Venues and events

At the Wollongong Good Beer Dinner

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Last night I was down at Wollongong’s Little Prince for the first of two beer dinners organised by Shaun and Ashur, the brewers at the Illawarra Brewing Company.
The next one is on August 9 at the Illawarra Brewery down near the water. I think they might have a ticket or two left over.
The beers were American and the food was styled on “American bar food”. But I’m willing to bet most US bars don’t offer food of this quality. I’d never eaten at the Little Prince before and so had assumed it would just be “bar food”.
Nope, it’s actually high-quality cooking. The sort of cooking you’d expect to see in a fancy restaurant. I was very, very impressed.

First course
The first beer (well, second. I’d already had a Holgate Hopinator by this time because I got there a half-hour before the dinner started and wanted to wet my whistle) was a North Coast La Merle Saison. The food that came with it was a Californian al pastor (duno what that means) soft-shelled taco with blue eyed cod.
I’d never had a fish taco before – but heard plenty about them from Rocks Brewing Company’s Scott Morgan, who swears by them. If they’re all as good as this one I can see why – served cold it was so fresh and the flavour of coriander across the top finished things off nicely.
The beer was tasty too – I had it down as my favourite from the evening. Weighing in at 7.3 per cent, it comes in a bottle closed with a champagne cork. As far as a saison goes, this is more on the mild side, which is why I liked it. That alcohol is well hidden and there’s hardly any burn at all. There is also a pleasing tropical fruit flavour from the Centennial hops. And perhaps even a hint of banana.

Second course
The beer was one I’d had before courtesy of Dan Murphy’s – a Ballast Point Big Eye IPA. The food that came with it was Coca-Cola braised baby back ribs with spiced BBQ sauce and a whisky citrus glaze. And it was perfect. I tried to spear some ribs with my fork but couldn’t as the meat was so soft. Once in the mouth there was hardly any need for chewing – the meat simply fell off the bone and dissolved in my mouth. Wonderful.
The piney Ballast Point (which I think of as like drinking a Christmas tree without the tinsel) was a really good match. The bitterness of the beer was a nice balance for the sweetness of the Coca-Cola used on the ribs.

Third course
I’ve only eaten and liked blue cheese twice in my life – usually I despise it. And both times it was at a table with the guys from the Illawarra Brewing Company. The first time was when they ran me through their beer and cheese set-up that they offer at the brewery. The blue cheese paired with their porter is simply incredible (I recommend you try it).
The second time was here, with the cajun spiced fried chicken with blue cheese dressing. That dressing was so good I had to stop myself from sticking my fingers into the shared pot and licking them. Yum.
The beer was a surprising mid-dinner selection – a 10.9 per cent barley wine from Green Flash. I’d never had a barley wine and so was expecting it to be like a wine (because, hey, it’s got the word “wine” in its name). But no, it’s like beer. A very, very strong beer. I found it to be like a very intense sasion, with a fair bit of alcohol burn. But not unpalatable (though I reckon they came close to overdoing it), I was one of the minority at the dinner who finished their glass. Not sure whether I’d buy a bottle if I saw it at the bottle shop but I’m very glad I got to try it all the same.

Fourth course
This dish was an education – it was peppered steak (cooked spot-on) with grits, onion rings and tarragon butter. The education was in seeing what “grits” were. I’d heard the word spoken and had long ago conjured up the mental image of something gritty and fried. But I was wrong, it’s actually a soft mash kind of like polenta. And a word on the onion rings – never had them cooked so well. They melted in my mouth.
The beer was a Red Rocket Amber Ale from Bear Republic. And it was a bit odd, to be honest. I found it a bit sweet, like drinking watered-down cola syrup. Though it did get better towards the end when it warmed up and the hop flavour came through.

Fifth course
The description on the menu said “peanut butter and jelly” so I was thinking some sort of sandwich. Nope, what I got was a delicious dessert, kind of like a caramel slice but with peanut butter replacing the caramel.
The beer it came out with was a Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar. I’m glad I tried the beer before the dessert because I found that the sweetness of the dessert negated some of the flavour in the beer. And there are some wonderful flavours in the beer. The aroma was very strong on hazelnut (I was standing near a tray of the beers and the hazelnut smell was intense). And that’s the flavour too – slightly sweet hazelnut with perhaps a tinge of vanilla.

It was a very enjoyable evening at the Little Prince – had a lot of fun and got to taste some beers I’d never otherwise be able to try. Now I’ve just got to figure out a way that I can make it to the second Good Beer Dinner.

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