A New Spin on Beer Tastings at the Lovin’ Cup

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Guest Blogger: Phil Stratigis

Taken from: http://www.beerup.beer/

​My name is Phil Stratigis, and I’ve been working in and around the Rochester, NY beer scene for the past 6 years or so. I’m currently a bartender, server, and middle-type manager (basically I have keys and the ability to void things) at a joint called Lovin’ Cup, which serves as a combination bar, restaurant, art space, coffee shop, and music venue. Sounds stretched thin, but we make it work.

We’ve been doing monthly beer socials at this spot for as long as I can remember. Actually, that’s how I got familiarized with Lovin’ Cup in the first place: as a youth prone to debauchery and poor decision making, I went there with some friends many years ago under the supervision of plastic bottle gin. One thing lead to another, and the next morning I woke up butt naked in an empty bed with tickets to a Brew Ha Ha featuring Brewery Ommegang. Fast forward, they hire me as a manager.

Anyway, the point is that these things, as fun as they are, have gotten stale over recent years of repetition. Heading into a 10 am meeting with Ballast Point to discuss our upcoming event, I was still a bit skeptical about how to make it more interesting. (Also, 10 am to a bartender is kind of a dick punch, let alone I just got out of a 9 am meeting with some folks helping to plan my annual disc golf tournament. Shameless plug because I’m writing this for free: www.RealBeerDiscGolf.com.) Ballast Point by itself sounds jazzy and cool on the surface to lots of folks, but considering their recent acquisition by Constellation Brands, a local Rochester company, every a-hole and their cousin was throwing tap takeovers with Pineapple Sculpin and Mango Even Keel. The one keg I did want, the tits-awesome Indra Kunindra (curry, cayenne, coconut stout OMFG so good) was unavailable to us at the time. Dick punch number two.

​The Sous Chef, Adam Soucy, and I had been on the tail end of a drought of culinary inspiration, and needed to shake things up a bit. To their credit, the representatives from Ballast Point were completely on board, and the ownership of our bar told us that our leashes were officially off. Then, we cracked some cans of Sculpin and got down to business. Beer tastings traditionally run along the lines of lightest to heaviest flavor profiles, roughly. So, say you’d start with a pilsner of some sort, chug along through a pale and an IPA, maybe throw in a gose if you’re following that trend, move to a porter and perhaps finish by highlighting your barrel aged whatever, all the while having some food that pairs along the same lines: appetizer thingy for light beer, entree for something with body, dessert for dark beer, ad nauseum. Boring. Tired. Cliche. After a shift and over a series of whiskeys with Adam, that’s when the real work began. We trashed the concept of linear tastings designed for rookie, adventureless palates.

“What if we made a glaze out of a porter for a lamb dish?” Yep.
​”IPA for dessert?” Done.
” Marinate a shrimp in curried pale ale? Live on stage cooking demo?”
Fame and fortune obviously await.

The night’s beer tasting lineup:

​For starters, we took some Commodore stout and turned it into a caramel. Pretty simple process, really, and something we had done before with red ale: take some beer, use it to caramelize a bunch of sugar, then add cream and butter at an expertly timed moment. Boom, caramel. We then tossed that with some of the finest quality Wegman’s instant microwave popcorn to make beer caramel corn. It is, in fact, as tasty as it sounds.

1) Grunion Pale Ale and curry marinated shrimp with grilled watermelon over arugula salad with Greek yogurt dressing, paired with Grunion Pale Ale (duh). I had worked with grilled watermelon and balsamic reduction as a summertime salad. The curry was a an idea ripped off of Ballast Point’s pairing notes for the beer. We meant to add some crumbled goat cheese, but were in a hurry, and had to prioritize drinking motivational barley sodas out of inconspicuous paper coffee cups.

​2) Mango Even Keel (I know I already mentioned everyone in town already had this, but bear with me.) Even Keel is their session IPA, so for this version they threw some mangoes into the brewing process.

3) Habanero Sculpin. As the name suggests, spicy. Like noticeably spicy, with like Scoville units.

3.5) Habanero Mango IPA. This was another result of a long shift followed by likewise long pours of whiskey. We mixed the above two beers (3 parts Mango, 1 part Habanero) to make a Frankenbeer version highlighting the attributes of both. It was fantastic, and got a great reception from the crowd.

4) Victory Peppermint at Sea. This is where we officially flipped the bird to tradition with regards to tasting progress and pairings. We got the idea to use this beer, an imperial porter infused with peppermint, to make a glaze for lamb, with the inspiration roughly being lamb with mint jelly. At first, we simply cooked down the beer to see what the reduction would be like. Pro Tip: don’t do that, as it tastes like bitter $hit. Instead, we turned the beer into a teriyaki sort of glaze, grilled some Frenched lamb chops, dipped them in said sauce, and put those atop mashed potatoes made with star anise infused butter. As a completed product, all the flavors played extremely well together – the mint and darkness of the beer worked with the earthy, gamey nature of the lamb, and the entire dish was mellowed and kept in check by the spuds.

5) Regular old Sculpin IPA. This was basically serving as a tool to reorient the palate back to familiar territory, since we just blew some domes off with that last pairing.

6) Ginger Big Eye IPA, made into a whipped cream, on top of spiced cheesecake. This is where the on stage demo happened. Using an isi nitrogen whipped cream charger, we combined the beer, confectioners sugar, egg white, lemon, ginger, and cream. Shaking the hell out of it and blasting it with nitrogen turned it into an instant whipped cream, which we placed on top of cheesecake squares spiced with nuts and mulling spices. I only had one instance of pre-pubescent uncontrollable cream ejaculation as a result of the pressurized charger, but at this point I had a few samples in me and didn’t much care. The crowd enjoyed it, regardless.

​All in all, the crowd response to the entire event, especially the switch around of established tasting order and pairings, was exceptionally positive. Standard beer tastings usually go from light to dark. Screw that! We threw in a porter-glazed lamb entree and finished with a whipped cream made from a ginger IPA. All was tasty. My only regret is not getting more pictures when the beers started flowing. It happens.