Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Farmer's Cabinet De Struise Pig Dinner

About a week and a half ago (the last Thursday in March whenever that was), the Farmer's Cabinet held a ridiculously awesome beer dinner. I first heard about it in February and even though Jo and I were heading to Beer for Beasts the weekend directly after the dinner was being held, we decided I should go to this. Urbain (pronounced urban which I didn't actually know), the head brewer from De Struise brewery in Belgium, was coming to brew with Terry of the Cabinet Brewhouse (the Farmer's Cabinet brewery) and so they asked him to attend a dinner at the restaurant while in town. They bought a 300 pound pig from outside Lancaster, PA, brought it in and made every single course of the meal from a different part of it. With each course, they also paired a different beer from De Struise. Just a really impressive idea. If you expand the menu, you should be able to get an idea of the different courses.
I arrived at the Farmer's Cabinet a bit early and ordered one of the house beers. I forget which but it was unique and pretty great, just like everything else I've had from Terry. If you haven't been yet you seriously need to go try some of his stuff regardless of anything else on draft. Once it got closer to 7pm, we moved upstairs and sat at our tables. Since there were only three single reservations out of the entire room, they sat us all together. Luckily I knew one of the other two guys and the other was quite personable so it made for some good table conversation and wasn't awkward like it easily could have been. Ethan, aka Brewniversal on twitter, actually did a write up on his own over here if you want to check it out.

Here's Urbain and Matt Falco from PhillyBeerScene finding their seats at the head table. Urbain is the one in the middle holding an invisible football. Okay, he's obviously just gesturing but doesn't it look like that?
The rest of the room was a decent size for a dinner like this with an appropriate number of people. No overcrowding and easily handled by the excellent wait staff. This is a picture of the left side of the room in the direction I was facing.
You can still see Urbain off on the right there. Figured I should get the guest of honor in the pictures when I could.

After Urbain said a few words and thanked the Farmer's Cabinet for hosting him, the first course was brought out. This course paired Black Damnation VII: Single Black with pork belly.
The Single Black was an experiment by De Struise to see if they could brew a ridiculously low ABV beer and still have it taste like beer or really like anything. According to Urbain, it clocked in at 1.9% which is just crazy. Smelled like fruit and caramel and was basically still recognizable as a beer. Light body as expected. Tasted of caramel malt and hinted of a little saltiness. The flavor fell off ridiculously fast but considering it was nearly water that wasn't terribly surprising. It paired really well with the rich and fatty pork belly as it let those flavors shine and complimented them really well.

The second course was Tsjeeses Reserva, the version aged in port barrels, paired with pig's head. Yes, the head.
A little history on the Tsjeeses. The beer is fermented three times. Once on yeast, then once on different stonefruit, and then for the reserva version it's finally put into barrels for a year. They switch back and forth between bourbon and port barrels and this version was from the port barrels. Sweet, fruity nose with a little sharpness to it. Some of that sharpness was from the oak while some was the alcohol. Thicker body than expected though after Single Black, anything would have felt thicker. Lots of plum followed by some vanilla and a slightly tart cherry finish. As I drank more, I definitely felt the port barrel had a big influence on this. I still think the base beer is better, but this was better than the last time I had it. As far as the pig's head goes, I thought it was remarkably interesting and the jam on it was delicious, but I couldn't handle the massive amount of fat on it. I'd say close to 75% was fat. I picked out the meat part and thought it was good but left most of this dish on the plate. Nothing wrong with it and my table mates cleaned their plates, it just wasn't for me.

The third dish was probably my favorite dish of the night though not my favorite beer. This course was a sausage with a slice of pig shoulder paired with the Three Floyds / De Struise collaboration, Shark Pants, a Belgian IPA. Here's the pig before they cut it up.
And here it is in its delicious, edible form.
Piney nose, not bright but strong enough to tell you it exists. Pine started things off, followed by some bitterness and then finished with some clove from the Belgian yeast strain used in it. Now, I'll admit I may not have recognized the clove if Urbain hadn't told us it used a Belgian yeast strain, but knowing that you can totally tell the finish had something different in it. Pretty tasty IPA but not one that really stood out. I will say it paired really well with the saltiness from the amazing sausage. Which, let me tell you, was pretty amazing. Perfectly cooked, melted in my mouth, just delicious.

We took a break from food at this point and were given a pour of Roste Jeanne or Red Haired Jeanne for those of use that don't speak Dutch. I think it's Dutch at least. Here's it being poured.
It's listed as a Belgian Dark Ale on BeerAdvocate which really doesn't tell you much about it.
Kind of a sharp nose with hints of clove and cinnamon. Those flavors followed in the body with a bit of sweetness and a dry finish. Nice looking beer, very clear with a nice reddish hue. Didn't amaze me but it made for a nice break before heading into the monster 13% stouts.

So yeah, moving on to the next course, we come to De Struise's Black Damnation III: Black Mes served with the pig rack. Rack of pig? Honestly, I don't know how to write that. Some meat from the pig's ribs. Good enough.
Before this meal, I'd actually had all of the Black Damnation versions except for this and Double Black so it was nice to see this as one of the beers. Sweet and smoky with a bunch of dark fruit notes in the nose. Really complex. Body wasn't too thick but it felt right based on the flavors. It didn't need to be a syrupy monster. Started with chocolate then more of the dark fruit came out. Some sweetness and a bit of roast were present as well. I thought this was the most complete beer of the night with the flavors blending perfectly together and it was just delicious. I wonder how many times I've used delicious already. Probably a bunch. Oh well. Went really well with the pig rack as well with the molasses and coffee from the food matching the flavors in the beer perfectly.

The last course of the night was dessert paired with Black Damnation IV: Coffee Club.
Coffee Club is actually my least favorite of the Black Damnation that I've currently tried. I had it at Capone's here and just found the coffee to be tangy and nearing unpleasantly tart. I can see others liking it but to me I feel like the coffee just tastes old and doesn't blend with the other flavors nearly as well as the Black Mes. The dessert, however, was pretty fantastic except for the cracklin' which I couldn't take more than a bite. Unfortunately I don't remember the ice cream as they changed it before the dinner so the menu is incorrect but it was delicious. I mean, look at that plate.

The big surprise of the night came after the meal was finished. (Well, it was on the menu so the surprise really came when I first looked at that but that doesn't sound nearly as dramatic.) Urbain had brought some bottles of Five Squared to share with us.
I haven't mentioned it but besides doing a ton of barrel aging, Urbain and the others at De Struise also enjoy experimenting with icing beers to relatively extreme heights. This was a quad (I don't think the base was Pannepot, but something else) that they iced to 25%. Crazy. And it tasted crazy. Tons of banana and clove in the nose. Incredibly syrupy. Definitely strong with a big alcohol presence and a burning finish. Warms you up a ton though. Tasted like a glass of candi sugar. I thought it made for an interesting experience but only a so-so beer. The alcohol was just ever present and the last sip was kind of monstrous. Really awesome of Urbain to bring some of these bottles over, though, considering there were less than 300 or so.

I'm not sure how much more I can say about this beer dinner than I've already said. It was everything I want from one of these. Excellent beer, excellent food, and an awesome guest. I had a really great time chatting with Ethan and getting to meet Urbain was good fun. Jo and I are going to try to visit the De Struise brewery in May and I'm hoping we'll get to meet him again in his own environment. Here is a picture of the chef along with the servers and some assistants.
The chef is the closest one to us in the picture. Thanks for the awesome time Farmer's Cabinet and De Struise!

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