Image by Me
Laura Albert's may be tucked away on scenic Daniel Island, but they are playing an important part in Charleston's craft beer boom as a cross-functional bottle shop/tap room/restaurant. They stepped up to the plate again this past Thursday with another well-attended beer dinner, this time with Downington, PA's Victory Brewing.
I've got a total soft spot for Victory. After South Carolina finally "popped the cap" a couple of years ago, they were one of the first breweries to enter the Charleston market, bringing new and exciting styles to thirsty beer enthusiasts. Finding HopDevil on tap around here was a revelation back then. Of course now we're all spoiled by diversity, but Victory remains a great go-to line.
I've also got a total soft spot for craft breweries that experiment with fun, small-batch brews. The reception for this dinner featured one of those, CBC Braumeister Pils made with only Tettnang hops, one of Bavaria's noble hop varieties. Victory rep Cameron Rollo explained to us later that this was actually brewed for consumption at the annual Craft Brewer's Conference (hence the CBC). Its hazy, unfiltered look makes you expect an airy Hefeweizen flavor, so when you taste the crisp tang of those hops it's a pleasant surprise. If this were more widely available, it would be in my fridge all summer long.
First course: Warm Asparagus, Roma Tomatoes & Mozzarella Napoleon on a bed of Mesculin Greens and dressed with Red Wine Vinaigrette Balsamic Reduction vs. Helios Ale.
With the first course we jumped right in to what would be a menu full of surprising combinations. Here we had a dish featuring a mozzerlla and roma tomato Napoleon, drizzled in balsamic reduction, with some greens and asparagus. The selection of Victory's Helios Ale, a decidedly Belgian-style Saison (or farmhouse ale), seemed an odd one to go with this decidedly Italian-inspired dish. But as I'd find throughout the night, the chefs at Laura Albert's are smarter than me. The asparagus was crisp and the greens cold and bright. Those fresh green flavors were a clever complement to the hay-like aroma of the Brettanomyces-filled Helios. A great lead-off here.
The second course really changed geographic gears. Fried (basically egg) rolls filled with corned beef and cabbage were paired with a cajun remoulade and a lemon creme fraiche, all set against the bold flavor of Victory's Hop Wallop. I love all things hoppy, so this was a fun one for me. The remoulade had just the right amount of spice to play against the hops, and the beer did a great job of cutting through the richness of the sauces. It's official, Asio-Irish food goes great with East Coast Imperial IPAs. Who knew?
I think I can safely say the third course was the biggest hit of the night, and it featured the biggest beer hit as well. This was my first shot at Baltic Thunder Imperial Porter, a dry, toffee-forward beer brewed with lager yeast at (higher) ale temperatures. Ready for another geography lesson? This Baltic beer was put up against Asian-style beef short ribs, ginger-scented jasmine rice, and braised bok choy. And, once again, I've been outsmarted. The beef was so tender it was literally falling apart at the touch of a fork, and the caramel notes in the beer married instantly with the rich sauce. Again there was just the right amount of "kick" to go up against the hop flavors in the porter, which become more apparent as the beer warmed. The room was noticeably quieter during this course, and for good reason.
The last course was a buttermilk spiced cake, pear compote, and vanillia whipped cream put up against Victory's very big take on the Belgian Quadrupel style, the aptly named V-Twelve (12% ABV). The style incorporates Belgian candi sugar, which imparts a sweetness to the beer as well as giving the ABV a nice jolt, so having it with dessert made all kinds of sense. The cake was lighter than I expected, with a texture more like coffee cake, which allowed V-Twelve to really shine with candy-goodness.
As in the last beer dinner, Chef Matt Brigham, the unassuming star of the show, came out to speak with us after the meal was over. Both he and Cameron served as great guides through the experience, giving it all a fun and casual tone, although the food and pairings were as serious as could be.
Laura Albert's continues to impress. Their beer dinners indicate a real understanding of both pairing and progression, the latter of which is sometimes lost in lesser beer dinner menus. With more of these events popping up all over town, we run the risk of some stinkers slipping into the rotation every once in a while. As long as Chef Brigham and company are at the helm, Laura Albert's will be a venue that helps raise the bar.
Part of their beer selection.
See more photos from the night on my Flickr photo set.