Austin Beer Week 2012: Ommegang Beer Dinner at Easy Tiger
I’ve had a few beers before from New York’s Brewery Ommegang, but not many. So it was with curiosity and an empty stomach that I entered the hallowed halls of Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden on Tuesday night for their Austin Beer Week Ommegang Beer Dinner. It was my second beer dinner at Easy Tiger (my first was in July) so I came expecting an all-stops-out delicious meal designed by chef Andrew Curren with the beer remaining the star. The menu was promising indeed:
Easy Tiger’s wait staff turned the hospitality up to eleven, bringing my first beer within moments of being seated. That was Ommegang’s Octoberly-named Scythe & Sickle, an ale celebrating the harvest season with barley, oats, wheat and rye in the grain bill. It poured a cloudy orange with an initial tart, acidic aroma that gave way to spicy clove esters and floral notes upon tasting. I had fun trying to pick out all the different grains. The oats gave a creamy texture to the brew, and spicy rye was also evident; but the most distinctive flavor I got was a raisin-currant character typical of Belgian crystal malts like Special B. The beer was accompanied by Easy Tiger’s “Harvest Mix” of popcorn, potato sticks, peanuts and dill: not your father’s party mix.
Then the real fun began.
First Course: Biere d’Hougoumont with Herbed grits, roasted mushrooms, quail egg, lemon hazelnut gremolata – This limited-edition bière de garde includes French ale yeast and French Strisselspalt hops in the recipe, and was aged on white oak and hard maple. It was light orange in color with a quickly dissipating head and smelled of honey and floral hops. A boozy character like that of simple sugars (honey, or candi sugar?) in the wort was strong on the palate, but no alcohol burn. It balanced well with the earthy mushroom flavor dominating the grits.
Second Course: Goudenhop with Orange-lacquered grilled pork belly, creamed Swiss chard, crispy leeks – Ostensibly a Belgian-style blonde, the beer lived up to its name (meaning “golden hop” in Flemish) with citrusy hops on the nose and palate that slowly gave way to a long-lasting bitterness. It seemed an odd pairing with the nutty creamed chard and rich slab of pork belly that actually melted in my mouth, until I recognized it as a genius combination of opposites. The Goudenhop offered a refreshing lifeline from a dish easy to drown in (albeit happily), like orange juice next to a heaping plate of morning bacon. Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this.
Third Course: Gnomegang with Pecan-crusted red fish, sweet potato & Granny Smith apple hash, parsley brown butter – A big golden beer with a thick head and aromas of tart fruits and the unoffensive cheese notes of Belgian yeast. It was incredibly full bodied, packed a boozy punch, and would make a great mainstay for a Belgian abbey’s Lenten fast. The rich, oily fish paired very nicely with it, and I’ve never disliked anything with Granny Smith apples in it.
Fourth Course: Art of Darkness with Chuck roast, potatoes, carrots and Art of Darkness bread – This smooth, velvety black ale (I wouldn’t call it a stout; there was no roasted barley character at all) had the hallmark flavors of oats and (I’m guessing) debittered black malt. The beer was good, but I must confess I was more entranced by the wedge of artisan bread on my plate, made with that same beer. I had waited all night to get my hands on some of Easy Tiger’s legendary bread, and its appearance made me a happy man. My apologies to the roast; it was succulent and savory, but I had already given my heart to another.
Fifth Course: Chocolate Indulgence with Pumpkin pie, milk chocolate, candied orange, hazelnuts – The last ale on the menu was as dark as the previous one, and had the roast character its predecessor lacked. More coffee-like than it was chocolatey, it was very good on its own but a little heavy next to a light and flaky specimen of one of my favorite fall desserts. The pie itself was delicious, and thankfully not cloyingly sweet. I loved each on their own but wasn’t crazy about the two together.
But the night wasn’t over yet! Easy Tiger and Ommegang surprised us with a final course: a plate of soft cheese, fennel relish, and another fresh baked bread (EDIT: Nancy’s Camembert from Hudson Valley, fennel marmalade and Pan au Levain roll – a sort of French “sourdough” – thanks Chef Andrew Curren for confirming) accompanied by a flute of Aphrodite lambic. The lambic was sweet and fruity with the color and flavor of raspberry (and just a little pear) all but masking a thread of Brett funk, and was an admirable way to end the night. It went fine with the cheese, but I kept thinking how well it would have paired with the pumpkin pie … though I would hate to have missed out on this latter offering of house bread.
Much like schnitzengrubens, them strong Belgian-style beers can wipe you out, especially when taken with good food. By the end of the night I had one foot in brewhound Valhalla, tethered to the mortal plane by robust conversation with several fellow beer geeks in attendance that I had the pleasure to meet that night – including John Rubio of The Beerists podcast and Austin Chronicle beer culture writer Ivy Le and her husband. But bedtime loomed, and before long I emerged from the rathskeller to find my way home, happily smacked down by another spectacular Easy Tiger beer dinner.
You win another round, Easy Tiger. Well done. Name the time, and I’ll be there for the rematch.