Sunday, Feb 24th at 6pm Saraveza and Block 15 hosted a special Pre-Fixe Winter Vintage Draught Dinner at Saraveza’s Bad Habit Room, highlighting pairings of Block 15 beers with food courses, and including verticals of the beers. We started out with a glass of Golden Canary 2011 and getting to know the other guests at the table (if you weren’t in one of the 5 2-tops along the wall where presumably the 2 people already knew each other) that you would be spending your evening enjoying food and drink. The Bad Habit Room has been remodeled since I saw it last, and now has a beautiful curved bar that takes up a corner space, and lovely chandeliers provide sparkling lighting ambiance that can class up any event.
The Golden Canary is a barrel matured golden wild ale blend, and was Block 15’s first journey into their wild yeast program. Since they were aging these wild cultures in the same cellar with their normal beers, others expressed doubt and concern that there would be cross-contamination and it would all explode. They called Block 15 a canary in a coal mine… and thus came the inspiration for the name for this beer.
This is one of my favorite things about the entire night- Nick Arzner (head brewer and co founder of Block 15) telling us the story for each beer like they are each his children. Since he and his wife are expecting their first child (congratulations!), I wonder if he will continue to be the one at Portland events telling these stories or if other brewers will take up that role.
Crab Stuffed Profiteroles on a bed of frisee and Pineapple Aioli
Paired with 2011/2012 Wonka’s Wit, Belgian style white ale spiced with orange peel and coriander. Matured in French Oak Pinot Noir barrels for nine months with wild yeast. 5% ABV
The 2011 offered more pleasure for me on its own so I could enjoy its more yeasty flavor, while the citrus was more apparent in the 2012 so complimented the dish to bring out the hint of pineapple while cleaning up the creaminess.
Beer always tastes different from year to year- not only because of the ingredients (be it directly such as hops and wild crazy who knows what it is doing yeast, or environment such as the barrels), but because Block 15 uses a Solera process. I covered this previously when at the Breakside Brewery dinner, but this means there is always a small portion of the product that is left in the barrel, and then the new product is added, so history lives on and contributes to the next generation.
It is one of the constant tensions I have with Block 15 and Firestone Walker and Russian River and Mikkeller… I want to drink their barrel aged, high alcohol beer and enjoy it, but I also know that if I give their barrel aged beers a little time, it will change the characteristics and I can see how it grows up (but not too much where it mellows out to lose flavor). And yes, Block 15 are one of the 5 breweries (“of the Wood” from Hair of the Dog being the other local brewer) that we like to buy multiple of and have some in the cellar.
Beef Tartar with Shallot Dijon & Oregon Tart Cherries
Paired with 2010/2011 Demon’s Farm, Ruby Black Farmhouse Aged in Pinot Noir Oak and Bourbon Oak with Brettanomyces and Oregon Tart Cherries 8.75% ABV
The 2010 had a darker dryer feel which was interesting to counterpoint the beef tartar if the spoonful also included one of the cherries. Meanwhile, the 2011 seemed to have a rounder sweetness to it.
Nick explained that in the 2010 he had used an Oregon oak barrel but thought it was adding too much tannin to the flavor so removed it in the 2011 production. He also told the story about how this beer was born from the dart toss at Cheers to Belgian Beer… and he suddenly found himself having to contend with making a dark strong beer with a Belgian Saison yeast strain… and, it’s was all Brewer’s Iron Chef from there to here!
Seared Foie Gras on Brioche w/Coffee Dusted Roasted Figs, Chocolate Almond Sauce
Paired with 2011/2012 Super Nebula, Bourbon Barrel Matured Imperial Stout 11% ABV
Not surprisingly my favorite dish and beer and pairing, because I already love the dark chocolate coffee chewy flavors of Super Nebula, and add in the buttery softness of that seared foie gras and I was in heaven. I believe I was cutting the slivers of foie gras as thing as possible so I can savor each bit individually and close/roll my eyes.
As for Super Nebula, it is my favorite. At Hop & Vine’s first bottle release part with Block 15, I went alone because I really wanted some bottles of Pappy’s Dark, which I had a major crush on from Bailey’s Cellarfest. I had no idea about Super Nebula until I got into the bar and saw that was available to taste. Yeah, I also remember that was the first time I met Nick and he seemed sort of shy and not sure what to say as he was meeting those in line to buy the bottles of Pappy’s Dark.
Clearly in the past couple years he has reach a super high comfort level. Last year he was very easy going and beer geek proud giving us the brewery tour when I decided (I remember booking my ticket at Bailey’s as soon as I saw it on my phone, got F’s permission, and then bought it immediately as I knew they would- and they did- sell out) on the Brewvana + New School: Corvallis VIP Tour with Block 15 to get bottles last year. This time, throughout the entire night he had to keep reminding himself to impose a 2 minute limit, but the storytelling just is so hard to hold back…
Next, we had a “break and discussion” where everyone enjoyed a cool palate cleanser of Block 15’s Wandelpad Belgian Pale Ale 6.4% ABV. This was one I had not had before, and it was endearing as he told the story of travelling to Belgium and staying at the B&B while visiting St. Bernardus (and yeah, if I ever go I will definitely stay at their B&B right on the estate!- I believe it is Brouwershuis B&B Although wtf you mention the beer fridge didn’t mention they also have fresh baked bread and their own cheese…?!) and sampling a few too many so needing to take a walk along the path to sober up with his wife- and thus the story behind the name of this beer.
Bourbon Pork Belly and Kale Stew with Winter Vegetables
Paired with 2010/2011 Pappy’s Dark, Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel Matured Strong Ale 10% ABV
This stew was amazing in terms of complexity of flavors and textures. I wanted to have the brioche I had not eaten from the third course back to sop every dop up. It was a little difficult for me to drink the Pappy’s Dark with this though as this stew really comforted but also heated me up in terms of body temperature.
Fifth Course :
SugarPimp’s Dessert of Figgy Pudding (made with Block 15 Figgy Pudding)
Paired with 2011/2012 Figgy Pudding Brandy Barrel Matured Holiday Ale conditioned with Mission Figs, Ceylon Cinnamon & Nutmeg 11% ABV
Figgy Pudding is a English malt London yeasted beer inspired by the English cake of the Christmas song… and I was thrilled to after all those times I’ve heard those lyrics for my first experience with the actual figgy pudding cake. At this point I was so seriously full I tried to take bites of the Figgy Pudding x3 but was struggling in this final, third hour. The Figgy Pudding dessert was a date and fig based cake that was moist and melt in your mouth that was then served with toffee sauce and brittle and mascarpone-stuffed dried figs. I was so sad that I didn’t have more room for this big piece of dessert, but what a sweet ending to a fantastic night.