You never quite know what to expect from a Thursday at the Brewer’s Table at Blue Corn Brewery, except that there will always be good beer, good food, and good company. For April’s TATBT, it was a special collaboration between Duel Brewing and Blue Corn, two of Santa Fe’s breweries known for pushing the envelope when it comes to brewing with and against the grain.
If you’re new to the concept, every Thursday at the Brewer’s Table is a special pairing between a new or tweaked version of a beer (or beers) and a specialty food item (or healthy slew of food items), specifically created to play well together in such a way that food and drink cease to remain mere means of fuel, and become something altogether transcendental.
The beer of the evening was a Belgian-style Black Ale, known as …
I’m not even going to try to spell that. But as always, over a pint of the new brew, I spoke with Blue Corn head brewer James Warren about the beer and what it was like working with Duel on a style he’s not traditionally used to brewing.
NMDSBC: This beer was brewed here, correct?
NMDSBC: Who came up with the recipe, or was it more of a joint effort?
Warren: It was a joint effort. We went back and forth on this for a while. It was probably the hardest part of the whole thing.
NMDSBC: How long did that process take?
Warren: It was a couple of weeks. We had this idea that we wanted to do a collaboration, but it just took setting a date that we were going to do it. And then once we had that date, and it started to get closer, we were like, ‘oh, we should probably do something.’ (Laughs)
NMDSBC: So how did you decide on a Black Ale, a Cascadian Dark, or a Black IPA?
Warren: Well, we just kinda settled on this idea. And we thought — well, what do we have at Duel? We have this Trappist yeast strain available that they use. And so that’s the characteristic of what they do. Over here, with Roadrunner (IPA) and some other stuff, we use a lot more American hops. They have next to no American hops in what they do. So we realized that I’ve got this huge stock of American hops over here, and we started getting an idea together. And we began to think, how do you differentiate between the two ideas (of hops and Trappist yeast)? And what’s kind of the third counterpoint? And it was making this dark beer, but making a dark beer that doesn’t taste too dark. It’s kind of got this light profile to it. It’s like we had these ideas of what we both do. And the third point was kind of something that would be challenging to both of us.
NMDSBC: Were there any obstacles to brewing this one?
Warren: Honestly, finding the time, finding a day. (Duel brewer Todd Yocham and I) are both so busy as brewers, you know? Me, working by myself, and them having to do three brews to fill their tanks. It’s overwhelming. So, just finding that time, and like I said, we went back and forth on that recipe, but it wasn’t that hard after that. It took a lot of going back and forth, sure, but we were always headed towards the same point at the beginning.
NMDSBC: What was brew day like? Did you guys come together? Was he here in the brewhouse?
Warren: Yeah, we had Todd here in the morning —
Side Note: At this point James’ friend Kathryn, who had joined James, my friends, and I at the table, had sneezed, bringing the interview to a screeching halt. I’d threatened to put that sneeze in the article, because, when I’m “On the record,” I’m on the record. You’ve all been warned.
Warren: He’s going to put that in the article, you know. So, Todd got here early in the morning with me, we got goin’, and we got to talk a lot about the differences between how this stuff works for both breweries, and later on Michael (Karr, Duel’s other talented brewer) was able to show up, once he finished. They’re so busy finishing his brew day over there; he came and joined us at the end. So yeah, it was a lot of fun.
NMDSBC: So tell us a little bit about the beer, what’s in this guy?
Warren: I think the defining thing of it was the Carafa III that we used to darken it up. Not adding too much of that dark beer character to it, and then the rye. The rye was definitely Duel. You know, I don’t use a lot of rye in my beer. They do. And I thought, wonderful, it’s a chance for me to use it, and I didn’t have to order a whole bag of it, although, I think it was a whole bag of rye that we used to brew on our scale, in the end. (Laughs)
NMDSBC: Would you ever consider brewing this again?
Warren: I think it would be fun to brew this on their system next time, just to see how things would turn out differently. If I was to do it again, I’d love to do it there.
NMDSBC: Would you ever consider just doing another Black IPA here?
Warren: Yeah, I think the idea of things that look different than they taste is a fun idea.
Warren: So, I love the idea of a Black IPA, but you see a lot of deviation in the style. I have an idea in my head of how I think a Black IPA should taste like. If I ever think I’m capable of executing that idea, you might see it happen.
NMDSBC: And so this will be available here (Blue Corn), Duel, and at both Draft Stations for how long?
Warren: However long it lasts. Both Draft Stations are picking it up.
NMDSBC: And so Albuquerque, too?
Warren: Yep, Santa Fe’s getting their kegs (last Friday), and Albuquerque’s getting theirs (this) week, probably on Tuesday.
Note: It should now be available in ABQ.
* * * * *
And now for the food, because it was a pairing after all. On the menu that evening was an item which was straight-facedly referred to as the Midnight Slider. The portion size was quite deceptive, because although it seemed small, it was more filling than anything you’d ever get for $10 with a beer included. The slider consisted of a succulent cut of New York strip loin, cooked in a Black Ale demi-glace, with Swiss cheese melted on top and onions caramelized with the Black Ale, all inside a cushiony Kaiser Slider-bun.
Duel Chef Jeff Smith told me about how they came up with the idea. He said, “You know, we had a strip loin in house, and we were gonna do a special at Duel, but then this came up, so it was perfect timing.” He and the other chefs had wondered how they could pair the strip loin in the simplest way and get the most out of that product. And thus, the Midnight Slider was born.
The slider was accompanied by a hefty helping of Chef David Sundberg of Blue Corn Brewery’s own recipe for Poutine. Traditionally Poutine is a Canadian dish of French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. Chef D’s, however, somehow lost its Eh-Card and was deported south, way south, all the way to New Mexico. Chef D’s Poutine would of course be his own creation if experience has taught us anything. Piled menacingly high next to the slider, this smattering of Sundberg’s own Southwest saveur were fries, topped with beer-braised carnitas and Queso Fresco, which is a Mexican fresh cheese, traditionally made from raw cow milk or a combination of cow and goat milk. It was crunchy. It was salty. It was chunky. It was cheesy. And it was oh so good.
The Slider matched very well with the beer, perhaps so well because so much of the Black Ale was used in the preparation — in the demi-glace, and when caramelizing the onions. It matched so well they could have been cousins — quite enjoyable, if slightly incestuous. However, in my opinion, it was the Poutine that really danced with the light and darkness of the Black IPA. The flavors of the Black Ale and Poutine just mixed and matched better, pushing and pulling, comparing and contrasting, giving and taking with the flavors of savory and sweet. The lightness of the cheese met the lighter breadiness of the malt, the saltiness of the fries cut through the fruity, almost wine character of the Trappist yeast, and the slightly spicy red chile of the carnitas was right at home with the cocoa notes of the dark ale. It just worked, and I think we all came away believing that sometimes you have to veer way south of traditional to find more interesting locales. It was a pairing done well, another lesson in taste, and everyone learned a little something more about food and beer and themselves. And by the way, totally got a fun dinner out of it in the process. Until next Month, my friends, love what you eat, love what you drink, and you just may like yourself in the morning.