There are few collaborations more harmonious than meat and beer. No one appreciates that as thoroughly as a butcher whose go-to IPA is Sea Hag from New England Brewing Company.
That butcher, Ryan Fibiger, was on-hand last Wednesday night for a beer-pairing dinner at the restaurant he co-owns in Westport, Conn.: Fleishers Craft Kitchen. The four-course extravaganza featured NEBCO and is the first of five pairing dinners Fleishers will host that feature Connecticut breweries.
“My love of good beer came from years of cutting meat until the middle of the night and needing to have something great when that was all done,” Fibiger told me during a break between courses. “I would think, ‘I’m entitled to this beer.’”
I had the opportunity to take part in the tasting on, as it turned out, my birthday. (I accepted the free meal, as did my wife, as a gift). During each course NEBCO met beef and pork in ways I didn’t think possible. While sitting at a long wooden table in a cozy space inches from the kitchen, the 26 guests were treated to running commentary by chef Adam Truelove and NEBCO head brewer Matt Westfall.
Arriving early, I gratefully accepted a cold can of 668, NEBCO’s Belgian-style strong pale ale and munched on some gourmet pork crackling. The popcorn saltiness of the deceptively airy rind played well against the brute force of the 668. With great swiftness the room filled with well-dressed patrons, some of whom appeared to be beer enthusiasts.
Fibiger welcomed us and waitstaff deftly placed stemless wine glasses filled with Sea Hag IPA, the beer that Westfall explained represented about 75 percent of what NEBCO produces from its Woodbridge, Conn. location. While we received our steaming white bowls of chorizo and IPA-steamed mussels with crispy bread, Truelove explained that the fattiness from the sausage and garlic in the broth found unity with the Sea Hag’s resinous impact.
With very little delay Westfall was chatting us up about the near-legendary mystique of the next beer: Fuzzy Baby Ducks. FBD. The Ducks. However you refer to this highly popular double IPA, you learn quickly that its reputation is deserved. Bursting to the rafters with Citra hop, yet balanced with a creamy texture, the beer delivered from the first sniff to the dregs. Truelove came close to matching the intensity with the second course: two spicy pork tacos with pickled onions, grapefruit, and avocado salad. Pulling out the citrus flavor of the beer with actual citrus was a smart move and I found that the beer seemed to bring out the intensity of each of the ingredients instead of overshadowing them.
The dinner took a dark turn as the elusive Ghost Pigeon Porter made its landing. I’m naturally drawn to porters, but this one provides something that English ones — and even some American versions — do not, which is that day-old espresso bitterness. The name comes from an actual pigeon that would fly in for visits at the brewery, but then one day took a few steps and, well, entered the land of ghosts. It was a refreshing change of pace after so much hop flavor, and Truelove coaxed out all of its charms with a chocolate and coffee-rubbed brisket with cauliflower mash.
The final course would need to be bold, I knew. Not only were our taste buds nearly exhausted from overstimulation (I don’t get out much), but the alcohol was taking hold. While John Williams’ theme for Darth Vader didn’t actually play, the score was running through my head as I was handed a glass of NEBCO’s exquisite Imperial Stout Trooper. Viscous and gritty, with dark fruit aggression and cacao bitterness for miles, the beer is rather rarely found outside of the brewery. With great curiosity I enjoyed the accompanying course: braised beef cheeks with celery root, red wine, and carrots. Decadence upon decadence.
Fleishers will be releasing tickets for each of its events at least two weeks prior to each date, and you can only make reservations through this ticketing system. You’ll need to sign up for their newsletter to learn about tickets, and you can do so here. Each dinner is $90.
Here are the dinners with Connecticut breweries, each on Wednesday nights at 6:30: Jan. 27 (Thimble Island Brewing), Feb. 10 (Stubborn Beauty), Feb. 24 (Relic), and March 9 (Black Hog).
Fleishers Craft Kitchen, 580 Riverside Ave., Westport, Conn.