Cheers to you on this Thirsty Thursday, friends!
I was honored to be invited to the very first Beer Social GR event last night at Derby Station. 10 people were invited (I was one of the 3 lovely ladies!) to share the experience via twitter & facebook with the hashtag #BeerSocialGR If you didn’t get a chance to follow the 5 course tasting last night, you can still check out the feed from the hashtag. The 10 of us had a great time tweeting pictures and comments regarding the food & beer pairings. We all agreed that it was odd, yet nice to not get scowled at for using our smart-phones at the dinner table, in fact, there were moments when Josh Leo, the organizer of this fantastic event actually encouraged us to tweet. At one point, #BeerSocialGR was trending in Grand Rapids… I had already felt like I was a part of something unique, but that solidified it.
The evening began in a beautiful setting, the intimate back-room at Derby Station in EGR’s Gaslight Village. As the 10 of us slowly poured around the table, sharing our twitter & real names, we quickly solidified a bond. Josh did a great job of selecting a fun & interesting group of people. I found every single one of them to be people I’d hang out with again if given the opportunity. The chef and a beer expert from Logan’s Alley sat with us as well and shared stories about each of the courses, whether it was what went into a particular dish or the history behind a beer &/or the brewery it came from. Also noted how & why each beer was paired with the food. I have done wine tastings and beer tastings, but I can’t remember a beer/food tasting that occurred together. Genius!!
The “staple” beer of the night was a Pale Ale from Brewery Vivant, right here in GR. It was meant to clear the palate in between courses. Certain flavors of this beer changed over the course of the evening. Some food brought out the banana (yes, I just said banana) flavor, other food actually muted that banana flavor. It was a great choice… but it wasn’t my favorite beer of the evening.
The first course began with what I was afraid of, a very hoppy beer: Shorts Spruce Pilsner. According to our beer expert, this is Joe Short’s baby. Since I’m not a huge fan of hoppy pilsners & IPAs, I drank a sip, felt like I was drinking a Christmas-tree in northern Michigan and went back to my staple Vivant Ale, but it was interesting to hear the back story of the beer, and expanding my knowledge on one of my favorite Michigan breweries. I love Shorts, and all the experimental beers they play with, like the Carrot Cake Ale I had the opportunity to savor at the Winter Beer Fest. I did know that Shorts is exclusive to Michiganders, but it was interesting to hear more as the first course of food arrived. The root salad looked a little different, but I kept an open mind, took a bite, then a sip of the beer, and they really did complement eachother nicely. The salad wasn’t anything super special, but a little too much vinegar for my taste. The Pilsner helped modify that flavor just a little, and I surprised myself because I ended up enjoying both by the time my salad and beer were nearly gone. I agreed with Katy who said she needed more salad to finish the beer. True story. Only 3 of the participants were huge hop fans, the rest of the table was like me: stout & malt lovers. We all knew what we liked, but we were all game for every course.
As the second beer sampler arrived, I got excited. I love all things pumpkin flavored!! I was hoping it would be more pumpkin-pie-spice flavor than actual pumpkin flavor. Yes, there is a difference! I was beyond pleasantly surprised with my MBC Screaming Pumpkin Ale… I felt like autumn in my mouth. SO good… I’m physically restraining myself from driving to Webberville to stick my head under the tap of this gem. But the course only got better from there, as the beer cheese soup arrived, complete with popcorn garnish! Pumpkin, beer, cheese AND popcorn?! It’s like the chef went into my head to know what my Oprah-favorite-things-episode would feature. I would’ve loved seconds on this course — I would’ve traded in my dessert course for this course in a heartbeat. The beer cheese soup was made from scratch, with Rolling Rock, which shocked me, because I’m not a huge Rolling Rock fan. But the soup was buttery, cheesy, a little smokey and delicious. The pumpkin ale tasted sweeter after a bite of the soup, and the soup tasted even better after I savored the beer. Excellent course.
As the third course started, I noticed the table getting a little more vocal and open about our opinions. The laughter & love increased… gotta love how beer can open up a dozen social media geeks. This course featured New Holland’s Mad Hatter IPA. I knew it wouldn’t be quite as hoppy as the Spruce Pilsner (our beer expert stated the Spruce Pilsner is one of the hoppiest beers in existence!) so I took a quick swig and was pleasantly surprised. It paired very well with the Pretzel & Mustard course, intensifying the malt flavor in the IPA. The mustard was made with roasted red peppers, so even though I love mustard in all forms, the peppers made it especially yummy. A couple of us ran out of pretzels and decided to eat the remaining mustard on our plate with a fork it was so good.
By the time the fourth course arrived, I was getting a little warm, but open to whatever the Obligatory Spaetzel Dish was, paired with Bell’s Oktoberfest. I’m pretty certain the chef & beer expert explained what Spaetzel was, but honestly, by the fourth course, my staple beer had been refilled and my attention-span was getting about as short as my 3yo’s. The Spaetzel was a little crunchy, yet excellent with the bratwurst & cabbage. Oktoberfest wasn’t anything super special, but enjoyable, and I would definitely drink it over the IPA. The food definitely brought out more of the malt & barley flavors, hiding any hoppiness… which is how I like to enjoy my beer.
Fifth & final course… wow. Everyone was getting louder and this is the time when Josh reminded us to keep tweeting. We were getting more social with each other, but not necessarily with our followers, so we had to be reminded to find a balance. This course featured a Whit Cider from the VanderMill Winery with a banana custard & plus a gingersnap so gooey and moist it practically melted in your mouth. Although I did enjoy the cider, I missed my MBC Pumpkin Ale. I do believe it would’ve paired just as well, if not better with the gingersnap especially. However, the banana custard helped take away any banana flavor in the Vivant Ale that was refilled for the 3rd time when I wasn’t looking. I actually enjoyed sipping on that with the banana custard more than the cider. I saved the cider for after I devoured my dessert and it made for a nice finish.
Once everyone completed the meal, we all sat around and chatted for a little while, until I realized it was nearly 8pm and I should probably get home to tuck my girls in. I soaked in a few more minutes with my new friends before heading out. I’m pretty sure I heard someone say “Dude, I love you guys” toward the end of the beer-soaked night. Told you it was a fun group.
If you are in the Grand Rapids area, have over 200 followers on twitter and are interested in participating in a future #BeerSocialGR event, contact Josh Leo!