It would be hard to imagine a better way to spend the evening than at a beer dinner. For those of you who have yet to experience the pleasure of a beer dinner, it is basically a gourmet feast of 5-6 courses that are carefully paired with outstanding beers. Of the many beer dinners we have done in the past, we usually stick to having a single brewery and showing off their portfolio of beers in the context of excellent food pairings. On occasion, we venture out and throw down with two breweries. Last night was one of those nights.
The guys from Left Hand Brewery pulled into Athens on the afternoon of July the 13th and I found them hanging out at Jittery Joe's Coffee Roastery where they were participating in a documentary of their much anticipated collaboration beer with Terrapin. Jittery Joe's has prepared a special coffee roast for this years collaboration which is an Espresso Milk Stout - the aptly named 'Depth Charge'. Terrapin has had a long running relationship with Jittery Joe's as the source for their coffee in Wake-N-Bake and wanted to involve our home town bean roaster in this special effort with Left Hand. One of Left Hand's flagship beers is their Milk Stout and it didn't take long to figure out the potential that this beer would have with Spike's knowledge of using the coffee bean in a beer.
Tuesday mid-day Spike and Ro (Left Hand's Brewer) doughed in and began the process of birthing their second collaboration beer. Nothing sexy here - much of brewing involves hundreds of pounds of grain being milled into hot water on very hot days (like today). It takes a very special person to fall in love with this and these guys are certainly two that have. One of the most exciting things about the craft beer industry is witnessing the genuine camaraderie that exists between great brewers. There is nothing forced or artificial here, just a deep rooted respect for their trade and for each other that expresses itself in the most natural way - building a great beer together.
Later that evening the guys made their way down to Trappeze Pub and we dove head first into a night that was sure to be packed with great beer and great food. The evening started at around 6pm with a beer and cheese reception that featured Left Hand's Milk Stout and Terrapin's Oaked Big Hoppy Monster. Both beers were paired with complementary artisan cheeses. Terrapin's Oaked Big Hoppy Monster dancing with a sharp Stilton and Left Hand's Milk Stout blending with a creamy Pond Hopper.
As folks settled in, it became apparent that we were looking at a larger than expected crowd as nearly 85 guests found their seats. The first course arrived and the night was underway with a very special cask of Terrapin's Maggie's Farmhouse Ale that Spike had prepared for the dinner. This latest installment in Terrapin's ongoing Side Project series was met with great enthusiasm from all and the unsuspecting cask was drained of it's precious contents within the hour. Next up was a cask of Left Hand's Sawtooth ESB. Sawtooth dates back to the inception of Left Hand and is one of the best examples of the ESB style brewed in the US. The Sawtooth cask reminded us all of why we love cask ale. Delicate and delicious malts intermingled with herbal and floral hops tapped fresh, and unadulterated by filters and bottled gas. The soft carbonation from the cask allows each ingredient to pop out and express itself with a vibrant freshness that is not experienced in a standard keg.
From there the beers got progressively bigger with a year-aged keg of Terrapin's Gamma Ray, Left Hand's St. Vrain Tripel, last years Terrapin/Left Hand collaboration - Terra Rye'zd, and a desert featuring Left Hand's Oaked Imperial Stout and Terrapin's Wake-N-Bake. As I listened to Chris, Dustin, Ro, and Spike talk about their breweries and their beers through the course of the night, I was struck with how much these guys love what they do and how much they care about each other. The night quickly resembled the kind of family banter that one sees around the Thanksgiving dinner table with stories being exchanged and the light-hearted familiarity that comes from genuine relationships. I felt a deep sense of humility and gratitude that I was there to share in these moments and that we were privileged to have an evening with theses guys.
The spirit of craft beer has always been about sharing something special with someone you care about. Just the other day I poured a La Folie for an old friend who was trying it for the first time and experienced the excitement of discovery as he processed it's tart complexity, paused, and exclaimed "That's exquisite". It's in those moments that you realize all of this is way bigger than your pub or this beer. It's a vast family of women and men who share a common love for the well crafted pint and are willing to pursue it tirelessly. It's a community stimulated by invention, creativity, and discovery - and it's still in it's infancy.
Hang on for the ride.