This weekend I think I finally managed to max out my interest in alcohol for a while, so instead of writing about a new cocktail or ingredient or why I hate people who do this, that, or the other thing, I’m going to talk about the reason that I won’t be drinking anything for the next couple days: Radio Maria‘s Dark Horse Brewery Dinner, last night, in the dining room, with the crushing %ABV content.
Every couple of months, Radio Maria, pretty much the best restaurant in the Champaign-Urbana area (if you don’t count B. Won, that is), holds a beer or wine dinner, which means a prix-fixe menu accompanied by a truly ludicrous amount of the chosen beverage. The last one I attended was a 5-course, 7-wine dinner back in, oh, January or something. It was amazing, although I got a little tired of the hugely long descriptions of the wines. So I figured that a 4-course, 6-beer dinner would be more up my alley, since brewers don’t generally wax as eloquent about their beverages.
Beer doesn’t really feature on this blog, since I feel that I have a better chance of appearing knowledgeable about mixed drinks, but I definitely enjoy beer at least several times a week, since, as I live in Champaign, Radio Maria and The Blind Pig ensure that there are over 60 different beers available on tap, in walking distance, at any one time. I’m the kind of person who constantly tries new things (well, in the beer department, at least), so over the last year I must have tasted at least a hundred different beers. No joke.
Since moving to town, I’ve become pretty familiar with a number of Dark Horse brews, and I’ve assumed, given how common they are around here, that they were a bigger regional brewery, like Flying Dog or Bell’s. Imagine my surprise at the beer dinner to learn that they employ a total of 6 (six!) people, and do all their brewing in a tiny little shack in Marshall, MI. Pretty awesome, right? We got to hear just enough information at the dinner to pretend to have learned something as we drank our way through a truly epic series of beers.
The six beers that were advertised on the menu were the Crooked Tree IPA, the Sapient Trip Trippel, the Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock, the Boffo Brown Ale, the One Oatmeal Stout, and the 4 Elf Holiday Ale. In addition, we got small glasses of the Blueberry Stout and the Double Crooked Tree (which should count as cruel and unusual, since it is 13.6 %ABV and was served at the end of the meal, when none of us really knew better anymore). The two standouts of the night were the Crooked Tree IPA, which surprised me, as I am not usually a fan of the heavy floralness of most IPAs, and the 4 Elf, which, honestly, tasted like a potable version of Angostura bitters: strong cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, with a beautiful bitterness in the background. That one, unfortunately, is only available direct from the brewery, at Christmas.
The other beers were all of uniformly high quality, although I found the Sapient Trip a little too heavy on the alcohol. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed the Perkulator, since I usually find coffee-beers too gimmicky. Both the Boffo Brown and the One Oatmeal were delicious but unexceptional: smooth, drinkable, and forgettable. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the craftsmanship behind the beers and the real variety that such a small brewery was putting out. In the past I’ve avoided buying bottles of Dark Horse, since they seemed to be everywhere, but now I understand that, in fact, we just happen to be lucky enough to be inside their rather small distribution area. I’ll definitely be looking out for them in the future. At least, once I can imagine drinking again.
Oh, and the food. The food was amazing. I generally enjoy Radio Maria’s menus, although they have a tendency to overreach themselves (you know, plates that are both too full and too busy), but this time they kept it simple and really outdid themselves. All of the menu items were characterized by the artful use of something that at least resembled Chinese 5-spice mixture, and it really married the courses together, as well as providing a good anchor for a number of beer pairings. Fantastic.