The Liberty definitely ranks as one of our favorite restaurants in Charlotte. We dine there more often than we should – even without a coupon. That’s the mark of a good restaurant in the Gourmand household. It’s a true gourmand delight – excellent food, an intricate beer list (20 often rare beers on tap), and a good size wine list with quality choices at drinkable prices. Not that I’ve ever ordered wine there. But I could if I wanted to. It’s a gastro pub, and in my most humble opinion, most of the foods just taste better with beer.
Right there, the word “pub” would turn most foodies off. Thoughts of burgers, chicken fingers, and wings come to mind. But the inclusion of “gastro” before “pub” flips the definition on its head. The word “gastro” adds quality. The menu is seasonal and filled with both Southern and English Pub inspired menu items – Ashley Farm’s Chicken and Dumplings, Guinness Battered Fish and Chips, Slow Braised Kobe Beef Short Ribs, Pecan Crusted Carolina Brook Trout. Not your typical pub menu. Oh, but they also serve burgers and boast Charlotte’s Best Burger from the Charlotte Observer. I once lunched on a lamb burger with smoked gouda, peppers, and charred onions. And then there’s Sunday Brunch… But I’m getting carried away (and hungry). Must focus. This blog is on Friday night’s Allagash Beer Pairing Dinner.
This is another favorite of ours from Liberty – the beer pairing dinners. We have attended their Stone Brewing and New Holland Brewing dinners in the past. The premise is six beers and four courses. All courses are designed by Chef/Co-owner Tom Condron to pair with a different beer from the featured brewery. The night is narrated by both Co-owner Matthew Pera and a representative from the brewery. I was particularly interested this event as I am a huge Allagash fan. Allagash, for those who have never heard of them, brew all Belgium style ales. All ingredients are sourced from either Belgian or Maine (Allagash’s home state). The end product is a product line, to quote their representative, of beers that are fun and seductive. So what did we eat and drink?
Welcome Beer: Allagash White (5.2% ABV) – A pretty spot on version of a Belgian Wheat. Not imitation garbage like Blue Moon. The beer is light but full of balanced flavors ranging from grassy wheat to pepper and clove spices. The mouth feel is very light, like sparkling water, and beer finishes clean with floral and slight citrus flavors.
First Course: Liberty-Cured Wild Alaskan Salmon “Crudo” with Spicy Cucumber Salad, English Pea Tendrils, Lemon & Crusty Toasted Peasant Bread – I’m a sucker for crudo. There’s just something about raw seafood that brings our my inner cave man. And salmon, no less? One of my favorite fishies! A perfect light first course for a hot summer night. The cucumber did seem to lack spice and I couldn’t fine the lemon in the peasant bread. With that said, the dish was very fresh in flavor and I think too much spice would have ruined it. I wasn’t sure about the cream served on the salmon though. I thought it was unnecessary but by table companions disagreed.
Beer 2: Victor Ale (9% ABV) – Hot damn, the alcohol counter is rising quickly! Victor is from the Tribute Series. We were served a pairing of beers for the second course. Both brewed with grapes added to the mash for fermentation. Victor was brewed with the inclusion of cabernet franc grapes and fermented with a wine yeast strain. The result is a copper colored ale with a nice malt structure accompanied by slight hops and spices.
Beer 3: Victoria Ale (9% ABV) – Much like the Victor, the Victoria is also brewed with grapes. Chardonnay this time. The color is more golden than the Victor Ale and the flavor was lighter. I preferred the sweetness of the Victoria with its banana, honey, and spice notes to the Victor. My tablemates once again disagreed. But what the hell do they know?
Second Course: Grilled Smoked Prosciutto Wrapped Hand-Pulled Fresh Mozzarella with Shaved Local Melons, Sweet Vidalia Onions, Mint, Basil & Vanilla Bean-Verjus Vinaigrette – I have had prosciutto wrapped melon before but the inclusion of the mozzarella and Vidalia onions brought the dish to a whole new level. Onion and melon? Who would’ve thunk? And the grill brought out the salt of the prosciutto more than normal which was needed for the sweet and the acid of the other ingredients.
Beer 4: Curieux (11% ABV) – Okay, my notes are getting hazy at this point and the taster is numbing a bit. A note to The Liberty: Heavy loading three beers before the second course was not such a good idea. We need food to accompany the strength of these beers. With that said, the Curieux was amazing. Of course, I am sucker for bourbon barrel aged beers. The Curieux is aged in Jim Beam barrels specifically. Allagash only uses fresh from the distillery barrels for that extra bourbon punch. The barrels are then put out of use or passed along to another brew. The ale is full of coconut, vanilla, and stronger than normal hints of bourbon. I also tasted a lot of oak. The nose on this one inparticularly blows you away. The waft begs it to be drank in a dark, wood paneled pub with brass finishings.
Third Course: Roasted Maine Sea Scallops with Oxtail Marmalade, Roasted Grapes, Crispy Pancetta, Black Truffle Pommes Puree with Brown Butter-Chicken Jus – I hate scallops. They’re too sweet for me. I have tried them various ways out at restaurants and in my own kitchen. I have never found any recipe that I can swallow. Until now. I am pretty sure I licked my plate clean. The strong beers were leaving table manners tossed aside. What made the dish was all the flavors – the savory of the oxtail marmalade, the starch of the pommes purree, the salt from the pancetta, and the sweet from the scallops. The infusion of flavors didn’t mask the sweet, but accompanied it a truly well planned dish.
Beer 5: Four (10% ABV) – 4 hops, 4 malts, 4 yeasts, 4 fermentations. Nuff said. This was truly one of the smoothest and at the same time most complex beers I have ever sipped. I think your most critical wine snob would dig this ale. There was raison, plumb, spice, caramel, and slight hops amongst a plethora of other flavors. This may have been my favorite of the night.
Fourth Course: Fried Mars Bar with French Vanilla Ice Cream – The lady next to me was moaning an orgasm as she at this dish. It was weird but justified. No further description required.
Beer 6: Bourbon Barrel Black (10% ABV) – Vision blurred and tongue hanging out from this being by 6th high gravity beer and slightly bewildered by the ensuing orgasm next to me, this is was I think I tasted. The nose appeared stronger than the taste – bourbon, oak, dark chocolate, vanilla. This isn’t a bad thing though. The nose was amazing. Scent Air should market this to roadside saloons. If the taste was as strong, the beer would have been too much, but it wasn’t. It was so good I tried to steal half drank glasses around me, but nobody would relinquish theirs.