“This isn’t going to be a stuffy wine dinner,” Todd Salvadore, general manager at Range, assured a group of diners last Wednesday night. “This is going to be one where you actually get drunk and enjoy the company of the brewers.”
Salvadore probably didn’t need to convince anyone of this. Looking at the menu for Range’s Beer & Whiskey Dinner, a good time – or at the least a formidable buzz – was all but assured.
Four beers from 3 Stars Brewing.
Four whiskeys from the Diageo family.
Four courses from Range Chef Jay Waybright, each paired with a glass of something hopped and a sip of something distilled.
The gathering itself was intimate in size, but both of 3 Stars’ founders, Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey, were there discuss their beer and to enjoy what was being served up. You got the sense they knew better than to pass up this meal. What rationale person would?
“3 Stars is a company that’s grown directly with Range,” Salvadore said of the restaurant’s relationship with the brewery. “Dave literally used to drop off kegs for me. They would always be super bubbly because he went over speed bumps way too quickly.”
Never one to back down from a good ribbing, Coleman was quick with a retort: “But I got it here by 5:00!”
On this night, those who got to Bryan Voltaggio’s Friendship Heights restaurant by 7:00 were greeted with a tart cocktail prepared with Dissonance (3 Stars’ Rye Berliner), I.W. Harper whiskey aged 15 years, lavender, peach, and honey.
Not a bad way to ease into the night. Nor was the Above the Clouds pouring from Range’s draft line. I’ve had the Farmhouse Pale Ale numerous times – at bars, at the brewery, at home – but for whatever reason, it’s never tasted better before. The big, citrusy aroma of the hops complimented the dry, quenching saison exquisitely. It’s time for me to load up on a few bottles for the scorching nights ahead.
Before we got carried away, though, Diageo Master of Whisky Nick Crutchfield offered some words of caution: “Being the corporate behemoth that is Diageo, I will ask you to please enjoy this dinner fully, but please enjoy it responsibly.”
If you say so, Nick.
The first course was a sweet corn tamale with fire-roasted jalapeno and scorched summer vegetables. It was paired with the alcoholic components of that previously mentioned punch: 3 Star’s Dissonance and I.W. Harper 15 years.
Dissonance was the first beer to emerge from 3 Stars’ sour program, and the tart, 3.6% stands as one of the breweries very best offerings.
“We call it a Berliner-style rye,” head brewer Mike McGarvey said of the brew. “Traditionally, there is a style called Berliner Weisse. It’s a wheat beer – that’s the ‘Weisse’ part of it. We don’t have any wheat in this beer. We use rye in substitution of that.”
Rye adds a subtle spiciness to Dissonance, which is complimented by a dry-hop of Mandarina Bavaria that imbues citrusy flavors and aroma.
“It’s a low alcohol beer,” McGarvey continued. “That’s the tradition – it’s something that people would drink a lot of in the hot weather. It’s highly sessionable, but definitely tar and sour, and that’s the intention.”
Pairing Dissonance with this course had its own intentions. “All of the fat you need to make a light, delicious tamale needs to be washed out by something,” Range head mixologist Dane Nakamura explained. “The acidity in that Berliner helps a lot with that.”
As for the I.W. Harper? “It’s almost a study in corn,” continued Nakamura, who oversaw the evening’s pairings. “A lot of those components – the sweetness of the corn in that whiskey – comes through in the tamale.”
The second course presented a peppercorn-crusted salmon paired with pumpernickel, romanesco, and a few “kernels” of popcorn Maryland blue crab for texture. Alongside it: 3 Star’s Peppercorn Saison and Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend.
“The Peppercorn Saison is our bread and butter at 3 Stars,” explained Mike Dee, 3 Stars’ Director of Sales. “It’s been our best-selling beer since day one, not for any other reason than people like it.”
The appeal of Peppercorn Saison has never been hard to pin down: It’s a light, easy-drinking beer with a hints of spice, smoke, and berry from the white, green, and pink peppercorns.
“Saisons are always good with a fatty fish,” Nakamura observed.
As for the Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend, not only was on the table for our sipping (and mouth smelling) pleasure: It was used to cure the salmon.
The showstopping third course showcased BBQ short ribs atops a bed of miso sauce, smoked pickled green tomatoes, and grits. The dish was complimented by 3 Stars’ Southern Belle (an Imperial Brown Ale finished with toasted pecans) and George Dickel Barrel Select.
Actually, according Nakamura, those roles might be the other way around.
“The pairing for this dish came from the beer and whiskey,” Nakamura shared. “There’s only way you can drink George Dickel and Southern Belle, and that’s with barbecue.”
“Use the beer likes its a sauce,” he advised patrons. “Feel free to actually sip the beer while the food is in your mouth. It works absolutely perfect together. Meanwhile, the astringency of George Dickel – since it has a little bit of that oak – is really good at cleansing your palate and erasing all of the fat for the short ribs.”
Never in a million years would I want to cleanse my palate of those perfectly cooked, falling apart short ribs.
Range closed out the night with a procession of chocolate pudding, chocolate cloud, crispy rye bread, chocolate custard, two different kinds of stewed apricots, and vanilla ice cream. This delicious collection of sweets was masquerading as a Pan Con Chocolate. It was paired with 3 Stars Madness Old Stock Ale and Johnnie Walker Select Cask Rye Finish.
The Johnnie Walker scotch had been aged in American rye barrels to just long enough to pick up notes of rye whiskey. “What you’re going to smell and what you’re going to taste in each one of these glasses is bourbon, rye, and scotch,” Crutchfield explained. “It’s sweet, spicy, and I hate this word but there’s really none other to use: smooth.”
“The beer we have paired with this is Madness, and it is named appropriately,” Coleman said of 3 Stars’ contribution, a 12.4% ale. “It’s something that we designed to be a yearly release. It comes out at 12.4%, but we dry it out with toasted American oak honeycombs, so what you’re drinking and what you perceive are two different things.”
“It’s kind of a cheater’s way to barrel age beer,” Dee added. “But it’s a quick way to balance out the sweetness that you get from a beer that is this high in alcohol.”
In the past, Nakamura has created a higher ABV version of Madness by freezing the beer and then shaving off the water, repeatedly. The end product settles at around 48 proof.
It’s probably a good thing Range didn’t have it on the menu on this particular evening. The pairing menu was plenty mad as is.