Held in the store's upstairs classroom kitchen, Friday night's "Stone Brewery Gastropub" at Central Market was more cooking class than gastropub beer dinner. It provided such intriguing samples of food and Stone beers that it was impossible not to go downstairs and immediately head to the store's beer cooler in search of more Stone beers - at least for me. But then, I had a free media pass to the dinner and hadn't just shelled out $60 for some smallish samples.
Which is not to say the diners who did pay seemed unsatisfied; on the contrary, the class was soundtracked by approving moans of delight with each new sip or bite, and I saw all "excellent" ratings on the few post-dinner surveys left behind on the tables that I managed to espy. And judging by the nerdy fanboy questions for Stone brewmaster Steve Wagner during and after the dinner, the chance to ask questions or just shake his hand was the real draw anyway.
The class was part of the chain's Brewtopia beer campaign, of which today is the last day. No beer-related classes remain in Dallas, Plano or Fort Worth's stores, though Southlake's location has a "Cooking With Beer" course taught by Brian Olenjack of Olenjack's Grille at 6:30 p.m. Today is also the last day to take advantage of the best part of the marketing campaign: big discounts. Spend $5 to $9.99 on any beer (singles, packs or mini-kegs) and you get 10 percent off; 20 percent off for $10 to $24.99 in beer; and 25 percent off for purchases of $25 and up.
While the pairings were well thought out, the menu as a whole was less than cohesive, ranging from traditional Italian to tropical-influenced Mexican to curry. Nonetheless, a few of them were good enough that I'll be trying them in my own kitchen even if I'll never serve chicken with red chiles and coconut milk alongside baked rigatoni.
We started with a taste of Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard, a very good, mellower version of Stone's Arrogant Bastard. The faint oak and vanilla notes worked against the extreme piney hoppiness of the Bastard, which is why I think it's a better, more balanced beer overall. Much as I love hoppy beers, Bastard is just a tad bitter for me sometimes.
Mango pomegranate guacamole and plantain chips were paired with Stone Pale Ale. The pairing was good, with the spicy lingering serrano pepper heat and the mild hop bitterness canceling each other out.
"Baked Rigatoni Alla Norma" was served with Stone IPA, which got Wagner on the subject of India Pale Ales. Turns out he's working on a book about IPAs and found in his research that the common origin story (that they were developed with stronger hop and alcohol content in order to preserve the beer in its voyage from Great Britain to colonies in India) is false. He would not say more, however; we'll have to wait for the book to come out for the full story. The pasta dish wasn't spicy, but nonetheless its assertive flavors brought out the malty side of the IPA.
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Bacon-studded chipotle meatballs and clementine jicama salad with Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, my favorite Stone beer, was probably the most inspired match. The slightly spicy meat helped bring out the chocolatey malt notes of the black IPA while the tangy, citrusy salad went well with the piney Cascade hops.
Wagner recounted Arrogant Bastard's origin for us as we ate a chicken curry dish with the beer. It was the first beer Stone developed, but the incredibly hoppy beer was put on hold as the brewery put out a few more subdued beers first for fear that having it come out first would pigeonhole the brewery as a novelty company.
Given the extreme hop levels of most of the company's brews, some would probably still make the novelty accusation, regardless of which came first. But then, Stone Smoked Porter is, at least by contrast, remarkably restrained in that department. Served with coffee crunch bars and ice cream, the coffee and chocolate wonderfully complemented the rich porter's roasty flavors, and the peat-smoke flavor was subdued compared to more extreme examples of the style, which tend to have an almost hammy flavor.
Unfortunately, while I have taken full advantage of the Brewtopia discounts, I wasn't able to make it to nearly as many of the Brewtopia events as I'd have liked. Hopefully I'll get the chance again next year -- if not sooner.