Admittedly I am not well versed in culinary arts. I am more familiar with a plate of curly fries, simple pulled pork sliders, and a plastic cup of ranch than I am with haute cuisine. A well-crafted beer is more familiar to me than a gourmet dish. It is with this lack of familiarity that I partook in the ‘Wild Night with The Bruery’, hosted by Haven Gastropub in Orange on Monday, June 9th. The evening consisted of a four course dinner, with snacks provided beforehand, a palate cleanser half way through, and a dessert to finish the evening. Tickets for the dinner ran $65 (roughly 80 after tax and gratuity); I purchased my tickets online through Eventbrite several days before the event. Intrigued at first by the lineup of rare beers showcased by The Bruery, I decided to jump into the idea and was happy that a fine meal would be included.
My only other experience with pairing beer with food was a simplistic attempt at a beer and cheese party with friends. Though fun and delicious, I don’t believe I appreciated the combined flavors as well as I should have (a lack of structure and low understanding complimenting flavors may have led to this). My half-assed attempt aside, I usually do not consciously choose a specific beer with a particular meal. I’ve never been against the idea; on the contrary, I believe pairing food with beer is an excellent development that confers a higher level of respect among the brewing community among the culinary world.
When separated, the wild ales of The Bruery and the dishes at Haven are masterpieces in their own right, appropriately praised for their bold take on brewing and gastronomic art. When blended though, the result is like a beautiful orchestral assembly, the symphonic pieces that bring tears to the eyes of those who behold it. While I withheld my tears, I certainly was stunned by the whole proceeding. I wish my vocabulary was better suited to the task of describing the dinner, but with what I have at my disposal I’ll give it my best shot.
Accompanied by a good friend and fellow beer nerd, we arrived early at Haven and shared a round of beers. We were seated near the front door, far away from the speaker’s area. Perhaps the only complaint I could raise was the inability to hear Chef Greg Daniels and Brewer Tyler King speak to the diners; although I was distracted by the food and beers, as well as three gentlemen who were seated at our community table that, although friendly, constantly talked over the speakers. There were roughly 40 attendees to the dinner, and we sat along the wall opposite the bar in Haven, surrounded by the view of Old Town Orange at Glassell Street. Outside the window patrons can watch as individuals pass by the large windows, walking among the numerous antique shops and the historic Sunkist Orange County Fruit Exchange Building.
Chef Greg Daniels
Wanting to learn more about the “Wild Night” pairings, I emailed Greg Daniels, the head chef at Haven Gastropub, with a few questions concerning the development of the paired dinner. He kindly provided his insights.
Eric: How was it that the concept of “Wild Night” was first established?
Greg: Kristie Lester, the wife of one of the guys from The Bruery messaged me over Facebook, wanting recommendations for a friend that enjoyed wild game. I pointed to The Winery in Tustin, and now Newport Beach, where I’ve enjoyed Chef Yvon’s wild game dishes, but it got me thinking. I began to think about the term “wild,” and how that could tie in to what we do at Haven. Wil [Dee, Director of Beverages and a parter in the Haven Collective] and I are both sour ale lovers, and members of The Bruery’s Hoarders Society. Sour ales fall into a category of wild ales; that is pretty much how we got to where we are now. I threw out the idea to the guys at The Bruery, and they were into it. I intended to present a Wild Night theme song by the amazing John Cougar Mellencamp, but Van Morrison wanted to do it live, and it got way too messy. We ditched the idea.
E: In the dishes that were served, was there anything completely new to you that proved challenging to prepare, or was new to you?
G: Honestly, we haven’t worked with a lot of wild game, so that was new overall. There are always small elements on our dishes that are “new” to us, as we work to expand our knowledge of techniques that are being used on menus elsewhere. Doing a beer dinner like this one allows us to stretch a little, and push the envelope of what we would have on the regular menu.
E: Where was the meat for the dinner sourced?
G: All of the game was sourced from Broken Arrow Ranch. They have 1 million combined acres of land in Texas, where antelope, deer, and wild boar live and eat in their natural environment. They have an extremely unique operation, as they are the only source for truly wild game in the US. They have mobile units for processing the animals in the field. They go out with a shooter, a skinner, and a government inspector. They use sound-suppressed rifles from 50-200 yards away, so that they don’t see it coming; this ensures that the animals aren’t stressed, which in turn gives us a better product. Their practices were something that we at Haven could stand behind, and be proud of.
E: In the same vein, is there a particular farm or group that you obtained the produce from?
G: We sourced some of the produce we used from the Orange Home Grown Farmers and Artisans Market, here in Old Towne Orange. One of my favorites of the night The blue foot mushrooms we used with the venison – came from Fresh & Wild in Washington. They source some really great mushrooms, and other specialty produce.
E: Was there anyone else integral to the development of the courses? From Haven or the Bruery?
G: There was definitely collaboration on this menu, but it almost wrote itself when all the pieces were put together. We got a list of available beers from The Bruery’s team, and picked our favorites. There were a few wild ales that they offered that would have been easier to pair with food, but we gravitated toward the sours, and begged for a smidge of Black Tuesday. Andrew Bell, their Experimental Brewer, gave me his plans for the blend with quince, and we were off.
Once Wil, Craig [Brady, the Chef de Cuisine at Haven Gastropub Orange], and I picked the beers, Craig and I sat down to brainstorm on the menu. We had a few sources for game that included things like alligator, turtle, or even camel. We even joked about using African Lion, but thought better of it. Doing more research, we stumbled upon Broken Arrow Ranch, and called them up. Learning about them changed our focus, and we only wanted to use their game.
We needed some seafood in there, so I called Paddy Glennon from Santa Monica Seafood, who pointed me in the direction of the California King Salmon that were troll caught off the coast. He insisted that we go with it, and I didn’t look back. They were some of the most beautiful fish we’ve ever received at Haven. They smelled of the ocean, and nothing else; it was almost like we had just caught them ourselves. Paddy’s knowledge of seafood, especially what is going on right off of our coast, is unparalleled.
Craig and I worked out the gist of the menu in an afternoon, and tweaked along the way. We had our new Sous Chef, Christopher Treadwell, and also our ex-Sous Chef, Landon Pulizzi (currently at Mèlisse), working side-by-side with us that evening, and as a team, we pulled off what you experienced. Decisions were made, heads nodded, and we plated. If something didn’t work, we ditched it, and moved on. Every element on each dish had been considered for flavor, texture, and balance, also taking the beer in consideration. They had to play nice together. I think the most difficult one was probably the King Salmon; if we had gone with a milder fish, I think it would have been completely lost in the pairing.
We collaborate on everything at Haven, and are lucky to have surrounded ourselves with great minds. Chef Craig has spent the past few years pushing the kitchen to new heights. Wil’s knowledge on beer has grown out of control over the past 5 years. Our manager (and new business partner), Scottie Barnett, has focused on tightening up service in a high-volume environment. Things get crazy, and time flies, but we’re always looking inward for more to give, and keeping our eyes open to what is happening around us with food and drink. If you haven’t noticed, I’m very proud of where we are, and the people I work with. I consider myself very lucky.
E: Was their any pairing you found particularly successful?
G: I personally felt that the venison paired extremely well with the blended cask ale that The Bruery did for the event. We planned it that way, obviously, but I didn’t know what to expect until we tasted it that evening. I loved it. Thumbs way up!
E: Lastly, are their plans for future beer pairing dinners hosted by Haven? Whether in this form of wild dishes or in any other capacity?
G: Funny you should ask. We have some breweries that have asked for years, and we just haven’t felt comfortable enough executing two menus side by side in our tiny kitchen. It’s always been a balance of how we keep our regular crowd taken well care of, while working to please a large crowd being served all at once. Now that we’ve proven to ourselves that we can pull it off, we’re stoked to do more. Your experience at Wild Night was only the beginning of what we are capable of.
E: Thank you for your time, and all the best to your work and the Haven Collective.
G: Thanks, Eric. We’ll keep doing what we do, and hope you like it.
The dinner began with two delectable snacks. The first was a Walla Wall Onion and potato confit. All guests were given a small portion, about three small bites worth, in a small serving glass. The consistency was like pudding but with an earthy saltiness and a pinch of sweetness. This was followed by a serving of prosciutto butter with fermented cucumbers, served alongside crisp bread for spreading. The cucumbers had a slightly briny flavor to them, crisp skins but softened insides. When I had heard they were fermented I expected them to perhaps contain an alcohol flavor, but none was detected. The prosciutto butter was in a word, heavenly. I absolutely love prosciutto in any form, and it was incredibly well suited to see it integrated into the butter. These snacks were served on a wooden community platter with spreading knife. The cucumbers were draped in slightly sweet/savory brown gravy like sauce. Like all the meals of the evening, they were described by the hosts, but unfortunately their descriptions were drowned out by our fellow diners and the ambient noise of the restaurant. Audible distractions notwithstanding the first small snacks we enjoyed set a pleasant tone for what followed.
Our first course was a serving of California King Salmon with beet cured ramps and skin. This was served alongside Bruery’s Bottleworks XII, a red wine barrel aged imperial witbier with Raspberries and a souring agent added during fermentation (brewed in collaboration with Bottleworks of Seattle, on their 12th anniversary). The salmon had a buttery flavor and a consistency reminiscent of sashimi. The soft texture fell apart in the mouth, the beet cured ramps and crispy salmon skin all offered a different mouth feel that when combined was incredibly delicious. The buttery flavor of the fish dampened Bottleworks XII, softening the bite of the sour flavor. The beer itself was very tart, with aromas of citrus and berry coming through the dominant funk given by the beer. Sediment at the bottom did not take away from the flavor or mouth feel; in fact it looked almost like raspberry seeds. Bottleworks, along with all of the beers for tasting, were served in a tulip glass at a volume of roughly 4 to 6 ounces.
Our second course was so amazing that I neglected to take a picture before our group tore into the dish in excitement. A pâté of wild boar, venison, and antelope was served alongside quail pastrami, garnished with blueberry mustard and yellow raisin sauce. The pâté had a blend of savory and umami flavors, incredibly soft with a consistency like spreadable liverwurst, but with much more complex flavors. The yellow raisin sauce went particularly well with the game meat. The quail salami was also very good, but did not have the strong salty / peppery notes that I would typically associate salami. It was also soft and moistened, not dry or stiff like a typical cured meat. This course was served alongside Bruery’s Sans Pagaie, a wild Belgian style blonde Kriek aged in oak barrels with cherries. (An appropriate name, considering ‘sans pagaie’ translates into “without a paddle,” Kriek… paddle…get it?… ahh moving on.)
Sans Pagaie is a bold faced Belgian style wild ale, deeply sour (felt most strongly on the sides and back of the tongue) and with a refreshing nose of tart cherries. I did not pick up the oak aging or vanilla tones, but that may be due to sensory overload with what I had consumed thus far, I also drank it relatively quickly, warming could have brought out more of the subtle notes. In terms of the pairing, I am of the opinion that the sum of the parts was not greater than the whole. Both the beer and the course were absolutely amazing, breathtaking examples of their respective categories; but together they only complimented each other in terms of combative mouth feel; bubbly and punchy from the beer, and soft and flowing from the meat. I more honed palate may have found this to be a stronger combination than I had.
In between courses were all given a small serving of granité, an ice cream like concoction made with a combination of berry fruits and ‘The Wanderer’ (if I heard the speaker correctly). The consistency was right between gelato and a frozen slushee. Not too sweet and extremely delicate flavors that was hard for me to pin down. The Wanderer is another collaborative brew between The Bruery and the City Beer Store of San Francisco (which is well worth a visit if you are ever in SF). We were given a 3 ounce taster of the beer alongside the near frozen treat in the interlude. The beer had a nose clearly indicative of it’s barrel aging, I picked up notes of burnt toffee and a slightly pinch of sour, and a lingering dark sweetness from the cherries and blackberries added to the brew.
In my opinion, the finest combination of the night has to be our third course. Guests were treated to cutlets of axis venison atop a bed of white bean puree with bluefoot mushrooms, quince and cherry. This was paired with a pouring from the firkin made especially for the evening, #havenwildnight. The brew is a blend of young Oude Tart and Tart of Darkness with quince chutney and served on cask. The combination was a masterpiece of mouthwatering flavors. The venison was rare, extremely tender, and moist with no trace of fat or ligament. The soft red cutlets were complimented very well by the white beans and mushrooms, all providing a soft earthy flavor along with the savory meat. The cask ale served alongside had a very mellow mouth feel, and only an extremely slight sourness; it washed down the game meat beautifully.
Our last substantive dish was a wild blackberry tart served alongside wild sage ice cream with lemon verbena. The paired beer was Sour in the Rye with Kumquats. The two differing levels of tartness blended well together, with a dull and slightly sweet tartness from the blackberries playing well with the bold sourness of the beer. The dollop of ice cream did not have any strong scent of flavor of sage, but was tasty nonetheless. The crust crumbled at the touch of the spoon but the stickiness from the blackberries held it mostly together, allowing a good spoonful to be scooped when eaten. The beer’s sharp flavor lingered on the lips and tongue, finishing quite dry afterwards. Scents of citrus peel gave way to more acidic tropical fruit taste.
The evening was capped by a serving of Bruery’s famous Black Tuesday with dusted chocolate truffles served with a sugar coated jam. Black Tuesday is a classic for a reason, intensely rich, with heavy notes of chocolate, caramel, and bourbon, with a slight burn that ramps up as the brew warms a bit. The sweetness of the truffles and jam along with the bold and heavy flavors and aroma of Black Tuesday were a wonderful exclamation point at the end of a fantastic dinner.
Those in the area of Olde Towne Orange would do well to make a swing by The Haven Gastropub, as their menu and beverage selection is some of the finest Orange County has to offer, and their nearby Provisions Store is literally a short walk away. With fresh taps of eclectic brews and a bottle selection in the hundreds, it is worth visiting for any beer nerd.
An enormous thanks to Chef Greg Daniels for his time and insights, and thanks go out to our hosts at The Haven Collective and The Bruery. The ‘Wild Night’ pairing dinner was certainly a first for the Orange Gastropub, here’s to hoping it won’t be the last.
[All Photography credit goes to my good friend Jocelyn Lopez, as I was too damn excited to think about taking pictures during our dinner]