SWIG ‌ Big Beers at Carolina's 

Chef Gavin Mills serves strong selections with bold dishes

To the delight of local beer enthusiasts and gourmet food lovers, Carolina's Chef Gavin Mills recently announced a gastropub series of monthly beer dinners in which he pairs a variety of international and domestic beers -- some examples of classic styles, some a bit more exotic -- with "delectable Lowcountry fare." The special events take place on the last Wednesday of every month.

Last week, the chef and his crew kicked things off with a bold selection of French and Bavarian lagers, some of which were mighty in flavor and alcohol content. Sales rep Laura Duffy (of Aleph Wines Co.) was on hand to help present each beer with each of the five courses.

First up was a delicious chilled pear soup garnished with Johns Island honeycomb. Mills explained how the floral and fruity aroma of the dish paired well with JenLain, one of the best-known commercial examples of the classic French style Bières de Garde, a malty, golden-colored lager. He was right.

The wait staff carefully poured samples of a much stronger, darker beer -- Saint Sylvester's Winter Ale, made in France in the Flanders style -- while serving Mills' most colorful and adventurous dish, a beet-red venison carpaccio topped with orange Port sorbet and cicro arugula. Also known as St. Sylvestre Bière de Noël, the rich, malty, spicy, bottle-conditioned lager came in at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume and complemented the richness of the venison and the bitterness of the arugula.

There was a bit of confusion over the beer served with the next course, "crispy sweetbreads" (specialty beef organ meat with a mild flavor and velvety texture) with "jasmine tea-scented flan" and grilled asparagus. Tütz Beer, a pale, mildly malty, recently discontinued lager from Brasserie Schutzenberger France, is a basic Continental lager -- not a variation of the hefty Eisbock style brewed in Bavaria. Duffy mentioned something about the brewers cutting back or aging it a certain way, but this was really an unremarkable light beer. Luckily, it went well with the heaviness of the flan and sweetbreads.

The highlight of the evening came with a delicately roasted rack of lamb with confit potatoes and a red currant jus. The majestic Kulmbacher EisBock ("ice bock") from Bavaria is an extremely malty, syrupy, copper-colored lager made in an unusual method involving several fermentations, a gentle "freezing" for 11-14 days, a removal of ice, and the concentration of the remaining brew. This one clocked in at 9.3 percent alcohol by volume and tasted terrific.

The Kulmbacher EKU 28 -- another even stronger Bavarian ice bock (at 11 percent alcohol by volume) -- came with a whipped cream-and-pineapple-topped lemon truffle. There was a bit more confusion as Duffy tried to explain that the "28" in the name referred to the alcohol content. It actually refers to the Degrees Plato, a European scale used to measure the sugar content in unfermented liquor (or wort). In general, one degree Plato is equivalent to 0.4 percent alcohol. Such a strongly sweet, alcoholic beer didn't quite match the fruity, sugary truffle; the grand lager could have stood as the final course on its own. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Carolina's Beer Dinners are $65 per person, including beer and exclusive of tax and gratuity. Reservations are required as seating is limited to 40 persons. Upcoming dates: February 28, March 28, April 25, May 30. For reservations, call 724-3800. See www.crewcarolina.com for more.

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