Quick bites: Brewing Station beer tapas

By on March 18, 2011

Stout or pale, beer adds a new dimension to tapas

Veggie tempura with Olsch beer at the Brewing Station.

If you’ve been reading the Voice long enough, you know I have two passions: politics and food. Truth be known, I’d much rather write about food. And when I learned the Outer Banks Brewing Station was featuring “Thursday Beer Tapas,” I knew I was destined to visit.

Almost everyone today knows wine and food pairings are important. But beer has most often been seen as the foam-headed stepchild of the beverage family when it comes to mating with gourmet food. Many would advise beer to stick with foods in its own class — pizza, burgers and hot dogs.

With the explosion of microbreweries, boutique beers and brew pubs, there’s a new day dawning. Beers now offer up the same complexities as wine. Taste notes cover the gamut of sensations — fruity, nutty, chocolate, sweet, heavy, light, shades of bitterness. Even the percentage of alcohol can alter the flavor of a malted beverage.

Beers also impart aromatics, an element without which our taste buds cannot perform their duties. Just like wine, food can alter the taste of the brew, and the brew can enhance the flavors of the food.

We brought a group of six food lovers to the Brewing Station — myself, Mike and Missie Smith (Max Radio), Judy Reynolds (First Mortgage), Chip Reynolds (HWR Construction) and the Voice’s Teuta Towler.

Chef Pok Choeichom prepared the dishes, all of which use the beer as part of the cooking in addition to its function as the star beverage. Choeichom told us he starts with the beer and its characteristics first, then works backward to find the ideal food match. It works.

Of course, all of the beers are produced on premises at the Brewing Station, so chef and brew master were able to confer on the pairings.

I have never been a big fan of stouts — I find them too heavy for sipping and the flavors remind me of cold coffee or chocolate — flavors I don’t want in my brew. So to test the pairing theory, I went with the Mack Daddy Chocolate Stout — paired with a flank steak marinated in wit beer and grilled with caramelized onions and goat cheese and served with chimichurri sauce.

As Emeril might exclaim — “Bam!” — the steak, sauces and goat cheese knocked down the intensity of the stout in the same manner a grilled steak tames a strong Cabernet or Malbec. My palate voted two thumbs up and I actually enjoyed a stout for the first time in my life.

Mike Smith, a stout fan enthused: “The combination of the goat cheese, cherries and the rest works well with the stout. Of course, the Mack Daddy works pretty well by itself!”

For the record, the flank steak, served rare, was the crowd favorite.

We turned next to the Veggie Tempura, which used the OBBS’s Olsch beer in the tempura batter and paired the dish with a glass of the same. Olsch is a pale, delicate beer with heady aromas. The tempura was light and crispy — not greasy in the least. As a delicate beer, the Olsch did not overpower the light tempura batter while serving to cleanse the palate between savory bites.

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern whole-grain salad that visually resembles couscous. The grain is mixed with chopped greens and tomatoes, topped with grilled shrimp. The grilled shrimp imparted a true grilled flavor and was also moist and juicy. Too often, grilled shrimp comes to the table drier than desert air, but not at the Brewing Station. The shrimp, like the veggie dish, was marinated and paired with the Olsch.

As Judy Reynolds noted, the shrimp pops with flavor when paired with the Olsch. And Judy is not a real fan of beer, so her endorsement should carry some weight for skeptics.

One of the most widely anticipated dishes was the wit beer marinated brats grilled and served with fennel-apple salad, a mustard vinaigrette and paired with Wright Witty — a Belgian style white ale spiced with coriander, bitter orange and grains of paradise.

These brats were mild (and delicious) as was the wheat beer. A perfect match, and in this case, like the stout/steak pairing, it was the beer that took on a different character when paired with the food. Mike Smith’s tasting notes read: “Excellent pairing, the vegetables, especially the fennel brings out a different taste in the beer — the sweetness is accentuated.” My notes paralleled Mike’s — the Wright Witty transformed from a light, fruity ale to a brew where “sweet” was the most prominent note.

Spatzle is a German egg noodle, and our chef served it with sautéed Brussels sprouts, onions, and bacon topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. The suggested pairing was either the wit or the Conquest Ale, a smooth golden ale, well balanced (not too bitter) with a complex nose. Again, Smith was enthusiastic: “Wow! What a combination, I preferred the Wright Witty with this German dish.” At our end of the bar, Chip, Judy and I liked the Pale Ale — suggesting either choice would be a winner with this dish.

The final tapas selection was tempura fried rockfish with malted hand cut fries. The Conquest Pale Ale was a natural and held up to the malt in the fries without overpowering the white fish.

The last pairing was a dessert: a vanilla bean crème brulee topped with blueberries, strawberries and a delicate house made cookie. The recommendation was a small glass of the “Sledgehammer and Tongs” Strong Ale, which weighs in at 11.5% ABV. The ESB (Extra Special Bitter) malts contrast with the sweet dessert, while the brulee tones the Sledgehammer down several notches. A port or a sweet Riesling would not have been a better match.

In fact, I would be hard-pressed to choose a better wine to pair with each of these tapas dishes than the brews suggested on the tasting menu. This is a really fun experience, especially if you bring a large group so you can share the food and the brews.

For those who dislike beer, here is a chance to leave your comfort zone and challenge your preconceptions about brews. My guess is you’ll walk away with a new appreciation for the malted beverage.

The Thursday Beer Tapas runs every Thursday, starting at 5:30 PM. The tapas are priced from $4.99 to $8.99, not including the beer. As a special treat, during Taste of the Beach the Beer Tapas will be offered Saturday, March 19 instead of Thursday.


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