Perhaps they let you play with an abacus back in 2nd grade as a way to get you to appreciate other cultures and to sense that a modern-day calculator was a mighty tool. Turns out there’s now an adult Abacus, too: a barrel-aged barley wine from Firestone Walker that will make you appreciate beer in a brandy snifter, not just because it’s 13-percent alcohol and you need to drink it sippingly slow, but to get all those lovely oaky notes and choco-malty tastes. And if that sounds like a fine thing to you, it’s just one part of the upcoming five-course “Brew Masters Dinner” that will be happening June 4 as part of the second annual Wine, Waves, and Beyond, sponsored by the Central Coast Boutique Hotel Collection in S.L.O. County.
The group likes to bill the festival as a “lifestyle event,” but it’s much cooler and realer than that marketing term lets on. For instance, not only is the “Brew Masters Dinner” made by the chefs at the hotel group’s properties; it also features as much produce, meat, and seafood from the area as possible. And then, of course, the brewery is Firestone Walker, and as their regional sales manager Mike DiSanto said, “We’re part of the community, as well—we live here and dine here and shop here. We’re super excited to be part of the team that puts this event together for AmpSurf.”
As for AmpSurf, that’s the Association of Amputee Surfers, an organization that helps people with disabilities, especially veterans, through adaptive surfing. The founder of the group, Dana Cummings, who was just named the California Veteran of the Year, was excited about not only all the great food and drink but also the surfing demos, saying that there would even be a World War II Iwo Jima vet from Sacramento coming to surf.
That surfing theme carries right through the “Brew Masters Dinner” menu, too. It kicks off with what might seem like a joke—“An Ode to Spam”—but those in the know know Hawaiians are Spam-aholics. At a preview dinner, I got a taste of this version, which might change before the event: The dish starred Mary’s Duck Liver Pâté, so it never came close to a can. The rest of the plate just added indulgences: prosciutto, pickled vegetables from the area (a bracing zingy note), baguette, and Firestone whole-grain Double Barrel Ale mustard.
The second course was a local sea delight, a Cayucos abalone ceviche with Meyer lemon marinade and black-bean relish, concocted by Chef Casey Walcott from the Sea Venture Resort. Light and lovely, it left diners wanting more, but there were still three more courses and three more beers to come. The beer, by the way, slowly climbed the ladder of hoppiness and potency, kicking off with Firestone’s summer seasonal Solace—a “cross between a hefeweizen and a saison” is how DiSanto described it—and then moved to the Firestone Pale 31 to accompany the ceviche.
The third course married well with Firestone Union Jack, the IPA the brewery at long last released (it was worth the wait), especially since, as DiSanto pointed out, the pineapple notes in the ale melded with the pineapple salsa that accompanied the just-seared Hearst Ranch grilled hanger steak. As if that steak weren’t enough, the plate also featured a succulent braised short-rib taquito, too, upscale Mexican-influenced fare at its best.
The fourth course upped the hop ante to Firestone’s Double Jack, one of the best double IPAs right now (it can’t be the best as long as there’s Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, but it’s a strong second). That furious ale taste was a surprisingly good match to a cheese plate starring rich cheese from Central Coast Creamery and Rinconada Dairy.
Then the dessert looked toward waves elsewhere, celebrating AmpSurf head Cummings’s Maine heritage with a deconstructed whoopee pie. What could be cloyingly sweet wasn’t, with the chocolate bitter enough, the marshmallow fluff a bit brûléed, and then a sticky Velvet Merlin caramel sauce wonderfully drizzled about. That’s when they brought out the Proprietors Reserve Series Abacus, a perfect complement to the dessert and a wonderful ending to the meal.
Pack the car and head up the coast to Pismo for a weekend of Wine, Waves, and Beyond, June 2-5. The “Barrel to Barrel” wine, beer, and food tasting plus Chica Rica bikini show are Friday, June 3, 5-8 p.m, and the “Brew Masters Dinner” is Saturday, June 4, 6:30 p.m. at The Cliffs Resort (2757 Shell Beach Rd.); there are also surf films and a VW display. For tickets and info, call 556-3306 or visit winewavesandbeyond.com.