Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beer and Degustation at August

Reveillon Dinner at Restaurant August is a Christmas tradition of ours. In 2009, we were there for Christmas Night dinner, even before we moved here. It was so wonderful that it became a tradition for us right around the holiday- since they are no longer open on December 25, we shoot for Christmas Eve instead. Last year, we noticed that the beer list was pretty extensive but focused mostly on bottles from local breweries like Abita and Bayou Teche. Nothing too exciting, but, you know, August is more a wine-oriented fine food place so it wasn't a surprise to us.

This year, though, we decided to take advantage of August's generous no-corkage-fee policy and bring some special beers we'd been saving. The Reveillon menu was online, so I was able to get an idea of the flavor profiles and chose accordingly. I brought a Lost Abbey Avant Garde bier de garde for the amuse and the first 2 courses, and Boulevard and Pretty Things' "Collaboration No. 3," a Yorkshire Stingo for the next three courses. On a whim, I grabbed a bottle of Bayou Teche's Joie A Tous, their holiday seasonal to finish up the meal with dessert and mignardise.

Imagine my surprise when I took a look at the cocktail menu and saw the greatly expanded and improved beer menu on the opposite page. Saison Dupont, Oude Gueuze Tilquin, La Fin Du Monde, and Moylan's Kiltlifter Scotch Ale. Like, whaaaaaaaaat? Also, of course, a few locals and sort-of locals, including Lazy Magnolia Timber Beast and Southern Star Pine Belt Pale. Small bottle list, but very diverse. (more on this below)

Lost Abbey Avant  Garde, which we paired with...

terrine of Banyuls poached foie gras pain d'épices and candied golden beet

brouillade aux truffes La Provence farmed eggs, Progress Dairy butter and fresh winter truffle
The Avant Garde paired very well with both, especially the foie gras. I think the egg/truffle dish would have done better with some accompanying funk- perhaps the gueuze on the August list.

Collaboration No. 3 Yorkshire Stingo, paired with...

Turtle soup

house made brandade tortelli picholine olive, caramelized garlic and sauce raïto

carved Two Run Farms beef rib-eye fresh horseradish, roasted baby root vegetables, tête "en croûte"
The Stingo was amazing with the turtle soup- I couldn't believe how perfectly it paired. The brandade (salted cod) tortelli fared not as well with the Stingo, Would have done well maybe with a belgian blonde/golden like Russian River Redemption (or Damnation?)  The play on the classic British roast beef dinner paired nicely with the British style Stingo.

bittersweet chocolate tartlet caramelized white chocolate and milk chocolate sorbet
Man, that dessert was great. I think the incredibly rich flavors of the chocolate washed out the Joie A Tous - it definitely didn't taste like I thought it would. I didn't get any coffee notes or anything like that. I think a Pour Me Something Mistah would have been a nice pairing.

So... great food and great beer made for a wonderful night. And the staff couldn't have been nicer about providing lovely stemware, bringing fresh glasses every time we opened a new bottle. The sommelier stopped by briefly to chat about our beers, and it was a very nice fine dining and beer experience. A real treat. And I actually enjoyed the process of figuring out why a beer didn't quite pair with one of the courses, and thinking about what would be better.

After our meal, I started thinking about the very interesting beer list that I saw (but didn't partake in) and wondered about how and why the beer program shifted over the past year. I dropped a line to the Besh empire asking about who was in charge of the program, and got a nice response from their PR person, who provided me a copy of the beer list and set an interview up with August's bar manager, Robert Wailes, who I had a chance to chat with tonight.

Robert has been August's bar manager for about a year. When he came in, he thought the beer list could use a little tweaking, and even though he's primarily a wine guy, his sister in law is the owner of Lazy Magnolia and his brother in law has just started brewing at Bayou Teche's new facility. So he's had a lot of beer influence. Perfidious beer influence! As a result, he's been experimenting and learning about different styles and flavor profiles, seeking out advice from Dan Stein (owner of Stein's Deli) and Polly Watts (owner of the Avenue Pub - she offered to trade beer tasting lessons for wine tasting lessons with Robert.)

He seemed very excited about learning all he can about craft beer and the enormous potential there is in pairing it with food. When he first started changing the beer list, he added just the Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale to test the waters, and it sold very well, very quickly. He then expanded to include the gueuze, which is a slower seller, but one that beer-focused goumands appreciate (very much!) to see on the list. His sampling and tasting and consulting led him to put the Fin du Monde and Kilt Lifter as well, to pair with the predominant flavor profiles on the menu. The beer list (sadly not available online) has some really nice tasting notes, to assist with selecting the right beer for the right course.

For example, he recommends pairing the gueuze with cheese courses or foie gras, and the Fin du Monde with their signature dish, the gnocchi with blue crab and black truffles. I asked him if he considered having recommended pairings listed like they have with wine for the "Degustation" menus, and he seemed intrigued, but I could tell it was a little too early to spotlighting beer to quite that degree. But I think his slow and steady approach is solid, and is quietly bringing beer as accompaniment to fine food to the forefront of that conversation in New Orleans. He told me that there are several locals who come in once a week and always enjoy their meal with August's beer selection, and it's starting to become more and more commonplace there in the elegant dining rooms next the the beautiful courses.

We chatted quite a while about different beers, styles we liked, and made recommendations to each other. I really hope that I'm able to meet up with Mr. Robert Wailes for a beer someday soon. Maybe at the Avenue Pub... maybe at August!

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