An Ancient Ales Beer Dinner For Modern Taste Buds.
If you have ever watched a show on the travel channel then you know that one of the best ways to learn about a people and their culture is through their stomachs. What they eat and drink can tell you so much more about a community than paintings and artifacts stuck inside the walls of a museum. This past Wednesday we decided to check out some other cultures through their food and drink. In true Dogfish Head style we turned it up a notch. Instead of just hopping on a plane and crossing a few time zones, we stepped into our very own Dogfish Head culinary time machine and got to know some ancient peoples through our stomachs and taste buds. One of our Falls Church managers, Matt, served as our “gastro-navigator”; not only did he serve as host for the evening, he was the architect of the menu for the beer dinner.
Our first course was a pairing of Ta Henket , Baba Ganoush and black figs with balsamic reduction. For the ancient egyptians, beer was more than a “happy hour” drink. It was refreshing nourishment as well as part of their pay. There are some theories out there that the temples and pyramids may not have been built if there had been no beer. Kind of hard core. Like its ancient counterpart, Ta Henket is low in alcohol at 4.5% and light in color. Bread was a huge staple for those ancients and was even utilized in the beer. This was also a drink that all Egyptians enjoyed, from children of workers to the Pharaoh himself.
Not only is Baba Ganoush fun to say, it is also quite enjoyable to eat. It has a slightly nutty taste and full, thick texture that made me think of peanut butter! The figs with balsamic reduction and topped with pomegranate seeds had a sweet taste and soft texture. The pomegranate seeds gave just a hint of tart, and the reduction paired with the figs gave a little chocolate hint. It all tasted so good that I had to force myself to take very small bites to make it last as long as possible. Paired with the breadiness of the Ta Henket, this course made me giggle at the thought that the ancient egyptians had not only built the pyramids, they also designed the blueprint for our modern pb&j sandwiches. I really could picture ancient workers coming home from a long day of work and being refreshed with this very food and beer pairing.
As we savored the last of the figs, Baba Ganoush, and Ta Henket, we stepped back into our time machine and headed waaaaay back in time. To a time when all the world really was one, a dizzying 200 million years ago to the time of the super continent Pangaea! As we collected ourselves and adjusted to such a different world, Joanna and Pierre passed around glasses of Pangaea and platters of mixed green salad and chicken drizzled with a ginger honey vinaigrette.
While Pangaea is not technically an “ancient ale”, it utilizes ingredients from all seven continents. Those ingredients as well as those beautifully dressing our plates symbolize the connectivity of not only our planet, but the many cultures of civilization throughout time and place. I can imagine that many ancient cultures paired whatever protein source they had with whatever plant sources were available to make a nutritious and flavorful meal. The spices of the beer enhanced the vinaigrette, especially the ginger, and brought out the grill smoked flavor of the chicken. I was very surprised to find that I enjoyed the citrus- ginger beets (compliments of “Fresh Crunch”, the pickling company of none other than my coworker Joanna’s brother). I have never been tempted to try beets before, but I have learned to suspend my thoughts of many foods when partaking in these beer dinners. This course was definitely a global party for my taste buds. I really felt as if I was enjoying the offerings of Mother Nature herself.
Our next stop found us only about 3,500 years in the past, to the jungles of what is now Honduras and what was once the Aztec civilization. Theobroma translates into “food of the Gods”. It’s main ingredient, cocoa/chocolate, was saved for the most elite of their society as well as their most sacred rituals. Their ancient ale is also the earliest known alcoholic chocolate beverage. The Aztecs also enjoyed spicy, flavorful foods. . .
This may look like a simple dish, but the flavors of the savory mole’ with chicken and rice were out of this world! I have had mole’ sauce many times, my husband the Bdawg is a huge fan of Mexican food. But I have never had it prepared like this sauce. The spices in the sauce made my palate come alive like never before. It heated my taste buds without making my mouth feel like it was on fire. The chilies in the beer married with the mole’ perfectly, while I could still retain the taste of the honey in the beer through all of the heat and flavor. I could well imagine an Aztec warrior preparing for battle enjoying this food and brew to build up his stamina and encourage the Gods to favor him!
Next we were treated with a trip to the Neolithic village of Jiahu in northern China to partake in the earliest known fermented beverage. Dogfish Head’s Chateau Jiahu is based on chemical analysis of pottery shards found in this ancient site. When I first joined the Alehouse team I once overheard a bartender describe this brew as “an ale for wine drinkers.” A most perfect description. Our “gastro-navigator”, Matt paired this ale with a Korean, family style meal because the saki yeast in the Chateau Jiahu reminded him of the Korean beer soju.
We were treated to platters of spicy beef, roasted sesame pork, along with tempura battered zucchini and Kim Chi! Again, I was visited with a food I never imagined myself eating, the buried and pickled Kim chi. And again I found that I actually loved it and would eat it again and again. The soft, sweet, wine like flavors of the Chateau Jiahu easily stood up to the spicy, strong flavors of the foods on our plates. The fruitiness of the ale complimented the meat perfectly, especially the pork which had its own sweetness. The fried zucchini slices had a warm soft texture and taste that would have been too mild by itself, but partnered amazingly with spicy tartness of the kim chi. I could have stayed in ancient China for few thousand more years with such tasty eats, but we had one last stop to make on our gastro journey through time. . .
Our final stop dropped us off more than a thousand years in the past to ancient Finland. Sah’tea is Dogfish’s take on the Finnish style of brew that goes back to at least the 9th century; and it is still brewed in Finland today with the same techniques and ingredients as it was way back when. The epic Finnish poem The Kalevala is a compilation of ancient oral traditions of the Finns that devotes over 400 lines to the brewing of beer! Once you have tasted our version of it, you will understand why beer is such an important part of Finnish history.
Matt paired this spiced ale with Bananas Foster and banana brittle. Yes, bananas are not indigenous to Finland, but the molasses and brown sugar in the brittle were a match made in beer heaven for the the spices such as cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger, and black pepper of the Sah’tea. Those spices, along with the black tea and Finnish beer staple of juniper berries give our Sah’tea a chai tea aroma and taste. This is one of my favorite ales in Dogfish’s ancient ales repertoire and the right note to end the evening.
I noticed many dinner attendees waddling out of the Dogfish time machine at the end of the evening. Everyone seemed satiated and pleasantly full despite the crazy jet lag that time travel gives a person. My coworkers Dustin and Wren, and I had a terrific time setting the mood decorating the tables with pictures and ingredients from the beers, as well as pottery shards and globes decorated like Pangaea to help remind our guests what an important function ancient history plays in our modern kitchens and tummies!
I hope the next time you find yourself in the D.C. Area, for business or vacation, you will make the short trip to our Falls Church Alehouse and check out the beers and food for yourself. We don’t have a beer dinner every night, but we always have a great selection of beers and tasty, if more modern, eats to satisfy even the pickiest palate!