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San Francisco's Abbot's Cellar is an ideal location for a crash course in the subtleties of food and beer pairings. The wide-reaching beer list, curated by Christian Albertson and Mike Reis (who is also a Serious Eats columnist!), is a beer geek's dream; Chef Adam Dulye's menu is a study in fine dining designed to be complemented by the available brews, and the staff is educated to suggest such pairings.
But last night, Abbot's Cellar offered a more focused approach to the food and beer pairing concept. The Terra Incognita Brewmaster's Banquet showcased new releases from Sierra Nevada Brewery and Boulevard Brewing Co., including Terra Incognita, a special-release collaboration between the two breweries.
"We started doing these dinners over at Monk's Kettle," Mike Reis said of the brewery-specific pairing set-up. While Monk's is a gastropub (with a killer burger), more refined food offerings and pairings inspired Abbot's Cellar. "But we wanted to get back to showcasing specific breweries," Reis noted, and they wanted to come up with a way to make these brewery-centric dinners even more special for patrons.
"We were sitting at this table talking about it," Reis said, gesturing to the long, white-marble communal table couched in restaurant's light-filled front. "And we thought, how great would it be to have the brewmasters here to talk about their beers?"
And so, the Brewmaster's Banquet was born. Abbot's Cellar kicked off the series during Beer Week this past February, featuring AleSmith, Sam Adams, Alaskan Brewing Company, Fifty Fifty Brewing Company, Firestone Walker, and Boulevard. Another iteration featured Belgian beer importers Vanberg & DeWulf. Diners last night had the opportunity to reserve at spot at the brewmaster's table, where Steven Pauwels of Boulevard Brewing and Steve Dresler of Sierra Nevada were in attendance.
"This dinner is special because it's also a beer release—this is the first time Terra Incognita has been released to the public," Reis said of the night's inspiration. Terra Incognita was originally created as a gift for patrons of the 2012 SAVOR event; it was such a success that Pauwels and Dresler decided to team up again and release the beer for sale (it will be available June 18). This year, it was brewed at Boulevard's facilities in Kansas City, Missouri, with Dresler flying in for blending and tasting. Next year, production will move to Sierra Nevada's Chico home.
The singularity of the beer changed the way Chef Dulye structured his menu, too. "We did this one in reverse—normally, we decide on the menu and select beers from a brewery's catalog to match," Dulye told us mid-prep. "This time, we let Steve and Steven pick the beers. Then we figured out a way to make it flow so it wouldn't hurt your palate."
A bit of envelope pushing—say, serving an intensely sour beer with a main course, followed by a double IPA with dessert—is definitely part of the fun of the dinners for the Abbot's Cellar team, and diners, too.
The Abbot's team certainly plans on continuing the series—while they don't have future dinners scheduled yet, Reis would like to continue to partner with breweries as they enter the California market or release new beers. "The first Boulevard dinner we did was two weeks after they began selling in California," he said. "It was a nice 'coming out party' for the brewery."
Curious about what food was paired with the new Sierra Nevada and Boulevard beers? Check out our snapshots of the dinner in the slideshow »