I have incredibly fond memories of BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse from my college days at USC. I can clearly remember my good friend Dave bringing large deep dish pizzas and growlers full of Tatonka for sharing at his apartment, The Dunes, near campus. The dense and buttery thick crust with those giant roasted tomatoes became a favorite, and I’m still a fan today. Birthday parties, special occasions, beer flights, and pizza cravings – BJ’s was the perfect location for any of these. Today, BJ’s has shifted slightly from the pizza and brewery focus towards a “something for everyone” model. It’s always had a thick menu full of options, but a lot more attention is being given to showcasing that thick menu and its diversity. The brewery portion of the chain has removed most of its small production brewhouses, making a recent move to Reno, Nevada, where all large scale production happens. The company also went through a rebranding in February, which included a brand new website complete with a Brew Master blog, where fans can read about special projects going on at the brewery.
Speaking of special projects, one of the main features of the beer dinner I attended was the release of BJ’s newest beer, the Hoppy Scotsman, a malty and hop forward homage to the classic style. Scotsman is a BJ’s collaboration with the historic Caledonian Brewery in Scotland, a joint project between BJ’s brewmaster Alex Puchar and Caledonian Brewmaster Keith Garson. Caledonian Brewery, founded in 1869, merged with the Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) in 2004. S&N was acquired by Heineken/Carlsburg in 2008, so now the Caledonian brand resides under the Heineken umbrella.
Clocking in at about 6% ABV, the beer was medium bodied with a very forward citrus aroma. The citrus persists through the initial flavor followed by deep caramel notes. The beer isn’t overly sweet, and there was a pleasantly bitter finish. It was a fun take on the style as it made this normally rich beer more spring/summery – perfect for this hot weather. Pilot batches of Hoppy Scotsman were conducted at Caledonian Brewery, and once the recipe was perfected, BJ’s moved production to Reno, which is where the beer you’ll be tasting is coming from. Pretty cool.
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse launched a new campaign this year featuring beer, both house and guest styles, paired along with items on the menu. Each beer dinner pairs 5 courses with 5 selected beers and additionally includes a Warm-up Beer, Palate Cleanser, and After-Dinner Beer. It’s a pretty good deal for roughtly $30-35 bucks per person, and there was plenty of beer to go around. This event was MC’ed by reps from both BJ’s and Heineken who were able to answer questions both food and beer related.
Here’s a look at the line-up.
- Warm-Up Beer: Downtown Brown – Lost Coast Brewing Co
- Courese #1: Avocado Egg Rolls w/ Newcastle Brown Ale
- Course #2: Asian Chopped Salad w/ Strongbow Honey Apple Cider
- Course #3: Mediterranean Chicken Pita Tacos w/ Newcastle Bombshell
- Course 4: New Orleans Jambalaya w/ BJ’s Hoppy Scotsman™
- Palate Cleanser: Boddingtons Pub Ale
- Course #5: BJ’s Famous Chocolate Chunk Pizookie™ w/ BJ’s PM Porter
- After-Dinner Beer: BJ’s Tatonka Stout
This was more about featuring beers and food items on the menu than it was about actually pairing the food. That being said, the Newcastle with the avocado egg rolls was a really interesting pairing. I’ve had Newcastle’s flagship brown ale plenty of times, but this is the first time I’ve had it at a pairing dinner. The avocado brought out a very pleasant cherry fruit flavor, which only further proves how awesome beer and food are when they are enjoyed together. The other highlight, and it may come as no surprise, was the BJ’s PM Porter with the Chocolate Chunk Pizookie™ (and Tatonka was equally tasty with the cookie). The featured beer Hoppy Scotsman was paired with a very spicy Jambalaya, which was also pretty tasty.
I was a big fan of BJ’s during my college and early post-college years. It was definitely an easy place to congregate at with a diverse group of friends. BJ’s beers have always been tasty, and the pizza still occupies a soft spot in my heart. In terms of the beer dinner, I’m always a fan of pairing great food along side great beer. With Hoppy Scotsman as the featured collaboration beer, it makes sense to showcase both the BJ’s & Heineken brand portfolios during the dinner, and it seemed like everyone at the dinner enjoyed the event. That being said, I would have loved to see more BJ’s beers in the pairing. As great as it was to have Newcastle brown, Newcastle bombshell, and Strongbow along side BJ’s food, I feel like BJ’s core offerings would have been better suited for the food being served. The dinner may not be geared towards beer geeks seeking out crazy gastropubs, but it was definitely educational, fun, tasty, and a great value.
I’ll make a point to go back and get a full line-up of tasters next time I’m in the area, and lucky for me, there’s a BJ’s in close proximity to where I live so that may not be too far from now. If you haven’t tried Hoppy Scotsman Ale yet, get out to your local BJ’s and order a taster or pint.