I am sad that I missed the last Gulp! Event but I am very glad our guest blogger Brian Bixler was there to record all the excitment. So without further ado take it away Brian! (sorry no pictures, it seems Ashley was missing that day too).
Behind BX Beer Depot's unprepossessing storefront we gathered next to a thatch-roofed tiki bar and long tables set with tablecloths, silverware, stemmed glasses and snifters awaiting libations that would flow freely so that we could compare which one went
best with the delectable dishes that would be set in front of us.
And so it began, Gulp!'s third tasting that would pit beer against wine in an event that attracted an eclectic and fun-loving group that included members of the media, musicians and artists, entrepreneurs, and employees in the hospitality industry who have one thing in common: they're all foodies interested in learning more about the food they consume and the beverages they drink. The Wrong's lead singer Jimmy Brogan was there as well as videojournalist and sometimes Shakespeare by the Sea actor Wally Lurz and his fiancée Krystina Parker.
And the setting, warmly lit by tiki torches on Easter Eve, was entirely apropos, casual, communal and comfortable. Sally Parsons is one of the first business owners in Palm Beach County to recognize the growing demand for craft beer and her small tap room, tucked away on Second Avenue North in Lake Worth, has all the accouterments for making your own brew at home. The walls are lined with dippers, utensils, copper coils; and in a huge walk-in refrigerator she stores yeast, hops and heavy bags of grain that can be used to make everything from a chocolate-flavored beer to coffee-infused stout.
Sally was a wonderful co-host for the evening, not only serving the Gulp! guests but providing a personal tour of her business, which may be Lake Worth's best kept secret (aside from Gulp! of course). As a tasting room, it provides a wealth of craft beers by the bottle ranging in cost from a couple of dollars to larger sizes in the $20 range. But even the brands with higher price points don't deter true beer connoisseurs, who come from as far away as Vero Beach and Miami to visit Sally's store.
"It's like a fine wine," Sally said of her inventory. "We have customers who can buy a bottle of beer and sip it for two hours."
In addition to coming for the array of craft beers, patrons are also looking for the supply of fresh grains stored in tight containers that allow home brewers to create an assortment of beer at home. And for those who want to know what their own concoctions might taste like, BX Beer Depot also has a tempting variety of its own brews on tap that are kept cold in the refrigerated unit just waiting to be dispensed in a glass and raised to your lips.
Naturally, Sally also offers beer-making classes for those who want to learn more about the age-old beverage revered by America's Founding Fathers, especially Ben Franklin. She also offers wine-making kits and guidance and has recently branched out into cheese-
making. And so, her business provided the perfect location for Gulp!'s boxing bout between beer and wine. And the pairing of Gulp! and BX Beer Depot was as natural as the coupling of food and beverage that night. As Sally said, the two companies share the same model and mission of providing education and socialization for their guests.
It was my initiation into a Gulp! tasting and I couldn't help feeling a little bit like a pledge being inducted into a secret society like Skull and Bones (on second thought, scratch that, make it more like the Algonquin Round Table).
There were plenty of regulars there to recall the very beginnings of Gulp! when Coreen Gottschalk would research various wines and pull facts and tasting notes together, then invite a few friends to her home, serve the wines and pair them with tasting-sized portions of food and discuss them. ClearChannel radio host Deb Knepp (who sat crocheting tiny Easter Bunny heads from yarn for everyone to wear as a pin or hair adornment for the evening) shared memories of those first days, along with other veterans like massage therapist Michelle Getty.
I felt so proud for my friend Coreen, one of the most extraordinary people I have met in my life, to see how her simple idea of spending time with friends has grown into a truly professional venture and full-fledged business with help from her partner LeBeau Kpadenou. But I wasn't the only newbie in the crowd: the very-blue-eyed Laura Powell, a server/bartender from O'Shea's Irish Pub, was also experiencing her first Gulp! tasting.
"Nothing excites me like good food," said Laura, who, by the end of the evening, expressed how much she enjoyed it and promised to return for future tastings.
And tastings -- tempting and plentiful -- were what the evening was all about, paired with carefully selected beers and wines that were meant to complement the food and bring out the various spices and flavors of meats, cheeses, herbs, fruits and vegetables.
The first course was an inviting little morsel: a slider-size burger stuffed with pesto and a tangy Chaumes cheese from Périgord in southwest France. Wrapped within the burger, the cheese provided a full-bodied flavor not unlike brie. The tasty treat was presented in a crispy wanton cup topped with a sprinkling of tomato and clover sprouts that provided additional flavor and texture to the appetizer. It was a great way to start the meal.
LeBeau introduced the first wine of the night, presenting Dry Creek Valley 2010 The Federalist, a California Zinfandel from 2Sons Winery. It was a fruity, medium-bodied red wine meant to compete with the first beer selection by Corey from BX Beer Depot, who chose Wychwood Brewery's Hobgoblin, an imported dark English ale made from chocolate and crystal malts with a dash of citrus aroma.
Round One went to The Federalist with more than half of the diners preferring it paired with the appetizer than the ale (Ben Franklin might have been disappointed, even though the wine bottle pays homage to fellow Founding Father Alexander Hamilton).
The second course, courtesy of a recipe from Corey, was, for me, the most interesting dish of the evening: Éphémère salad, made with jicama, apple, fennel, sweet pepper, red onion and oranges tossed with a dressing made from Éphémère Ale and Mint Oregon Garden Vinaigrette. The melange had an autumnal flair to it but was neither overly sweet nor spicy; but an exciting blend of the two. I would make this salad at home. Even though it reminded me of fall, I could also see it being a crisp, refreshing salad on a hot summer day.
LeBeau paired it with a playful, low-alcohol, sparkling wine, Moscato d'Asti, from the Piedmont region of Italy, more associated with Christmas in that country than Easter. Corey cleverly chose to pair the salad with the beer used an ingredient in the dressing:
Éphémère, a Canadian ale brewed with apple juice, coriander and orange peel, with a hazy clarity. The Belgian-style witbier was intended to bring out the spices in the salad. Once again, the wine won the round, with more guests raising their hands in favor of its
pairing with the food. But that didn't mean the beer didn't have its defenders.
"This beer has so many wonderful flavors in it," said Barry Imhoff, owner of Mad Rush design and graphic arts in West Palm Beach. "So, to pair it with something neutral like french fries would be very nice."
The third course, the entree, was a deliciously moist and flavorful herb roasted pork tenderloin, or as LeBeau introduced it, "the same cut on a pig you would get filet mignon on a cow." Perfectly seasoned with a selection of herbs, served with baby white potatoes and covered with a vermouth sauce, the tenderloin was prepared medium-to-well done which failed to reduce its tenderness. Many diners went back for seconds after LeBeau announced he had made enough for an Easter dinner.
He paired the meat with what he considers to be one of the best wines of its kind, a 2010 Trimbach Riesling 2010 imported from Alsace, France. In introducing the wine, LeBeau commented that "this is what a Riesling should be" -- not sweet, but elegant and dry.
Corey noted that Germans know pork and sausage and which beer goes great with it. Taking a cue from those barons of Bavaria, he chose Great Divide Brewing Co.'s Hoss rye lager from Denver Colorado, an American beer based on the Märzen lagers of Germany. Savory, malty and carmel-ly with an unusual red-orange color, the beer was the first of the evening to win a round with an overwhelming majority of votes from the tasters.
Between courses, discussion included talk about the pairings, with a general consensus That all of the choices were excellent, whether they won the round or not.
Audrey Farrelly, manager of O'Shea's, attending her third Gulp! tasting, remarked that making a decision between the unusual beers and fine wines being served was a tough call.
"It's like having two children and saying which one is your favorite," she said.
But that was before Sally and Corey delivered the coup de grâce: BX Beer Depot's own milk stout, that was served as something extra for the evening to be enjoyed with Coreen's "sexy," decadent and oh-so-scrumptious crème brûlée with caramelized organic cane sugar that Coreen created herself.
"I got to wield a blow torch, which I recommend even if you're not making crème brûlée," she told us all before we slid into the silky dessert with our spoons.
The wine for Round Four was Castlenau de Suduiraut's 2007 Sauternes, a French dessert wine with an excitingly sweet aftertaste. In presenting the wine, LeBeau described to his guests how it is made from grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. The fungus shrinks and sucks the water from the grape, causing it to become partially raisined and resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavored wine. Another beer, St. Ambroise Vintage ale from Canada brewed by McAuslan Brewing in Montreal, was offered by Corey, but the overwhelming favorite paired with the crème brûlée was the freshly brewed milk stout. Audrey made it clear that it was her favorite child.
So, since it was a draw -- wine winning two courses and beer winning two -- there was no real TKO that night -- just plenty of succulent food and really interesting selections of beer and wine that delivered a powerful punch!
I'm sure Mame Burkett will be back for the next tasting after some recuperation but I was so glad to be her substitute for the night. I usually don't like to use the word "special" to describe things because it's so trite, but in this case it's absolutely fitting for the night's festivities and my first tasting.