Cruise into Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Taproom Restaurant and you think you just entered Cheers — and you’re greeted with an ice cold beer, no less. High spirits appeared to be the norm around these parts, but on the night of the Stinky Dinner, there was something in the air, and it wasn’t stinky.
In fact, there was nothing stinky about the Stinky Dinner (except perhaps the cheese — it was quite potent), which was built around the release of the brewery’s “14” Anniversary Ale. This six-course beer-pairing meal was prepared by world famous Homebrew Chef Sean Z. Paxton and Firestone Walkers’ brew master, Matt Brynildson.
So why call a dinner “stinky?” Co-founder David Walker explained that “stinky” is loosely translated as “celebration” in English slang.
“That celebration needs to have interesting food,” Walker said. “There needs to be unbelievably good beer and [the celebration] needs to be sprinkled with a careless disregard for the morning to follow,” Walker added, eliciting an uproarious laughter from eager diners.
“Now you know what a stinky dinner is, so there’s no reason we can’t have a good time,” Walker said. And we were off on a roller coaster of flavor.
Executive Chef Paxton has a reputation that precedes him: He pays heed to every beer detail and he builds his courses around it as a major ingredient and tickler of the taste buds. Everything was designed around beers, brews, and flavor profiles.
And according to Walker, brew master Brynildson has an “uncanny four-dimensional way of using hops.” With a power duo like this, it became increasingly difficult to wait for the first dish to land onto the table.
Chef Paxton noted each course would become more robust in flavor. Firestone Walker’s marketing manager, Jamie Smith, indicated that beers upped in alcohol content through each course — the “14” Anniversary Ale ended the night at 12.5 percent. Flavors ran high, alcohol content ran high, and with that, spirits ran high.
This six-course meal was an awakening of the senses: The food was artfully presented, aromatic, and mouth-watering. Taste and texture had a remarkable love-hate affair. Love because it was scrumptious, hate because the more you enjoyed it, the closer you came to the finale.
Paxton made himself available during each course, walking about the dining room with drink in hand, answering questions and giving explanations.
The meal kicked off with Moroccan spiced quail breast on a bed of couscous with preserved tangerines. Served with Firestone Walker’s Solace, the artful pairing by Paxton and Brynildson accentuated both the citrus flavors in the three-week preserved tangerines and the summery, refreshing citrus notes in the seasonal Solace.
“This year we released the most seasonal and special beers in all 14 years,” said Brynildson, referring to Solace. “From a brewer’s perspective, you get to create something exciting and fun, but it’s also nerve-racking to bring beers out and wait for people’s response.”
What followed was a plate of union barrel smoked sea scallops served on a roasted fennel-celery root puree with a DBA demi-glaze. The scallops, placed in the wood fire pizza oven for a crisp and smoky flavor, mixed with the demi-glaze, elevated the scallop into a filet or beef category instead of a seafood one, explained Paxton. Even those who would normally turn up their nose to seafood had to be tamed as to not lick the celery root puree clean off the plate. Coupled with 100 percent unfiltered double barrel ale served on cask, it was palate changing.
The Stinky Dinner called for stinky cheese, announced Paxton. He chose beers (Hefeweizen, Oaktoberfest, and Bourbon Barrel-aged Saucerful of Secrets — the latter literally smelled like a glass of bourbon) that showcased the cheese (Humboldt Fog, cave-aged Gruyere, and 16-month-old Point Reyes Blue Cheese), which was served with DDBA wort honey, fig port compote, union jack IPA jelly, and homemade grain crackers.
Next up to bat was Paxton’s 21st century take on the classic English pub favorite, bangers and mash. Made with five different types of pork, it was served with roasted butternut squash and caramelized onion infused with double jack bone marrow espuma, bacon tomato jam, and an arugula salad tossed in a Los Olivos olive oil. This course was paired with Pale 31, Union Jack, and Double Jack beers.
Up next were the reserve porter braised bison short ribs with pumpkin DBA spatzle tossed in cinnamon browned butter with wort maple vinegar gastrique and dusted with fennel pollen. According to Paxton, the short ribs were braised for about six hours. And it was well worth it. The meat fell right off the bone and melted in your mouth. It was served with barrel-aged Velvet Merlin.
And now for the grand slam.
“An incredible beer makes an incredible dessert,” announced Paxton. “My life is so much easier when I got people and brewers like Matt to work with.” Paxton explained that the dessert was a deconstruction of the Velvet Merlin beer. And the last course to tease the senses? A Velvet Merlin chocolate cake with black xanthus mousse, caramel sauce, DDBA ice cream, homemade malted pop rocks, dulce de leche sauce, and dark chocolate Parabola-coated house-cured bacon. Finally, “14” Anniversary Ale made its debut.
And sadly, although we were full, we wanted more and were wished the dinner did not have to come to an end. The commendable service and pacing of the meal was also noteworthy. Servers were polite and impeccably timely.
“Thank you so much for coming,” said Brynildson. “It’s all about this: sharing, drinking beers, preparing wondering food.”
“Drive safe and thanks for being part of the beer revolution,” said Walker.
Although this was one of the first beer pairing dinners in the Central Coast, Smith reassures it will not be the last. In fact, Firestone Walker Brewery intends on making these dinners a semi-annual event — the next dinner will showcase the works of Humberto Huizar, who, according to Smith, is amazing with his play on flavors and sauces. Smith also hinted that the possibility of a beer pairing dinner could be taken to Los Angeles.
They say the best compliments to a chef (and brew master!) are to spread the word. I haven’t been able to stop talking about this dinner since. Sean Paxton and Matt Brynildson, I raise my glass to you.