In May, my wife and I were in Gulf Shores Alabama for vacation and we stumbled upon Ginny Lane Restaurant at the Wharf in Orange Beach. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough if you find yourself on the Alabama Gulf Coast. It just happened that while we were there they were hosting a beer dinner with Sweetwater Brewing out of Atlanta, GA.
The dinner featured 5 courses, each paired with a different Sweetwater Beer. We didn’t have plans on this particular night, so we made reservations. We discovered that the Beer Dinner was limited to the first 40 people who made a reservation, so we were lucky that we discovered this when we did.
In my opinion, a good beer dinner does not emphasize either the food or the beer, but rather focuses ont he pairing itself. Ginny Lane and Sweetwater did this flawlessly. As an added bonus, the Sweetwater Brewery Reps were on hand to explain the beers and the pairings as well as answer questions and give away free Sweetwater merchandise. Overall, this meal and experience was amazing, let me walk you through the pairings. I should also note that when we arrived we were given a “welcome” beer which brings the total of beers to 6 for the dinner.
Welcome beer: Sweetwater Roadtrip. This was a great way to start the evening. The Road Trip is a light German style Plisner. It is a very light bodied beer with very little noticeable hop bitterness. This is a great beer for a warm Alabama evening.
Food: Boston Bibb Lettuce Salad with Tangelo Segments, Candied Pecans, Bleu Cheese, Balsamic Glaze and Lemon Vinaigrette. This was a great starter course and a wonderful summer salad for a warm evening. The sweetness from the tangelos and candied pecans played nicely against the bitterness of the bleu cheese.
Beer: Sweetwater Blue. Blue is Sweetwater’s effort at a fruit beer. I have found in the past that blueberry is a difficult flavoring for beer, it is hard to get it right and there are quite a few bad ones out there. Sweetwater nailed it though. The blueberry is more of an essence. The beer has great blueberry aroma, but not an overpowering blueberry flavor. It is a very refreshing beer and a great way to start a beer dinner. This beer is a great entry point to craft beer for someone who tends to drink beers like Bud Light and the like because it is very mild with a very pleasant flavor. The light fruit aroma lended itself perfectly to the salad it was paired with.
Food: Grilled Royal Reds with Spring Vegetable Risotto and Lemon Tomato Salsa. Royal Reds are a large species of shrimp sourced locally from the Gulf of Mexico. They have a slight sweetness, and an amazing flavor. This dish was a perfect coastal treat for an appetizer. The risotto added a richness that made this dish decadent.
Beer: Sweetwater Sch’Wheat American Wheat. This beer is more or less a traditional American Wheat Ale. This beer is fairly new to Sweetwater’s year round lineup and I would call it a welcome addition. Again this beer would be a great entry point beer and events like this beer dinner are great for getting people to try craft beer. The best word I have for this beer is “drinkable,” in other words, I could very easily enjoy a few of these on a hot day without much effort. This is not a Bavarian Hefeweizen and it does not try to be, it is very proud to be an American Wheat. This was paired perfectly with the Royal Red appetizer.
Food: Sauteed Scallops with Mashed Potatoes, Haricot Verts, Fried Capers and Brown Butter Vinaigrette. Are you noticing a seafood theme? I hope so, we are on the Gulf Coast after all. The Scallops were large and cooked perfectly. They were served over the mashed potatoes, which were very light and fluffy. The brown butter vinaigrette was poured over the dish. Wow is all I can say, the flavors and textures in this dish were explosive and played so well off of each other.
Beer: Sweetwater IPA. Sweetwater was founded in Atlanta Georgia basically because its founders looked at a map and decided there were no craft breweries in that area of the country. Because of this, they have been on the front lines of the craft beer revolution and have been working hard to introduce people to craft beer. Because of this, I believe they made a calculated decision to make their IPA a little milder than most, so as not to turn off people who have never had craft beer. This is probably a great business decision and it clocks in at about 55 IBU’s I believe. Personally, I enjoy hoppy IPA’s, so the Sweetwater IPA was very mild for my palate, however, it is still a very good beer with a good flavor profile. It’s mildness would lend itself to being an everyday beer. The slight hop bitterness did go very well with the sweetness of the scallops, this pairing was another great match.
Food: Pan Seared Trigger Fish with Curry Cous Cous, Spring Onions, Sugar Snap Peas, Cucumber, Tomato and Tahini Aioli. This dish follows the seafood theme of the previous two dishes and had a distinct Mediterranean feel to it. The Trigger Fish was cooked perfectly and the cucumber and tomato really made this dish feel very light. Wisely a more full bodied beer was paired with this dish to help balance it.
Beer: Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale. This is Sweetwater’s flagship beer. I am a little confused as to why this beer was not presented before the IPA, but I think the food pairings worked very well, so it is hard to complain. This is one of the best Pale Ale’s I have had. Pale Ale’s to me are very blah as a style of beer. I rarely seek them out and I rarely order one unless I have no other choice. For years in my hometown of St. Louis, Schlafly Pale Ale, a local beer was the only alternative to Bud, Miller and Coors at many bars and I would order it for that reason. 420 walks the line between Pale Ale and IPA, it gives you more than a typical Pale Ale in both flavor and hoppiness. I believe personally that this is the gold standard for Pale Ales.
Food: Classic Tiramisu (Lady Fingers, Cocoa Powder, Espresso and Marscapon Cream). This dessert, by itself was very good, but did not really wow me. It was a great rendition of Tiramisu to be sure, but it was not spectacular. What made it spectacular was the beer pairing. This was by far the best actual pairing of the meal. I beleive this dish was served to introduce flavor, but to let the beer shine and that is exactly what it did.
Beer: Sweetwater Mean Joe Bean. Mean Joe Bean is part of the Sweetwater Dank tank Series, which is a special line of beers that are brewed quarterly by Sweetwater. So these beers come out 4 times a year and they are always different, meaning the same style will most likely never be repeated. It is a chance for the brewers to show off and do something crazy. It is an imperial porter brewed with Nicaraguan coffee beans from Java Vino in Atlanta. We were extremely luck that they held back a keg of this for this particular beer dinner because this beer was amazing. I love big beers, I love stouts and porters and I especially love coffee stouts and porters, so this was right in my wheelhouse. The beer itself was what I would call a robust porter with big bold flavors, but the coffee essence and flavor really put it over the top. It is a shame that I will most likely never be able to drink this beer again because it was unbelievable. It was a home run on every level and a perfect accompaniment to dessert.
Well Done Sweetwater and Ginny Lane, thank you for an amazing experience!