Playing up his audience's Lone Star state of mind, Stone Brewing Co. founder Greg Koch conjured a fire-and-brimstone Baptist evangelizer while doing what can only be described as preaching to the choir at Monday's Stone beer dinner at the Meddlesome Moth, part of the ongoing Ale Week.
After all, these were folks who had shelled out $85 apiece for a beer dinner. But nobody was complaining about receiving a little encouragement from one of craft beer's most prominent characters. Certainly, none denied his claim that "We will no longer accept your lowest common denominator, your fizzy yellow stuff!" (And I'm going to give Koch the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Martin Luther King Jr.-like cadence was not intended to trivialize the civil rights leader on the 43rd anniversary of his assassination. )
In fact, the audience -- which included a large number of food and beer industry professionals -- was so passionate about beer and so knowledgeable that when Koch tried to remember what alcohol by volume percentage prohibits beer in Texas from being labeled "beer," about half the crowd shouted out the correct answer: "Five!"
That law, he said, prompted him to reluctantly change the verbiage on the label of Arrogant Bastard from "This is an aggressive beer..." to "This is an aggressive ale..." Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission code mandates that any beer with an ABV over 5 percent to be labeled as "ale" or "malt liquor," regardless of how inaccurate or insulting those designations may be -- and even prohibits the word "beer" from appearing anywhere on the label.
Fortunately, he won at least one battle with the TABC over the labeling of Double Bastard Ale, which will eventually be coming to Texas, as he convinced them that his use of the word "masturbatory" had no sexual connotation.
With a couple of exceptions, the beers -- excuse me, "ales," as their ABVs were all well over 5 percent -- were not particularly rare offerings. Stone's Pale Ale, IPA, Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale are all relatively easy to find at your favorite beer store or bar. Highway 78, a scotch ale created in collaboration with Green Flash and Pizza Port Carlsbad, and the 2008 Stone Imperial Russian Stout were the only two brews that most local Stone fans probably hadn't already enjoyed a few of in recent months. Rather, the draw was the food chef Chad Kelley created to pair with each beer, and the interplay between the two.
Highway 78 turned out to be a great wee heavy, malty and smoky with a creamy, smooth body and not nearly as much hop presence as Stone beers typically have. It paired well with the trio of little bites -- pate on rye with malt mustard, carpaccio with a peach puree and a gruyere tart. The salty, savory elements blended well with the smokiness while the fruit brought out the beer's sweetness.
A "crab boil," basically a crab cake with sweet corn and mashed potatoes rather than bread crumbs holding it together, was paired with Stone IPA, the hoppy bite of which contrasted well with the salty seafood and helped clean the palate of the starches.
Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale with cocoa-braised short rib was an especially inspired pairing. The cocoa and rich meat really brought out the roasted malts of the beer, while the beer's hops coaxed some pleasant bitterness from the accompanying leek polenta and garlic kale. I'd always thought of it as basically a dark-colored IPA and hadn't noticed much of the dark malty flavor, but the meat made it seem more like a particularly hoppy porter.
My favorite pairing, though, was the Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale with candied orange duck. The tangy, sweet glaze on the poultry perfectly complemented the vanilla flavors imparted by the oak-barrel aging on the beer. The rich, fatty, peppery meat stood up well against an alpha dog of a beer.
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Not being a big fan of figs, I wasn't so wild about the chocolate fig stout cake and would have rather had more than a spoonful of the accompanying malted milk ice cream. But the 2008 IRS was a luscious dessert unto itself, chocolate, espresso and cream all in one.
The cask-conditioned Ruination, a line that began as the brewery's fifth-anniversary double IPA, the last in a series of increasingly hoppy anniversary IPAs, was dry-hopped with Simcoe hops, and was even by Stone standards an extremely dry, bitter and hoppy beer, with a surprisingly light body for a double IPA. It was an excellent palate-cleansing way to finish the meal -- my only complaint is that it wasn't covered by the dinner's $85 price tag.
The remaining dinners (Breckenridge Brewing on Wednesday and Lagunitas on Thursday), are limited to 15 people and come with a more reasonable $65 price. They're sold out, but if you're a serious beer lover, it'd be worth calling the bar to ask if any spaces open up.