Once Upon a Brewmaster Luncheon
This past friday I finally made it down to Boulevard for their Brewmaster Luncheon. I've had to pass on the past two or three invites from friends because of other commitments or just being really short notice. This is the second season for the luncheon series so I'm a little late to the party since just about everyone I've talked to has already been to one. Anyway, I had a really good time and thought it was worth sharing.
If you aren't familiar with the format it's basically the same as the public tour but with food. While you wait for everyone to show up for the tour you get to hang out in the tasting room adjacent to the gift shop. We were served generous pours of the finalized Amber ale which will be on tap in the Omaha market around the first of June. Folks in KC will see bottles of Amber start popping up in 12 pack samplers around the same time. I was told this is because Omaha drinks more Amber ale (read: Fat Tire) so they're getting Boulevard Amber first. There was no mention of when KC would see it on tap, but I doubt it'd be too much longer after Omaha.
I mostly tuned out the tour since I'd been so many times before. I did notice that the barrel aging room is now full of "6th" barrels, there don't seem to be any Rye-on-Rye or Imperial Stout barrels on site. I later heard that the Rye-on-Rye schedule is dependent on getting barrels from Templeton so Boulevard has to wait for Templeton to bottle their whiskey before any empty barrels become available. Since it's such a small operation they don't just have barrels lying around. The guide did mention an off-site location where Boulevard keeps its sour beers and longer term lagered beers.
The tour ended in the Muehlebach suite where we sat down for lunch. This month's menu was put together by Josh Eans from Blanc Burgers + Bottles. When I first heard Blanc was doing the food I felt a little disappointed that the Boulevard lunch I finally get to go to is catered by a place I've eaten at several times before. After seeing the menu though I felt a bit better about it. I realized that these guys serve burgers all day so they're probably not going do a three course burger lunch when they're invited to Boulevard... The menu went like this: cured salmon and microgreen salad followed by short rib ravioli, then bleu cheese with rosemary honey.
The first course was wild king salmon cured with lime and Boulevard Zon which was served with a microgreen salad topped with a Zon, orange and coriander vinaigrette and paired with the Two Jokers Double-Wit. Two Jokers is one of my favorite Boulevard beers, I like it more than the Saison-Brett to be honest. This dish was light and tangy with lots of summery flavors and a salad that had a lot of kick to it... which is something I don't say very often. The salmon was served cold and covered with lime juice and Zon. I'm not a big seafood person so this was great for me. I enjoy thin sliced salmon rather than a cooked filet. The beer pairing was good but I didn't have an epiphany by any means. I already liked the Two Jokers and would drink it with just about anything so I'm a bit biased. That being said, this was the dish I liked the least.
Course number two where I was expecting greatness. This course was a Boulevard Sour Brown ale braised short rib ravioli served with mushrooms, peas and paired with Boulevard's Dubbel. I felt like this dish was cheating a little... You can't get a Boulevard Sour Brown or Dubbel anywhere, these are experimental beers that don't make it off the premises. Not only that but you can't walk in to Blanc and get the short rib ravioli... That's kind of the whole point of the luncheon, to treat you to something special, but this was completely left field as far as I was concerned. It was awesome, but I was bummed knowing I'd probably never have it again.
Oh, and it was beyond delicious by the way. The ravioli were filled with savory cuts of short rib that were swimming in a sauce of sour brown ale and decadent rib juice. I generally don't care for mushrooms but the combination of sour rib meat and mushroom went together phenomenally. This is a dish I'd pay a stupid amount of money for... even without the Dubbel pairing.
The Dubbel seemed like a great pairing at the time. No other Boulevard beer would have gone quite as well. The Long Strange Tripel would have been good, but maybe too sweet and light. The Dubbel was a copper, brown colored beer with caramel and a little chocolate in the flavor. It was sweet and a little sour, which hooked right in with the ravioli. Steven Pauwels said this beer was around 7% or 8% alcohol and has been in testing for about nine years... Yup, nine years. It sounded more like they tried this style nine years ago and didn't like how it turned out, then tried it four or five years ago and still weren't happy. They keep coming back to the style but haven't perfected it... It tasted fine to me, I'd buy a bottle and serve it with short rib ravioli in a heartbeat.
The final course was a cheese dish. Steven Pauwels was incredibly giddy over this cheese dish. He said that he'd been begging the chefs to do a cheese course but no one had ever attempted it at the luncheon. The plate they brought out to us had a wedge of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue topped with rosemary honey and served with toasted olive oil and rosemary bread. Oh, and there were hazelnuts on the plate too... This was paired with a glass of Boulevard's Double-Wide IPA. I have to say that this was my least favorite pairing, but I liked the food a lot. I'm not crazy about really hoppy beers and didn't really dig the spicy IPA and bleu cheese combination. I don't like Buffalo wings with bleu cheese either so maybe it's just me.
What I did like was the honey and bleu cheese, that was amazing. The outer rind of the cheese wedge was smokey and went with the hazelnuts and IPA better than the creamier center of the cheese. I won't rush out and get a bottle of Double-Wide to pair with my bleu cheese but I would grab a bottle of honey to dip it in. That was an epiphany for me, even if the beer pairing wasn't.
Lunch wrapped up with Steve Pauwels poking fun at Josh Eans' mustache which got more than a few laughs. Eans then thanked everyone for coming by sending out a Blanc branded Christopher Elbow chocolate on a Boulevard coaster. This was a chocolate ganache infused with fresh Oregon hops. I honestly couldn't taste the hops at all in my chocolate, maybe because I'd just finished off that glass of Double-Wide. Chimpotle on the other hand, just about gagged when he took a bit of the chocolate... and this is not a man that gags lightly. So, your mileage my vary with the hop infused Elbow chocolates.
Steven Pauwels happened to be sitting at our table, right next to my friend Bartles actually, so I got to ask him a number of questions about Boulevard and the luncheon series. I asked which luncheon was his favorite and he said that the folks from The American Restaurant made some really great pairings. He teased a little about the next collaboration beer that is already in the works. He wouldn't say anything about what brewery it was, or what beer they are thinking about doing because if we knew the style of beer it'd give away who that brewery is because that style is what they are famous for. I asked about the Dubbel we had and whether or not it'll ever make it into Smokestack bottles after a nine year on and off trial period. Pauwels said there are definite plans to eventually make it a Smokestack beer but it won't happen before Smokestack 4-Packs come out... Smokestack 4-Packs? Yup, Pauwels said we should be seeing those on shelves around Thanksgiving, so just in time for stocking stuffer season. He mentioned Double-Wide and Tank 7 being part of the initial release of 4-Packs.
I had a great time at the Brewmaster Luncheon. I was a little apprehensive about spending $35 for a Blanc lunch at first, but I realized I'd spend that much for a burger and three Boulevards at the restaurant anyways... The food ended up being great, and it was nice to sit within drooling distance of Steven Pauwels. If there is anyone left out there who hasn't done the Brewmaster Luncheon at Boulevard I'd definitely recommend doing it.