Friday, April 6, 2012

Watershed's Founder's Beer Dinner

With the hubbub of going to New Orleans and a second trip to the Next elBulli menu (yes, I went twice…it was just as fabulous the second time as it was the first). I wasn’t able to post about our delicious Founder’s Beer dinner at our favorite watering hole, Watershed.

When I speak about Watershed, very few people have ever heard of it. It’s not labeled; there are no signs outside the door. It’s a parlor inside Pop’s for Champagne. You walk into the glass and metal room at Pops and off to the side there is a sign above the door that says “W”. Some people would mistake that as a door to the washrooms, it isn’t. It’s a stairway leading to Watershed.

When you walk inside, you immediately notice the difference in color and feel from Pops. Pops is surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, the tables are high and made of fogged glass while Watershed looks more like a really awesome den. Leather chairs, dark lighting, and a low wooden bar running across the side.

Watershed is a celebration of the Great Lakes Watershed region. The beer/wine/spirits list is dedicated to the many many craft beer, artisanal spirits and even wines that are made in the area. If you are a beer drinker, this is the place for you. Every night they have two hard to come by kegs on tap, followed by and extensive and rotating list of bottled beers.

So three weeks ago they decided it was time to do a beer dinner and paired with the delicious brewery, Founders. The food was spectacular and the beers were amazing.

We started the night with the All Day IPA, a beer specifically designed so you can drink it all day and not totally blow your palate. I’ve grown into IPA’s as I’ve gotten older, in the past I found them too hoppy (and let’s be honest, sometimes they really are), but this was light and crisp and extremely refreshing; a perfect way to whet your palate.

The first course was a Foie-Gras crepe, citrus duck sausage with a pan fried quail egg. That is pretty much everything that is good and right with the world on one plate. It was paired with the Double Trouble Imperial IPA, a beautiful amber color that was initially very hoppy when it hit your tongue, but by the time you swallowed it had calmed down and was rather mild. The bitter of the beer did a wonderful job of cutting the richness of the Foie/Duck/Quail heaven.

This was followed by one of the most delicious soups I’ve had to date, a Beer-Cheddar and Roasted Parsnip Soup topped with a Crab Croquette. It was amazing, something that we would order every.single.time we went to Watershed (and let me tell you, much like voting in Chicago, we go early and often). They paired this amazing dish with the Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale. The Bastard is a stronger beer, 8.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and I’m going to be honest, at this point I was feeling a little tipsy. Especially since I hadn’t eaten since noon, at it was approaching 9pm.

What I can tell you, is that the next course BLEW, I mean BLEW our minds. The Husband and I have eaten at some pretty fantastic places this past year and this dish was in the top 5. A Coffee-Hazelnut Crusted Lamb Loin, Bourbon -Vanilla Lamb Bacon(yes, bacon) with English Peat and Boursin Gratin topped with Black Truffle and Sweet Potato Ravioli. And we thought the Foie/Duck/Quail or the Beer-Cheddar soup was divine, but this, this was perfection. The flavors balanced one another perfectly, the sweet of the peas, mixing with the salty sweetnesss of the bourbon-vanilla bacon all over the lamb that was cooked to perfection. This was paired with a Barrel-Aged Sumatra Brown Ale that they put in Growlers and drove up from the brewery. I was a little worried because I am not the hugest deep dark beer fan, but this was like dessert in a cup. It has a delicious coffee smell, but tastes like vanilla and caramel (from the bourbon casks it was aged it). We had said that this would be prefect to go over an scoop of vanilla ice cream, and were told that a table next to us was on their way across the street to do that same thing. So after I savored the amazing lamb (and we made sure to tell the amazing staff at Watershed how spectacular this dish was), I ran across the street and purchased 2 pints of Haagen Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream. I figured The Husband, our Friend and I could all have a scoop covered in the beer and so could the Watershed Team (I mean, you’ve got to share the love!).

So back with the ice cream in hand, we moved onto our final (well, the official final) course, Grilled Pretzel Ice Cream, Beer Cocoa Sponge, Salted Toffee, and Strawberry-Babana Sabayon all paired with the KING of all Founder’s Beers, a limited release of the Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). The 2012 batch was getting released the following morning (which by the way, the City of Chicago sold out of in record time), however we were able to get a pre-release taste. KBS is a big beer, 11.2% ABV, it’s brewed with coffee and vanilla and then sits in oak bourbon barrels for over a year before it is barreled. Again, I was worried that I wouldn’t be the biggest fan, as I am not a stout drinker. But I have learned that when done right, Stouts are pretty damn amazing. There was a ton of hype around this beer and it lived up to it. It smelled strong and tasted very sweet, lots of chocolate and coffee, absolutely something that I will go out of my way to hunt down next March.

Of course this was followed by our Sumatra Ale Ice Cream Float. Forget Coffee and Ice Cream, Beer and Ice Cream is the new dessert (since let’s be honest, I don’t think I have the time to make the above Pretzel with Beer Cocoa and Salted Toffee).

After paying the insanely reasonable bill (for those of you in Chicago, Watershed's beer dinners are usually in the $40-$50 range), we all stumbled out into the unusually warm mid-March night in Chicago, happy and full and a little fuzzy.

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