Bacco says 'Buon Natale!' with birra 

Cena di Birra: Bacco's holiday beer dinner offers fancy pairings

Bacco's Chef Michael Scognamiglio knows how to deliver a hearty holiday feast. On Thurs. Dec. 16, he and his staff teamed with Charleston Beer Exchange and Aleph Wines to serve their second-ever beer dinner. A large crowd of hungry guests filled the dining room and enjoyed delicious Mediterranean specialties and hearty pork specialties paired with rare, artisanal ales from Italy — many of which were brewed with unusual ingredients.

The Bacco staff decked the tables with fresh flowers and linens and lined the L-shaped bar in the foyer with an impressive buffet of appetizers. Listed on the menu as the Antipasti Dal Bar, Scognamiglio's kitchen crowded the counter with a yard-long, wood-fired Pizza al Metro — half toppled with smoked mozzarella and half with smoked oyster mushrooms from Mepkin Abbey, gorgonzola, and smoked ricotta. The smoky theme continued with the assortment of Antipasti Affumicate, which featured grilled octopus, smoked mussels in a chive/cream sauce, smoked trout on waffle chips, and paper-thin smoked salmon with pomegranate seeds.

At Bacco's debut beer dinner last July, they offered a starter blend of beer and wine. They followed through this time with a refreshing apéritif of Birra Tiber (a tart, slightly acidic, wood-aged pale ale made with Timorasso grapes) blended with Prosecco, a dry, sparkling white wine.

Scognamiglio introduced Charleston Beer Exchange co-owner Scott Shor as "the biggest person in the Charleston beer scene," at which Shor laughed, did a quick fat-guy impersonation, and introduced the first few beers in great detail. He commented on the floral and fruity aromas of Birra Tiber and the malty spiciness of the next course's paring, Birra Krampus. All five of the Italian beers featured at the dinner are available at his downtown store.

A star-shaped Crostino con Fegato D'Anatra (duck liver pâté and star anise) arrived with a delicate pile of with leeks, fennel, caramelized pearl onions (they resembled small figs), and buttery greens. The Birra Krampus was a strong starter (at 7.6 percent a.b.v.) with notes of honey, caramel, and citrus. It cleansed the palate between bites of the earthy, rich pâté.

Pici con Ragu (made with pork cheek) was the first of two pork-powered dishes of the evening. Scognamiglio described the pici pasta as a thick noodle, freshly prepared and served with braised, hand-cut pork cheek, pancetta, walnuts, pumpkin seed oil, and a touch of cream. A bit heavy and chewy, but full of deep, nutty, caramelized flavors, it went nicely with the moderately strong Birra Friska (5 percent a.b.v.), a brisk reworking of a traditional Belgian white beer. Brewed with orange peel, coriander, and Nobel hops from Germany, Friska was light enough to complement the dish.

The Brasato do Cinghali Siennese was a Siena-inspired braised boar and cocoa entrée served on a creamy chestnut puree with a simple side of kale. Tender, rich, and faintly fruity, it paired with the biggest (and most wine-like) ale of the event, the Stella di Natala (10.5 percent a.b.v.). Presented as a cellared Christmas ale (it was bottled in 2009), the Stella di Natala is brewed with mint, green tea, and chamomile, but the raisiny, roasty, dark malt flavors dominated. A lighter beer might have countered the heavy flavors of the boar more appropriately, but the Stella di Natala was a complex and delicious holiday treat on its own.

The Dolce course concluded with a tasty dessert of Panettone Budino — a fluffy holiday bread pudding with candied fruits and a house-made custard — paired with Birra Birolla, an amber ale brewed with dark honey and real chestnuts. It was a beautiful match.

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