The Animal Protective Association (APA) of Missouri is pulling a off a remarkable feat: combining man's best friend with man's favorite beverage. Thursday, August 8, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Scape (48 Maryland Plaza; 314-361-7227) in the Central West End, the APA90 Fancy Feast, a celebration of the organization's 90th anniversary, will offer a four-course dinner with beer pairings, all in the name of a nonprofit organization dedicated to "bringing people and pets together, advancing humane education and creating programs beneficial to the human/animal bond."
The meal itself will be prepared by Scape chef Eric Kelly and paired with beers hand-selected by Neil Witte, a Master Cicerone -- one of only seven in the world! Gut Check was so impressed with such a lofty title, we decided to talk with Witte about beer, of course, and also the upcoming dinner.
First of all, what is a Master Cicerone, and how does one become one? Basically, it's a beer genius, full of knowledge and expertise. Witte had to go through a rigorous two-day exam, including ten hours of written questions, two hours of oral questions and two hours of beer tasting and evaluation -- OK, the last part doesn't sound too bad. In order to face this challenge, Witte took on four years of study and immersion in the beer world. Thus, we bow before him.
The fact that beer is starting to receive more sophisticated treatment and analysis suggests a new level of appreciation on par with wine. "Full beer, craft beer is still in its infancy in this country," Witte says. "People are rediscovering styles of beer that have been around for centuries and realizing that beer has a place at the dinner table." And the upcoming APA90 will be an excellent example of how beer can be far more than a generic light lager. The explosion of craft beer over the last two decades has allowed beer across a vast spectrum to be appreciated. "This is not just a passing fad. Craft beer has been growing solidly for several years now," says Witte. Thank goodness.
Continue for Neil's dinner picks.
When he's not putting together fabulous beer pairings, Witte is the field quality training manager at Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City. Besides getting to sample many fine beers, he also trains new employees, bartenders and beer distributors in the nuances of brew. "Often times when I'm talking with a new bartender, I have to take a few steps back and teach them about what beer is first. Then teach them how to pour a beer correctly, how to talk about beer." Gut Check would definitely welcome such instruction in office (hint hint).
Much like wine, pairing beer with a meal -- or courses within a meal -- can be a delicate process. "When you look at a dish you think about the intensity level first of all, so I'm going to look for a beer with an equal amount of intensity," Witte says. "I don't want a beer that's going to get lost, and I don't want a beer that might overpower the food. I want them both to shine."
The goal is to looks at flavors, spices and different proteins along with various types of preparation, and then find a beer that enhances those characteristics. "I always encourage people to experiment, step out on a limb," Witte says, and advises APA90 attendees to go with the braised beef short-rib goulash, a rich dish paired with the Boulevard double-wide IPA, a big beer that can stand up to bold flavors.
Witte, a self-proclaimed "animal lover," became involved with the APA through a friendship made back in college with Steve Kaufman, APA's executive director. The APA dinner is one of several events planned to help the organization provide shelter, adoption and veterinary services. Other events include the Harry & Hanley Project, a public art installation featuring twenty unique larger-than-life dog and cat sculptures created by renowned sculptor Harry Weber and custom-designed by some of St. Louis' leading local artists, and the APA90 Birthday Bash and Art Auction taking place at the Contemporary Art Museum on September 14.
Tickets for the APA90 Fancy Feast are $90 and can be purchased online at http://www.harryandhanley.com/, where you can also find a full menu for the dinner.
Gut Check is always hungry for tips. Email us!
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