Designed by owner Ted Dombrowski, head chef Eva Keilty, and Charleston Beer Exchange co-owner Scott Shor, Ted's Butcherblock's beer-themed dinners draw a fiercely loyal crowd every last Thursday of every month. On March 25, patrons packed the cozy dining rooms for an unusually varied four-course feast paired with some of the more remarkable specialty ales from upstate New York microbrewery Southern Tier Brewing Company, located in Lake Wood in the "southern tier of the lower upstate."
This week, Keitly devised a colorful menu with an international theme. She called it a menu of "eclectic global fare, inspired by French bistros and Mediterranean and Caribbean dishes." Shor's lineup of ales — one light fruit-flavored wheat beer and three very strong specialty ales — reflected the wide-ranging mix of cuisine. The pairings were far from prim and dainty.
The hosts make a terrific tag team. The ever-upbeat Dombrowski introduced each course while Shor stepped up to the counter to describe each ale, and Keilty emerged from the kitchen to explain the idea behind each dish.
The first course included Southern Tier's delicate and light-bodied Raspberry Wheat Beer with a beautiful salad of bitter field greens, figs, almonds, fresh orange slices, and a berry-infused thyme vinaigrette. On the side were crispy toast points and a small cup of savory, fluffy brandade (a baked puree of cod and potato). Not too sweet, the tart fruit flavors of the ale complemented the zesty berry and fig flavors of the salad, while nicely contrasting the salty, rich, fish flavors of the brandade.
A limited-release Imperial Gemini ale came next, paired with a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-styled curried ground pork (on skewers) and a small mound of malted quinoa, lentils, and raisins, with a creamy lemon-coriander butter drizzled over it all. The mighty, hazy Gemini is a strong (9 percent a.b.v.), appropriately bitter, unfiltered blended ale with intensely citrusy hop flavor and aroma. Ted's offered a vegetarian option, too, placing a hot, spicy, curried salad of squash, zucchini, and carrot over the lentils.
The heartiest course of the meal put Southern Tier's jet-black Iniquity Imperial Black Ale — an unconventional reworking of a strong, classic India Pale Ale, with extra black and chocolate malts added —with a heaping portion of Cuban-style ropa viejo (shredded, roasted beef) en croute. The pairing worked well. The bold blend of hoppy and roasted malt flavors and aromas of the Iniquity overlapped and balanced the fragrant cinnamon/clove character of the spicy, tender beef. The biscuit-shaped pastry on top of the beef added some Deep South flare, too.
The beer dinner reached a sugar and caffeinated conclusion with the fourth course. They paired the roasty Jah*va Imperial Coffee Stout, a black ale brewed with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and a mix of dark-roasted malts and grains, with an enormous bowl of chocolate-coconut rice pudding and a banner-sized piece of burnt orange tuile (a crispy, thin, buttery cookie). Chef Keilty shaped the pudding into large spheres (they looked like traditional meatballs) and topped them with a decadently sweet espresso caramel sauce. If the diners were almost overwhelmed by the size and sweetness of the dessert dish, they were impressed by the complexity and balance of the Jah*va stout. With each sip came hints of espresso, chocolate milk, char-grilled pumpernickel, and raisins. The beer was almost a perfect dessert by itself.