There's beer dinners, and then there's Sean Paxton's beer dinners. Paxton (aka, The Homebrew Chef), started preaching the gospel of beer and food pairing well before the trend entered our public consciousness.
When not recording his "Home Brewed Chef" show for the Brewing Network/, Paxton dreams up innovative dishes to share at his extravagant, boundary-pushing beer dinners. Paxton's creativity and attitude toward beer set him apart from the rest of the pack. While many chefs have become adept at pairing beer and food, Paxton treats the beer as food. His dishes are infused with beer at every opportunity, which takes the food and pairings to new heights of complexity.Paxton had the honor of cooking a 5-course beer dinner for a crowd of 2,000 at last year's Craft Brewer's Conference in Chicago. As the largest known beer dinner to date, the affair put a whopping 800 gallons of beer to good use (between pairings and cooking). Lucky for us, The Homebrew Chef's Sonoma base camp is right in our backyard (we envision a dimly lit science lab where Paxton maniacally scribbles recipe ideas amid bubbling vats of homebrew and curing meats). One of the country's most renowned beer dinner events is the annual Belgian Beer Dinner at Toronado.The 12-course feast, paired with 20 beers, occurs during the bar's April Belgian Beer Month celebration (head to Toronado now to try dozens of Belgian beers on draft). Every course of the 5+ hour "lunch" induced enough beer geek bliss to be worthy of mention. Even the cheese course showcased a beer honey, beer jelly, two wild yeast beer pairings and 6 cheeses flown over from Belgium. For the sake of brevity, we've gathered up some highlights: Dish: Charcuterie Platter Description: Duck rillettes braised in Russian River Consecration with a Supplication gelee, duck pistachio apricot terrine infused with Sanctification, pork/duck liver and Orval beer pate, cornichons, heirloom radishes, house-made Goulden Carolus Noel mustard, currant & Consecration compote, local The Bejkr breads. Beer Pairing: with Chimay Grand Reserve 3 Liter bottles and Duvel Triple Hop Notes: Six beer infusions and two beer pairings in one course! The rich, meaty elements on the plate were nicely complimented by the clean, fruity yeast profiles of the beers. Dish: Goat-Butter-Poached Sea Scallop Description: Smoked in Mort Subite lambic barrel staves, De Ranke Guldenburg demi glaze, celery root puree infused with Affligem Noel, fennel pollen. Beer Pairing: Petrus Aged Pale Notes: The use of beer barrel staves to cook the scallops imparted a deep, rich smoke flavor that offset the tang of the goat butter and tartness of the oaked, sour beer. Dish: Seared Duck Breast with Sour Cherry Sauce Description: Sonoma County duck breasts cooked sous vide with a dried sour cherry Hannsens Oude Kriek sauce on a bed of black barley simmered in Delirium Noel and TCHO cocoa nibs. Beer Pairing: Bockor Cuvee De Jacobins and Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek Notes: In its entirety, the pairing tasted like a chocolate covered sour cherry. Sweet, savory, and sour notes melded seamlessly together. Dish: Foie Gras Description: Lobes of foie gras poached in Boon Kriek, made into truffles and coated in Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus gelee, garnished with hibiscus sea salt. Beer Pairing: Malheur Brut Reserve 2006 Notes: The gelee and salt offset the fatty liver, while the champagne-style beer cleansed the palate. Get out there and eat your beer!