Charleston Beer Exchange proprietor Scott Shor survived two back-to-back beer events this week — the debut of the Cask Beer Night series at Ted's Butcherblock on Wed. May 30 and a five-course Italian beer dinner at Bacco Italian Restaurant in Mt. Pleasant on Thurs. May 31. He kept his cool at both gatherings and helped present some fine beer pairings.
A month after the sudden (but amicable) exit of longtime head chef Eva Keilty, Ted's bounced back into its beer rhythm with a new style of presentation. Owner Ted Dombrowski described it as "more of a happy hour style thing, as opposed to a sit-down pairing." Whereas Keilty created original menus for each monthly beer dinner over the last few years, Dombrowski, his newly hired chef Brian Parkhurst, and their kitchen team stepped away from that format and tried to showcase some of the specialties they regularly offer. "It's a new thing, and I wasn't sure if five or 50 people would show up for it," Dombrowski said as the event began around 6 p.m. The dining room was packed by 6:30 p.m.
The first Cask Beer Night featured a new cask-conditioned ale from local microbrewery Westbrook Brewing Co. — a one-off version of their light and zesty Pacific Jade Rye Pale (6.1 a.b.v.). As opposed to most kegged beer, cask-conditioned ale is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally carbonated by secondary fermentation inside the cask. It's a very traditional British method employed by only a handful of American brewers. Dry-hopped with an extra dose of fresh Calypso hops, the Pacific Jade Rye Pale is a seasonal beer named for the hop variety from New Zealand. It's pale and hazy in appearance with a grassy, citrusy hop aroma and a long-lasting hoppy finish. Shor shared tap-pour duties with head brewer/owner Edward Westbrook from a small table in the back corner of the dining room. The makeshift bar area felt like the heart of the happy hour.
Attendees could buy tickets for pints ($5 each) and they could purchase housemade sausages, charcuterie, wings, and clams by the plate as well. The exotic charcuterie platter ($15) included a rich liver mousse, country pate, sopressata, Russian bacon, and buttery lardo with a side of pickles, fig jam, and spicy mustard. It's easy to fry and slather a basket of chicken wings, but Ted's crispy confit chicken wings ($8) with a dabble of spicy sauce were way above the standard bar fare. The big bowls of beer-steamed local clams with chorizo and tomato sauce ($12) went particularly well with the Westbrook beer. The best deal of the evening might have been the Butcherblock sausage sampler ($9) with three bold-flavored sausages — chorizo and chimichurri, duck sausage and kimchee, and Italian sausage with peppers and onions.
A lot of Ted's regulars and first-timers in attendance expressed their approval to the staff. The first Cask Beer Night was obviously a great success.
On Thursday evening, a sizeable crowd turned up for Bacco's third beer dinner, a summer-themed affair billed as an Italian Craft Beer Dinner. Shor and chef/owner Michael Scognamiglio had spent weeks brainstorming on the menu and searching for the right Italian craft beers to serve, many of them almost too rare and scarce to secure in time for the dinner. It was their third collaboration since Bacco started organized beer events. There were a few last-minute changes to the initial beer roster, but all of the pairings worked out well.
Wine glasses with healthy samples of Birreria le Baladin's flowery pale wheat beer Isaac (5 percent a.b.v.), based loosely on Belgian-style witbier, accompanied an appetizer buffet at the bar. The spread featured fresh local cantaloupe rolled with thinly sliced prosciutto, a very crunchy bruschetto con lardo, Insalata Panzanella (a rustic mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, mozzarella, red onion, bread, and balsamic vinaigrette), and tiny cups of chilled soup made with fennel, orange zest, and pistachio.
"Italian brewers are supporting the traditions of beer with their own versions of styles from Belgium, England, Denmark, and elsewhere," Scognamiglio told the diners as the first course arrived. "They put their own flare on the styles. Many are especially unique and go very well with food."
The dinner began with an impressively arranged seafood salad (Antipasti dal Mare) comprised of thinly sliced pan-seared scallops, char-grilled local shrimp, and tender steamed clams over grilled zucchini and bell pepper strips. The barrel-aged Piccolo Birrificio Seson (6 percent a.b.v.), a hazy ale modeled after the Belgian-style saison farmhouse ales, delicately complemented the buttery and lemon-accented flavors of the dish.
Shor addressed the diners as well, saying, "The Italian craft brewing world is nothing short of amazing right now. There are no boundaries, and brewers draw from all elements of Old World and modern traditions."
The two main courses followed with big-flavored, high-gravity beers alongside. A brothy serving of farro risotto (made from an Italian wheat grain) came with herbal cornish game hen breast, a very tender confit of cornish hen leg, and a crispy leaf of fried kale. A collaboration pilsner from Dogfish Head and Birra del Borgo called My Antonia (7.5 percent a.b.v.) was a surprise addition to the menu. Deep golden in color, well conditioned, hoppy, and alcoholic, it was much heftier than traditional pilsners. The bitterness and zing of the lager cleansed the buttery, dark meat richness of the dish perfectly.
The hearty main course of braised lamb neck (Brasato di Agnello Collo) arrived with a side of roasted carrots, pearl onions, sliced Brussels sprouts, and stewed figs. The lamb melted with the touch of a fork, thanks to the gelatinous nature of the cut and a slow, lengthy cooking time. It couldn't have been more tender. Birrificio Montegioco's Demon Hunter (8.5 percent a.b.v.) the strongest and darkest ale of the evening, boasted some deliciously sweet caramel, plum, molasses flavors, which almost went hand-in-hand with deep flavors of the lamb. The pairing was more of an overlap of roastiness than a palate-cleansing contrast.
The fruity dessert course featured two not-so-sour sour ales, LoverBeer's tart, red grape-accented D'uvaBeer (8 percent a.b.v.) and Birreria le Baladin's mild-but-funky Nora Sour Edition (6.8 a.b.v.). The dessert combo included a slice of Florentine grape focaccia bread, D'uvaBeer zabione (Italian custard) with a few dark and shiny Amarena cherries, and a sweet D'uvaBeer-infused golden raisin cannoli. The Nora seemed to go best with the first few bites, but the mighty D'uvaBeer, with its tart dryness, put a nice accent on the end of the meal, clearing the flavors of the dish like a limoncello, sherry, or other such digestifs.