Wednesday night at the Libertine Bar's Avery beer dinner, I did something I've never had to do at a beer dinner: turned down a refill.
That sums up the tone of the dinner, which seems perfectly appropriate. The Libertine, after all, is a bar that kicks down any barrier between highbrow and lowbrow, a bar that serves cuisine such as duck confit and cheese boards but that also hosts a beloved annual corn-dog-eating contest. So in retrospect, it shouldn't have been surprising that a bar that offers one of the cheapest regular beer dinners in town would also be the most generous with its pours.
Which also makes reporting on it a bit of a challenge. The first course, I recall, was a smashing success. The smoky, savory slab of pork belly and crisp, apple cider-dressed salad were perfectly complemented by Avery IPA, as the meat's glaze brought out the malty sweetness of the beer, while the beer's bracing hop bite was a snappy retort to the bitter greens. Yet by dessert, my memories are a fog, and a grease-stained notepad full of exclamation points and illegible squiggles only deepens the mystery.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I vividly recall the second course, which marked my first experience with frog legs. The vying drizzles of spicy orange garlic puree and parsley coulis both seemed a good match to the citrus and coriander of Avery White Rascal Belgian Wheat Ale. But the frog meat itself was kind of bland and gristly. Maybe there's only so much that can be done with amphibian meat that looks like it's mooning you from the plate.
The croquette of brandade (salt cod) with a smoked tomato gastrique was extremely salty, and a pale ale to contrast with the salty seafood or rauschbier to highlight the smokiness might have been a more conventional pairing. But the Avery and Russian River Brewing joint effort Collaboration Not Litigation is a fine, well-rounded, complex beer that would probably match practically anything.
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The roulade of beef and duxelle with fava bean puree came with the drier, spicier Salvation. I probably would have switched the pairing and had the maltier, sweeter Collaboration with the beef and the crisper Salvation with the salt cod. Either way, it was cool to try the Collaboration alongside Salvation. If only it were possible in Texas to try Russian River's Salvation with them as well. (The collabo came about when Adam Avery and Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo realized they both had a Belgian-style beer named Salvation in their portfolios, and decided to blend the two beers for a special release rather than sue each other over the moniker.)
Samael's, an oaky hot caramelly 14.5 ABV behemoth of an ale, was phenomenal. Dessert was something sweet and flaky with whipped cream; talking too loudly, standing too close and sharing too much with people we'd just met; the inexplicable decision to buy a pack of menthols; and a long walk around the neighborhood trying to sober up for the drive home.
So the pairings weren't all ideal and frog ass didn't taste any better than it sounds. Nonetheless, it was the most fun I've had at a beer dinner. Because it wasn't treated like a wine dinner. As much as I tend to claim beer is superior to wine in food pairings, touting its vast range of flavors, it's still beer. I got into beer because it's fun to drink and it's way cheaper, and as expertly as the food may have been prepared, Wednesday night was a reminder that great beer doesn't have to be sipped from thimble-sized pours to be appreciated.