's Twist of Fate Bitter Ale (a complex beer that has 12 different malts and 6 different hops.)  The Modernist Cheesecake was made with fresh mozzarella cheese curds, blown up with a graham cracker and ricotta cheese foam, and a sauce made of caramelized apples (with a bit of cracked caramel), and garnished with white chocolate and basil.  Regular cheesecake is now forever ruined for me: I want only to eat Modernist Cheesecake from the kitchen of Gabe Gordon.  Such are the hazards of attending dinners like these.  
Luckily, the menus for the evening were laser-etched into galvanized steel discs, which not only look incredibly cool but will help me to reminisce about every drip of libations sipped and every bite consumed.  Many pairing dinners force you to preserve a paper menu to document each dish, and they are rarely unsullied by splashes of craft beer at the end of the night.  But these discs remain intact, sturdy keepsakes of our jolly merrymaking.  Thanks for the memories Moonlight and Beachwood!  Well done indeed.

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