DETROIT – For the third October in a row, Michigan craft beer enthusiasts turned out en masse to celebrate the growing beer scene of a town whose nicknames include the Motor City, The D, the Renaissance City, and – plausibly these days – Detroit Beer City.
No one could have imagined it back in the 1980s, when Stroh’s closed its doors, the last brewery in a city that once was teeming with them, but then again, no one could have imagined that Michigan would emerge as one of the country’s premier beer states, either.
On Oct. 22, the Michigan Brewers Guild held its Third Annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival at Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, featuring 52 breweries pouring more than 300 different beers to around 3,400 thirsty souls. But leading up to the occasion was also the third annual Detroit Beer Week, a series of events at breweries, restaurants and bars around town designed to promote craft beer and the city itself.
DBW is organized by Liquid Table, a partnership between beer renaissance men Jon Piepenbrok and Jason Peltier, and each year it features beer dinners, special keg tappings/happy hours, tastings, pub crawls, tours, live music and more. Participating venues include Fountain Bistro, Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub, Cliff Bell’s, Slow’s Bar-B-Q, Motor City Brewing Works, Atwater Block Brewery, Detroit Beer Co. and several others.
I was unable to attend most of this year’s Beer Week festivities, but I did make it down to the swank Rattlesnake Club for the Oct. 20 Bell’s beer dinner. The reception at the Club’s elegant bar area featured Oarsman Ale along with trays of several hors d’oeuvres circulated by the wait staff. I got my hands on a Roasted Chicken Slider with Blue Cheese and Mustard on Pretzel Roll as well as a Mini Oyster Po’ Boy (actually an oyster on the half shell) with Chipotle Aioli, both of which were phenomenal, particularly when washed down with the lightly sour and refreshing citrus notes of the Oarsman.
Dinner menu and brief comments follow and, no, I am not a Certified Cicerone, but I was able to compare notes with not one but two of them afterward. We all agreed Chef Chris Franz knocked it out of the park.
First Course: Bell’s Best Brown Ale paired with Grilled Pizza Topped with Shaved Fontina, Caramelized Shallots and Spicy Crisp Pancetta
The bready and caramel notes of the beer combined obviously with the caramelized shallots, while the pancetta provided a marvelous salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the malt.
Second Course: Two Hearted Ale paired with Garam Masala Wild Salmon, Vegetable Samosa, Mint, and Coriander Essence
A play on India pale ale with the Indian spices and samosa; the intense bitterness of Two Hearted stood up well against the flavor orgy of the moist salmon and sweet “sauce” covering the pastry full of savory cooked carrots, celery and potato.
Third Course: Octoberfest and Porter paired with Salt and Pepper Crusted Flank Steak atop Roasted Butternut Farro Risotto and Wild Mushroom Jus
My favorite course, and not just because it featured two beers. The tender grilled steak and mouthwatering savory flavors of the mushroom jus, when combined with the dry, roasty notes of the porter, about put me over the moon. Meanwhile, the Octoberfest’s light caramel malt notes went better with the mild sweetness in the butternut risotto.
Dessert: Third Coast Old Ale paired with Salt-Poached Pear Stuffed with Third Coast Caramel, Toffee-Coated Pork Belly Cracklins
The malt wallop of the Third Coast Ale easily handled all the sweetness of the pear and heaviness of the syrup, and then some, while the salty crunch of the pork provided a delicious tactile contrast with the mush of the fruit.
This was but one of several Detroit Beer Week dinners, with beers from The Livery, Saugatuck, Short’s, Dogfish Head, and Kuhnhenn and Dragonmead breweries all showcased in their own delicious and decadent feasts. Go to www.detbeerweek.com to see the whole schedule, and if you missed out, make plans to visit Detroit Beer City next October. Your taste buds will thank you.