This beer dinner was held at Rockwell Tavern in Houston, TX (technically Cypress) on December 10, 2012. Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company provided the beer and Rockwell brought Chef Blythe Beck (“The Naughty Kitchen” on Oxygen) from Dallas to prepare the food. The place was packed. Rockwell isn’t a huge place but they found a way to arrange us in rows that accommodated as many people as I’m sure the fire marshal would allow. I sat next to the owners of Texian Brewing Company and here’s what we ate and drank for the low, low price of just $65.
Small bite – deviled egg with pork and a fried scallion paired with Buff Brew’s flagship beer. A lovely start. Rockwell’s signature dish is their 3-legged pig – 3 beer braised pork shanks, flash fried and served over a potato and apple hash with apricot jalapeno sauce over the top. So putting the pork from that dish on top of the deviled egg was a clever way to pair the two flagships.
Paired With: 1836 – British ESB malts, Victory Yeast and IPA hops – whatever this is, the brewer admitted it’s not found in any style guide. This is the only one they brew year round. They frequently age this beer with different types of wood (more on that later).
First course: Sleigh Bells Arugula Salad – the inspiration was Sno Balls, but these were made of goat cheese and rolled in pistachios with cranberry vinaigrette and pickled red onion. I love goat cheese and do agree with the chef that the pepper notes from the arugula are soothed by the cheese. It’s not a simple salad and I think there was too much going on by the time I got to the onion. The cranberry flavor was lost in the vinaigrette. It came through as sweet but not cranberry.
It seemed like the salad wanted to be the star of the show and forgot all about the beer pairing. Too many flavors in the salad unfortunately meant that it competed with the beer as opposed to complimenting it. In this case, it was better to finish the salad and then drink the beer. The goat cheese and this ale were spot on as a pair and with arugula as an aftertaste; it would have been brilliant, and not so confusing for my palate. Looking for the cranberry was distracting and then the onion was unnecessary in my opinion.
Paired with: Pistachio Cream Ale – It was a test batch that they ended up selling 80 barrels from. The joke made was that one of the brewers tried this to avoid making the lemon basil beer again. Buff Brew has made a name for itself experimenting with different flavors and locals love it. This beer by itself looks hazy with some alcohol notes. I don’t know much about cream ales but drinking this one by itself (without food) would have been tough for me, so even a mismatched pairing was a blessing.
Second course: Smoky Yuletide Butternut Squash Bisque (with candied pecans and pulled pork) – Smoked with pecan shells that have been soaked in 1836. The soup smells amazing and it’s the consistency of gravy which is as awesome at it sounds. Very flavorful and nice to have the pulled pork we were teased with on the deviled egg small bite. Pecans are a toast to the collaboration that Buff Brew did with Rockwell where they had different restaurants soak their 1836 in different malts to make Smoke on the Bayou (more on that later).
This is the kind of pairing I prefer. Not too many flavors allow both things to shine through. The soup and meat with the beer and then chewing the pecan after is brilliant. One of the people next to me said he was looking forward to it the least but that it will probably be his favorite of the night. One mistake in the presentation I think was referring to the squash as ‘smoky’ in the name of the dish. I know why Blythe did it based on the process of preparing the pulled pork but the butternut which was the dominant flavor gave us pumpkin pie spice and not smoke so I think we were all pleasantly surprised when we tasted it. There is some heat here too – hot spice in the meat. The flavors are great and while it’s hard to remember to drink the beer with the dish, this was a good beer pairing.
Paired with: 1836 aged on Pecan – The brewery has aged this beer on eight different types of wood, but it was the first time they aged it on pecan based on the previously mentioned collaboration where Rockwell opted to use Pecan shells to contribute to the smoke mix for Smoke on the Bayou. It works best to taste the difference wood makes to the flavor of the beer when trying 1836 side-by-side with any of the brews aged on wood. Sometimes you can do this at the brewery during their tours.
At this point, we’re all full even though serving sizes have not been too big and we’re all dreading the two courses left to go plus dessert.
Third Course: Naughty or Nice Crab and Spice – crab fingers and a Fontina cheese fondue paired with Smoke on the Bayou on nitro. They chose this pairing for the ‘melt in your mouth’ factor, and this was another culinary win. The cheese holds up well against the alcohol notes. Some spice in the cheese, and the cheese tastes and feels better in your mouth than the butter you’d typically dip sautéed crab fingers into. The spice in the dish didn’t last or build – it may just have just been a cayenne garnish. And I’m not complaining about that. Already feeling full, it was a relief to have such a light dish. Three crab fingers was plenty.
Paired with: Smoke on the Bayou – nitro – This was that collab beer I keep referring to. Alcohol notes and almost sweet malts. Local restaurants smoked malts for the beer. Buff Brew wanted to make a local beer that couldn’t be achieved anywhere else. Beaver’s soaked theirs in maple and hickory, Goode Co used sweet mesquite, and Rockwell soaked pecan shells in 1836 and then smoked their malts in that. I don’t normally like smoked beers but I always liked this one, and Nitro gives it an even softer flavor profile. Buff Brew gave each restaurant the beer brewed with just their malts in addition to mixing all the malts for the commercially available Smoke on the Bayou.
For as good as this beer was, it was clear looking around that we were all slowing down our drinking and there was going to be a glass shortage in the restaurant by dessert because we weren’t turning them over fast enough.
Fireside Slow Roasted Buffalo Filet – Love that they used the obvious choice for an entrée. Buffalo was paired with blueberry and this is why we should all try new things. The texture of the meat against the pickled blueberry is quite nice. I loved the temperature it was served at too.
Pink Peppercorn Porter – pink peppercorns apparently have a bit of a berry flavor. Who knew? I’m not getting any pepper from this beer but I loved the buffalo entrée it was served with.
Orange Angel Chiffon Cupcake – with brown sugar whiskey icing served on a ‘plate’ of spearmints. Best pairing of the night – cupcake icing and stout.
Whiskey Barrel Aged Gingerbread Stout – Time for the magic of Christmas. The first keg of this beer sold in Jan 2012. It’s an Imperial stout at 10% ABV. The beer we drank was brewed in February 2012, sat in Jack Daniels’ whiskey barrels for 4 months and had been aged ever since (6 months). They do wash some of the whiskey out of the barrels when they get them so it’s not too much of a flavor. This beer is amazing and a popular marketing campaign for them.
Rockwell Tavern is a huge supporter of local craft brewers and this was better than any corporate holiday party I could have attended to get me in the spirit of Christmas. Buff Brew brewed and released Gingerbread Stout for Christmas in July in 2013. Very clever.