APA Beer Dinner Highlights Flavor and Nuance with Neil Witte


        A beer dinner is the best kind of dinner. | Pat Kohm
  •         A beer dinner is the best kind of dinner. | Pat Kohm

After attending the American Protective Association's (APA) 90th anniversary beer dinner this past Thursday (August 8), Gut Check walked away perfectly sated but also educated: It turns out beer is far more complicated than we ever imagined -- and that's a good thing.

See also: - Scape's APA Benefit Dinner Shows Beer Can Be Just As Classy As Wine - Llywelyn's in Webster Groves Joins Craft Beer Week with Annual Dinner - Schlafly's Bourbon Barrel Ale Available in St. Louis for the First Time Ever

       Neil Witte and Eric Kelly. | Pat Kohm
  •        Neil Witte and Eric Kelly. | Pat Kohm

The charity event, held at Scape (48 Maryland Plaza; 314-361-7227) in the Central West End, offered a four-course dinner. Each course was prepared by Scape chef Eric Kelly, featuring a beer pairing selected by Neil Witte, a Master Cicerone -- one of only seven in the world!

Much like a wine sommelier, the cicerone is an expert on all aspects of beer -- flavor, styles, preparation, etc. The more sophisticated treatment includes a nuanced understanding of how to pair beer with food. Trust us, it involves much more than grabbing a cold beer to go with your hot dog. 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." Thankfully, Gut Check was on hand to judge the results.

       A menu fit for royalty. | Pat Kohm
  •        A menu fit for royalty. | Pat Kohm

First, let's dispel the likely initial reaction upon hearing "beer dinner." No, this is not some bacchanalian kegger where the winner is he who drinks the most. Instead, each course includes a small sample or taste of beer, which is supposed to be sipped and savored, not chugged. Though, full-disclosure, the pre-dinner reception offered a choice of three different bottles: Zwickel from Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (Missouri), Oarsmen from Bell's Brewery (Michigan) and Blanche de Bruxelles from Brasserie Lefebvre (Belgium). And we were forced to drink fast so as to try each one -- how else could we fully inform you, the reader? The Oarsman, a tart session ale, was our pre-meal favorite.

       Shrimp and grits. | Pat Kohm
  •        Shrimp and grits. | Pat Kohm

The menu for the APA dinner began with the Pilsner Urquell from Pilsner Urquell Brewery (Czech Republic) paired with shrimp and grits. The two massive shrimp looked to dominate, but as Witte promised, the refreshing, crisp pilsner found a perfect balance. Off to a good start!

       Rich, creamy cauliflower. | Pat Kohm
  •        Rich, creamy cauliflower. | Pat Kohm

The second course: the cauliflower gratin turned out to be incredibly rich and creamy, especially when paired with Ellie's Brown Ale from Avery Brewery (Colorado) -- a dark, nutty beer that brought out the buttery cauliflower.

       A veggie delight -- lasagne. | Pat Kohm
  •        A veggie delight -- lasagne. | Pat Kohm

Up next, the main course, easily the best part of night. Vegetarians were offered vegetable lasagne terrine, paired with the Aria from Perennial Artisan Ales (Missouri). That sounded nice, but we went the carnivore route: braised beef short rib goulash, paired with the double-wide IPA from Boulevard (Missouri). Witte chose the double-wide because of the big beer's ability to stand up to the bold flavors of the beef short rib that had a fried egg resting on top.

       The mustardy pretzel gelato! | Pat Kohm
  •        The mustardy pretzel gelato! | Pat Kohm

Finally, an intriguing desert was brought out to finish the evening. A dollop of malted milk gelato sitting beside mustard gelatin topped with crumbled pretzel, paired with La Fin Du Monde from Unibroue Brewery (Quebec). The Belgian trippel was the perfect desert beer. The dessert itself was interesting. We found that when swirled all together, it tasted like a sweet, fruity pretzel, which makes sense, because this is, after all, a beer dinner.

The dinner proved to be an efficient way to try out a number of beer styles and gain an appreciation for the ways in which various flavors combine and work together. But most importantly, the APA event raised money for a worthy cause. The 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. You can get more information here.

Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. Email us!

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