GRAND RAPIDS — The parking lot was definitely an indicator that we’ve reached Conference Week. License plates from Florida, Alabama, Oregon, Maryland, Iowa and Ohio, just to name a few, were present in Brewery Vivant’s lot prior to the start of the second and last day of its ‘Rare Beer & Food Experience’ event. Attendees got to fulfill their appetites with this exclusive food and beer pairing event featuring the Belgian-inspired small batch beers Vivant is known for.
The newly renovated patio/beer garden spaces played host for some 60 AHA members and their guests. “Michigan weather welcomes you!” Brooks Twist, Prophet (yes — that’s his title), greets a member of Beer Nuts, a homebrew club from Cedar Rapids, Iowa at Station #2 during the on again, off again down pour of summer rain. Despite uncontrollable weather situations, everyone stayed reasonably dry while they enjoyed the culinary treats and rare beer that the kitchen staff and brewers offered.
Four stations each offered different food and beer pairings, while a small bar offered samples of all Vivant’s mainstays like Farmhand.
“To put it simply — the beers we have at service are some of our most wonderful offerings. Things we squirrel away for special occasions, beers very good for pairing with interesting culinary exploits,” said Alex Atkin, brewer and head of the Quality Control lab.
Chris Weimer, Executive Chef/General Manager, and Chris Vander Meer, Chef de Cuisine, worked together to create the menu for the night’s event. “It’s definitely centered around the beer, and we developed these food options to go with it,” Vander Meer said. “I like the fact that these are mostly finger foods — things people can grab. They can try this or that and walk around, talk to each other. This menu gives a little sense of what we do here, but in a different format. All really fun stuff that highlights what we do best.”
Station #1 featured cheese and charcuterie — a perennial favorite on Vivant’s regular menu. Boss Mouse Peppercorn cheese out of Northern Michigan was offered up with prosciutto, beer wort chutney, locally-made Fire & Fire baguette and MI Bee Company honey. To pair? The renowned and much-loved 2012 Escoffier — a Bretta Ale brewed in collaboration with New Belgium. The brettanomyces’ beautiful funk and little bit of sweetness pair excellently with this plate. If anyone has any cans hiding out in their beer cellar — now is the time to crack them open. It’s hard to believe that Escoffier could get any better, but it has.
Station #2 was a teaser, a preview of next week’s annual Smoke Week. Dry rubbed ribs, chicken wings, deliciously moist, fall off your fork beef brisket and an incredibly flavorful smoked Portobello mushroom cap were served alongside Zaison, an Imperial Sasion. The sweetness of the orange peel and bite of the tellicherry black peppercorns present in the Zaison went nicely with this smokehouse plate.
On to Station #3, the tartines. “Tartines are kind of our French sliders, if you will,” says Vander Meer. This is classic Vivant — four different French inspired options pairing with North French — a 6% abv Biere De Garde, roasted malts, bready (in a good way), a little tart, a little sweet. Four options were available: pickled beets with kale; smoked salmon with fried capers and dill; house made bacon, tomato relish and a beautiful little hard boiled quail egg; and honey, goat cheese mousse and black pepper served on thinly sliced baguettes made for easy transportation to meet and mingle with other attendees.
Katy Waltz, Pastry Chef created the decadent desserts that rounded out the meal at Station #4. The beer was Paris — a wood aged brew that really needs to be sampled to be understood. “It was a pretty tricky beer to pair with because it’s tart and bitter. I tried to go more fruit forward with the desserts,” says Waltz.
Braised rhubarb crepes and blackberry mousse cones ended up being the options.
“The rhubarb has a lot of spices, cardamom, orange and ginger — it brings out the sour notes in the beer. The blackberry pairs well with the red wine barrels the beer was aged in. The mousse and mascarpone [in the crepe] tone down the sourness. It balances. We used fresh berries, just keeping everything fresh and seasonal.”
Weather proved to not have any effect on the vibe, despite initial concerns. Food disappeared quickly, cups were emptied and refilled, and everyone — from the gentlemen from Cleveland to the lady from California — enjoyed their first taste of BeerCity USA.