The lighting is low, all is quiet, all is calm. Dozens of empty tables stare back at us, as if in anticipation of something big. The dining area of Blue Corn Brewery is empty for a Thursday night … for the moment, but that’s soon about to change. We’re the first to arrive, and all I can think about is getting my frozen mitts on a big dark beer, because baby, it’s cold outside!
This past week Blue Corn hosted their small, monthly event, “Thursday’s at the Brewer’s Table,” and from my experience, it was as big a hit as the beer that was unleashed upon Santa Fe that evening. Once a month, folks can make reservations to come in, sample a pairing of something Chef D has specially crafted for the occasion and a beer, or beers, which the brewers have handpicked, all while getting to step behind the curtain to meet the wizards of Blue Corn Brewery.
Last Thursday also happened to be the release party for James and Nick’s Russian Imperial Stout. And whether it was the interesting mini menu or the monster stout, from the team that brought back gold to Blue Corn, something drew a huge crowd out of the comforts of their homes to brave the cold weather. There were reservations for over 90 people, and most of them, if not all, were fulfilled. It was a Santa Fe beer crowd if I’ve ever seen one, mixed in age, shape, and style, but all were thirsty for the next new brew — and with several award-winning brewers in attendance, we were definitely in good company.
On the menu for the evening was an interesting assortment of the sweet and the savory including Doughnut Sliders, Elk Satays, and Cheesecake Bites, which ranged on the flavor meter from umami all the way to “Aye Mamí!” Though all different, the tastes were chosen because they had some element that mixed and mingled well with the new Czar of Santa Fe beers, and the cost was not bad at all for only $10 per person.
The Elk Satays were a fun choice, as the elk’s natural gaminess was played upon by the blackberry sauce, which I likened to the practice of using mint jelly on lamb. But instead of using it to mask the gaminess of the meat like mint might, the blackberry is boldly used to bring out the richness of the meat, and to a much, much better effect, I might add. Aptly named Ambrosia, the jalapeno blackberry sauce encouraged “gastronauts” to launch themselves from a platform of sweetness to floating somewhere out in spice amongst the food gods. The sweet tartness of the blackberry sauce pulled out the chocolate and currant notes of the stout, and the spiciness of the jalapeno remained nice and present, but was tuned to a lower octave by the chocolate roastiness and the creamy mouthfeel of the brew.
The tender red meat of the doughnut burger slider went as well with the stout as a steak might go with a red wine, but the sweet dark chocolate of the stout wort used by Whoo’s Donuts to make the donut ‘buns’ complimented the stout as if they had never been separated at boil. The savoriness of the cheese was a nice counterweight to keep that flavor scale from tipping too far from the dark sweetness and losing the burger to the high gravity of the beer.
The cheesecake was a nice choice of pairing, because the dark bitter chocolates of the stout began to unravel, yielding more complex flavors, which then easily interweaved with the lightness of vanilla custard. They did well to balance each other, rounding out a nice complimentary flavor version of yin and yang. An interesting thing about pairing beer with desserts, for me, is that you’re also pairing mouthfeel. Something with high carbonation might go better with a fruit pie or something similar, but for cheesecake, chocolate cake, and flan, as I pair with on my tours, I say you need that full-bodied, creaminess of mouthfeel that you can certainly attain with a well done Russian Imperial Stout.
And Blue Corn’s Russian Imperial Stout was really well done. Quick note on the history for those that haven’t heard it, this was another traditional beer changed to survive the harsh conditions of transport at the time. Russian Czar Peter the Great had really enjoyed the dark, strong porters that he had sampled while visiting England in 1698, and he requested that a few batches be sent to the Russian Imperial Court. Well, due to cold temperatures and the length of voyage, the first batches spoiled. Wanting to remedy this, the Barclay Brewery of London significantly increased the alcohol and hops of the beer and shipped out another batch. The result was a black, malty, and complex beer with a warming to it, which was favored by the Russian Court for years to come. It was the first “imperial” version of a beer. And now, the term “imperial” applies to any stronger, higher alcohol, higher gravity, higher hopped versions of a given beer.
In the middle of the event, GABF gold medal-winning brewer James Warren was kind enough to talk to me a little about his beer.
DSBC: What can you tell us about this monster of a Russian Imperial Stout?
Warren: So we have the oatmeal stout. We’ve got the porters that have come out here. And it’s trying to find something in between everything that’s happening. And this isn’t double oatmeal stout. There’s no oats involved in this at all. I’m new here. And I know there’s been several imperial stouts that have come out. And to separate it a little bit from them, there’s no flaked anything in this beer. Instead, there’s 900 pounds of malt. I guess it’s also less hoppy than other ones that have come out.
DSBC: I’m getting a very sweet, rich, warming alcohol … and a little smoke.
Warren: Absolutely. And there’s one-percent peated malt in it, too. And I don’t know if it actually picks up for everyone, but it’s something I enjoy in my beers, to separate it a little bit.
DSBC: What made you want to make this beer?
Warren: You have to make this beer! You have to make one and you love to drink it. I think imperial stouts are one of those beers like barley wines, or some of those other big beers that kind of help set breweries apart from each other. I think an imperial stout and a barley wine really let the brewers show what it is they like to make.
DSBC: Any big plans for the future of Blue Corn’s bigger brews?
Warren: We gotta do something bigger with the Barley Wine. This Russian Imperial Stout was just a test of the equipment.
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And on that note, my palate is going to need some Eye-of-the-Tiger-Rocky-Style-training montage if I’m going to handle something bigger than this Russian Imperial Stout.
Cheers to big beers!
For reservations for the next “Thursday’s at the Brewers Table,” call 505-438-1800. Or go to: Blue Corn Brewery