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Swamp Head Brewery Beer Dinner

La Petite Maison Verte: Swamp Head Brewery Beer Dinner

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Swamp Head Brewery Beer Dinner

For Christmas this year my sister and her husband bought Brian tickets to a 5-course Beer Dinner at our favorite Tampa restaurant, The Refinery.  This place is awesome:  everything is seasonal, local (sourced from within 100 miles), fresh and prepared with the ultimate care.  Oh yeah, and their entire menu changes every single week.  Even with a changing weekly menu, they always manage to have several gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options for those with specific dietary restrictions (which I think is so cool of them) and the service staff is incredibly knowledgeable and always happy to recommend a new wine or beer to go along with your dinner choice.

Amazingly enough, The Refinery manages to stay so innovative while being the exact OPPOSITE of pretentious.  Great food, reasonable prices, good people, comfortable atmosphere and I can't say enough good things about Chef/Owner Greg and his wife Michelle.  They and their service staff are truly just the nicest, most down-to-earth people.....

Well, Heidi and Rob came up with such an awesome Christmas gift for Brian:  they sent us to the Swamp Head Brewery Beer Dinner that The Refinery was hosting last week.  If you've never heard of Swamp Head Brewery, they are a microbrewery located in Gainesville, FL lead by Brewmaster Craig Birkmaier.  Fairly young for a brewery, I think they've been at work for about 3 years or so, they are putting out a dozen or so limited release beers in addition to their half a dozen brews available year 'round.  I am, admittedly, no authority on beer but Brian and I really enjoyed tasting 5 of Swamp Head's limited release beers and found a couple of favorites among them.  

The best part of the Swamp Head Beer Dinner was the pairing of each beer with a different food course, all prepared with the same thought and consideration that we have come to expect from The Refinery.  They were able to elevate each course to a level surpassing the sum of it's parts - by featuring ingredients that were the perfect counterpoint to the subtle nuances of each paired beer, the food brought out flavor notes that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.  

As a lover of wine and someone who truly enjoys pairing wine with food, I am surprised that I never really thought about the idea of food and beer pairing.  Considering it now, it makes absolute sense to choose a beer to best complement what you are eating, but I think all too often the particular beer (or in many cases the food) is just an afterthought.  Not so here.

The First Course:  Strawberry Panzanella salad with heirloom tomatoes, greens, toasted croutons, tomato saffron citrus vinaigrette and homemade mozzarella "string cheese".  The perfectly-ripe, sweet strawberries, sweet heirloom tomatoes and tart citrus of the vinaigrette were a perfect complement to the light, floral Saison du Swamp.  Without itself being "sweet," the Saison du Swamp, my favorite beer of the evening, had obvious citrus notes and a light, refreshing body - I could have happily sipped that beer all evening long.  But there were 4 more varieties to try and lots more food, so with a heavy sigh as my half-full glass was whisked away, I prepared for course number two.

The Second Course:  Head Cheese with Pressed Cuban Bread, Citrus Fennel Celery Salad and Mustard Vinaigrette.  A new taste for both Brian and I, Head Cheese is not a cheese but rather a terrine of pork served cold, in which the tender meat from the head is used.  Paired with Swamp Head's Winter Belgian Wheat Bier "Hoe Hoe Hoe" which had strong ginger notes and obvious citrus undertones, the cardamom and chile used to flavor the Head Cheese were present but not overpowering.  A delicious seasonal wheat bier and Brian's favorite he tried all evening, the Hoe Hoe Hoe ignited a curiosity in us both to try Swamp Head's Cottonmouth, the belgian-wheat bier starting point from which their seasonal variety takes shape.

Brian enjoying his Hoe Hoe Hoe
The Third Course:  Tomato and Eggplant Soup with Coconut Eggplant Croute.  A thick puree of sweet tomatoes and eggplant seasoned with red curry, this soup was flavorful and addictive.  I could have eaten two bowls (had I had the room for it) and in fact it was so aromatic that I could not resist devouring it and forgot to take a picture.  The soup was paired with Swamp Head's Hoggetowne Irish Red, a traditional Irish Ale with a medium body that went down so smooth with notes of caramel and malt and (surprsingly) helped cool the palate from the warm red curry used in the soup.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention the absolutely divine experience of eating the coconut eggplant croute, perched just atop the thick, hearty soup.  I could have eaten a dozen of the crispy, bite-sized morsels with a pint glass of the Hoggetowne Irish Red and called it a night.  (This is so cute, I have to share: I made such a big deal of how delicious the coconut eggplant croute was that Brian shared half of his with me.  Best husband ever.) 

The Fourth Course:  Crispy Pork Belly with Ancho-Chocolate Apple Butter and Shaved Kohlrabi with  Granny Smith Apple Slaw.  This was paired with Swamp Head's Chipotle Smoke Signal, a robust American Porter with a punch-you-in-the-face smoke flavor.  Not for the faint-hearted, you really have to enjoy deep, dark Porter-style beers to finish a glass of the Chipotle Smoke Signal (neither Brian or I even finished half of our pint-size glasses) but paired with the crispy pork belly it made perfect sense.  The natural sweetness of the pork and the apple slaw, when taken with the smoky (smokey?) beer reminded us of another use of this cut of meat - smoked bacon, without the meat itself having been smoked at all.  Full but not yet defeated, we moved onto course number five.

Crispy Pork Belly, ancho-chocolate apple butter, Granny Smith, watercress, kohlrabi

The Fifth Course:  Strawberry "Shortcake" - sweet cornbread layered with strawberry buttercream, with orange gastrique and vanilla-cayenne chantilly.  This came out with a (smaller by comparison) glass of Swamp Head's Catherine's Passion, a Russian Imperial Stout (10% abv- whoa!).  Deep and dark with intense flavor, I was prepared not to like Catherine's Passion, but was truly surprised at how much I really enjoyed it, especially with the dense but rich strawberry shortcake.  If a Stout Beer and a cup of black coffee had a love-child, it would be Catherine's Passion, which tasted like the bittersweet cocoa nibs I love (have you tried these things?!).  Sensual and intense, not sweet, despite the obvious flavors of cocoa and coffee.  A perfect compliment to the delicious shortcake and the most excellent finish to an outstanding meal.

Strawberry Shortcake, sweet cornbread, strawberry buttercream, orange gastrique, vanilla-cayenne chantilly

Enjoying Catherine's Revenge

I highly recommend sampling Swamp Head's offerings if you are ever in Gainesville (home of University of Florida), or look for it on tap the next time you visit a Florida bar offering a good selection of microbrews.  And if you are ever in Tampa, do yourself a favor and try The Refinery, I doubt you will be disappointed with your choice.     



At January 22, 2012 at 7:21 PM , Anonymous HeidiRob said...

Mmmm...the menu + pictures look SO delicious. Glad you enjoyed!! Next time I'm down there I want to try the cocoa nib beer.


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