Slideshow: Snapshots from Dinner with Sierra Nevada and Boulevard Brewing at Abbot's Cellar, San Francisco

Duck Confit, Rye Bread Salad, and Apricot Marmalade with Terra Incognita
Duck Confit, Rye Bread Salad, and Apricot Marmalade with Terra Incognita

The collaboration beer is meant to showcase the terroir of the two breweries, located on opposite ends of the California Trail (a wagon trail from the 19th century). Per Dresler's description, the beer is meant to have decidedly earth notes, with flavors of tobacco, oak, and wine (it's aged for three months in Cabernet barrels). The resulting flavor is big and deep, balanced by the beer's lively carbonation.

The rich beer was served with a starter of duck confit, baby kale, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and apricot marmalade. The savory heft of the duck took on the big beer handily. I was struck by the earthy, bitter flavors brought out by the vegetal kale as well, providing balance to the richness of the pairing.

Pheasant, Mushrooms, and Blackberry Relish with the original Terra Incognita
Pheasant, Mushrooms, and Blackberry Relish with the original Terra Incognita

This off-menu bite was served with a surprise pour of last year's batch of Terra Incognita, created exclusively for patrons of SAVOR 2012. The side-by-side pairing of the two versions of the beer highlighted the spiciness and delicate champagne-like carbonation of the aged sample.

The salty-sweet richness of the pheasant, mushrooms, and fruit tamed the beer's weight, and highlighted its acidity. That golden-brown topping is a salty-crisp piece of fried pheasant skin, and had our table wishing for bowls of the same to be brought out as between-course snacks.

Steven Pauwels tasting Tank 7.
Steven Pauwels tasting Tank 7.
"This is a very dangerous beer," Pauwels said of the popular Boulevard brew. "It's 8.5%, but it drinks very easily." He notes that the beer is an 'American view' of a farmhouse ale—"It's very hoppy, with lots of grapefruit," he said. "But, it still has those flavors of banana and cloves."
Tagliolini Pasta, Charred Octopus, Broccoli di Cicco, and Ham with Sierra Nevada's Ovila Saison
Tagliolini Pasta, Charred Octopus, Broccoli di Cicco, and Ham with Sierra Nevada's Ovila Saison

Sierra's just-released saison is "more traditional, and less hoppy" than Boulevard's Tank 7, says Dresler. The beer included whole macerated mandarin oranges, sourced from a monastery North of Chico, and Mandarina hops.

"We were looking for a way to augment the mandarin without making it fruit-juicy," Dresler said.

The rich, buttery fresh pasta and meaty octopus certainly stood up to the richness of the beer, further aided by delicate shreds of salty 18-month-aged ham. But, we wished for some more citrus flavor in the dish to match up with the beer. Most surprising was the effect of the slightly bitter broccoli; it noticeably heightened the beer's peppery notes.

Chef Dulye plating the next dish.
Chef Dulye plating the next dish.
Fried Sweetbreads, Cauliflower, Bing Cherries, Red Verjus with Boulevard's Love Child #3
Fried Sweetbreads, Cauliflower, Bing Cherries, Red Verjus with Boulevard's Love Child #3

"It took us eight years to get the blend for this sour right," Pauwels said of this tart, acidic beer. "We bottled it without naming it, and one of the guys on the line started drawing hearts and flowers on the shrink wrap! He said, 'Can't you see? This is such a labor of love!' So, we called it Love Child #1. Now, every year we just change the number!"

Pauwels noted that with each iteration of Love Child, the beer changes slightly, due to being aged in wine barrels. "#1 was more cherry, #2 was more acidic. This has both cherry and acidity."

The beer, intensely tart and bright, was mirrored in the sour-sweet roasted Bing cherries served alongside four hearty nuggets of breaded and fried sweetbreads. The rich fried offal was nicely cut by the beer's acidity. Perhaps most surprising is the effect of the cauliflower puree, which enhances the touch of oaky, almost nutty flavor in the beer.