Wine and beer enthusiasts packed into the front and back dining rooms at the Closed for Business for an elegant and festive candle-lit beer dinner on Saturday evening (March 3). The dinner was one of many beer-themed events at this year's Charleston Wine and Food Festival. Newly enlisted Executive Chef William Fincher paired a five-course feast with some of the strongest and most flavorful ales in the Victory Brewing Co. roster.
Based in Downingtown, Pa. (near Philadelphia), Victory Brewing is best known in Charleston for its herbal, super-clean Prima Pils lager, the impressively hoppy Hop Wallop and Hop Devil ales, and various seasonal specialties. Victory Vice President Steve German was on hand at Closed for Business to introduce each beer with each course. They poured each sample a little fuller than expected (just a under a pint's worth in a pint glass).
Attendees started with a hand-pulled, cask-conditioned "welcome pint" Victory's Headwaters Pale Ale (5.1 percent a.b.v.). It was a nicely balanced beer with a soft, flowery, citrusy hop aroma based on a traditional English style. Once seated, diners enjoyed an appetizer of a deviled duck egg (with Dukes mayo and spices) along with the pale ale.
Fincher called the first course of pickled shrimp and spiced popcorn a "Southern twist on ceviche." Served with whipped buttermilk over greens, it looked more like a church picnic salad. The unusual use of popcorn actually added a nice texture to the creamy dish. The zesty hop character of Victory's light and crisp Prima Pils (5.3 percent a.b.v.) paired very well with the mild, lemony flavors of the shrimp.
Up next, two carefully sauteed scallops arrived on a fluffy bed of pale-green butterbean hummus . Drizzled with olive oil and garnished with a small strip of oven-dried tomato, the scallop flavor came through assertively. The Saison-style Victory Helios (7.5 percent a.b.v.) was the first of four strong beers of the night. Fruity and grainy with a typical Belgian-style earthiness, the Helios complemented the scallops quite well.
The spiciest dish of the night was course three's "Currywurst," a curry-seasoned German-style bratwurst topped with a rich gorgonzola aioli and a side of salty duck fat fries. Victory's Moon Glow weizenbock (8.7 percent a.b.v.) matched the spicy, meaty flavor of the wurst with a nutty, malty sweetness and am estery, banana-heavy aroma. This was the boldest pairing of the dinner.
A deep-fried pork cheek schnitzel arrived on a thick bed of housemade spätzle, roasted apple au jus, and buttery Brussels sprouts gremolata. The schnitzel was rich and peppery, but a little bit chewy. Fincher paired it with a strong, mildly roasty black ale called Baltic Thunder (8.5 percent a.b.v.), a Baltic-style "lagered porter" specialty. The heavy dish could have been pushed out of balance with standard stout or porter, but the light-bodied smoothness of the beer worked surprisingly well.
Closed for Business closed its beer dinner with a rich, sweet, treat served in a small mason jar (another since Southern twist) — chocolate cornmeal cake with sorghum pudding, pickled cherries, caramel crisps, and meringue. Victory's sweet, full-bodied barleywine Old Horizontal (10.5 percent a.b.v.) almost felt and tasted like a dessert wine. The dark sugar/toffee-like malt flavors of the big beer blended easily with the cherries and chocolate.