I recently had one of the most amazing beer experiences of my life.
No I’m not talking about the beer — which was amazing. Or the food — which was also outstanding.
I’m referring to the opportunity to meet both Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, and Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada. And let me just say one thing, these dudes are rockstars.
Prior to the Life & Limb dinner, I had the opportunity to meet Sam at the Great American Beer Festival. Naturally, as with all beer festivals, Sam was too busy to chat. BUT, he was gracious enough to take the time to say hello and snap some photos with me.
Although I had met Sam before the Life & Limb dinner, it did not prevent me from being wickedly nervous prior to our interview. Many of my friends can attest to my jitters in the weeks leading up to the dinner. But oddly enough, the moment Sam arrived at the restaurant, all of my nerves were put at ease. Sam was extremely congenial and from the moment we shook hands hello to the moment we shook hands goodbye, I felt right at ease.
And then of course, there was Ken Grossman — another major “celebrity” in the beer world. As soon as he arrived, Sam introduced us and we shook hands. Ken was extremely approachable and I had a blast talking to him before, during and after the dinner. Ken is definitely a man who truly loves life. There was not one moment in which he wasn’t smiling. No joke. This guy did not stop smiling.
Well as much as I’d love to gush on and on about meeting these two spectacular men, this article is not about me swooning over two of the greatest brewers in the country. Sigh. Shall we talk about the beer?
For it’s first ever collaboration, Sierra Nevada chose to team up with Dogfish Head to develop wo collaborative beers: Limb & Life (a draft-only beer) and Life & Limb (available in 24oz bottles and limited draft). Mutual respect, admiration, and none-too-few shared glasses of beer led to the collaborative idea.
THE BACKGROUND: The beers-Life & Limb, and Limb & Life-are dedicated to the family of beer drinkers and enthusiasts worldwide who continue to support the little guys, iconoclasts, entrepreneurs, and pioneers who risk life and limb to shape the vibrant craft-brewing community. Over the years, the two brewers-Ken Grossman and Sam Calagione-have become friends in the industry. They quickly realized how many similarities they share. Grossman’s history as a craft-brewing pioneer and his radical approach to brewing are echoed some fifteen years later by Calagione-through his boundary-pushing innovation and tireless promotion for the cause of craft beer.
Both men started out as home brewers obsessed with beer-making. Both share deep values of sustainability and responsibility. Both share the desire to pass their breweries on to the next generation, and both started out small-from humble beginnings-and built vibrant, creative, beer-centered and fiercely independent breweries, despite the long odds.
Below is a great video of Sam Calagione describing the story behind the Life & Limb collaboration, filmed by Draft Magazine.
Shall we move on to the actual event? Good plan …
The evening started out with Ken & Sam tapping the inaugural kegs. Hearing the kegs tapped was music to my ears. Although both kegs were tapped at the same time, the Life & Limb was reserved for dessert and we were all served the Limb & Life first. (BUT! I was one of the honored few to sip from the Holy Grail — aka Sam let me try some of his Life & Limb from his glass)
FIRST PAIRING: Passed Hors D’Oeuvres w/ Limb & Life
Unfortunately, I have no picture to insert because I was too busy mingling, drinking beer & noshing on the apps. However, let us discuss the pairing …
THE FOOD =
THE BEER = LIMB & LIFE
Limb & Life is a companion to the big beer-an acorn off the larger tree. It is a 5% ABV small beer-a low-gravity beer made using the residual sugar as “second runnings” from the first larger brew, fortified with American hops. This is a session beer. Its big brother is a sipper. Limb & Life will be a limited draft-only product, a prelude to the bigger beer.
The Wench’s opinion? PLEASE SIR … can I have some more? (And trust me … I did)
Life & Limb TASTING NOTES
- APPEARANCE: Fairly clear, brown. Great head. Lots of carbonation.
- AROMA: Hops dominate the aroma, yet there is a subtle hint of the maple syrup, rich roasted malts & wood (which I know now to be “birch”)
- TASTE: Wow. I mean wow. This beer is too easy — way too easy. The malt is perfect — slightly malt notes with hints of maple. Hops are definitely the key player in this beer — yet, they are not overwhelming.
- MOUTHFEEL: Light-to-moderate in body. Very smooth. Carbonation is perfect.
- OVERALL: This is one of the best session beers I’ve ever tasted. Why? Because it has a great balance. There is a significant malt and sugar presence, yet the hops take center stage — without being too dominate.
THE SECOND PAIRING
THE FOOD = Seared Ahi Tuna, Hearts of Palm, Jicama Salsa, Citrus Vinagraitte
THE BEERS =
- Sierra Nevada Kellerweis: Kellerweis is one of the only American Hefeweizens made using the traditional Bavarian style of open fermentation. This difficult and labor-intensive technique adds uncommon depth and flavor complexity. This hazy-golden hefeweizen is deeply flavorful, refreshing and perfect for a sunny day.
- Dogfish Head Festina Peche: A refreshing neo-BerlinerWeisse fermented with honest-to-goodness peaches to (get this!) 4.5% abv! Below is a video of Sam talking about Festina Peche…
THE VERDICT = The Ahi tuna was rubbed with some sort of red pepper, chile, black pepper spice blend. The Ahi tuna was super fresh (bright magenta/purple) was perfectly cooked (just barely seared). The hearts of palm and jicama salad with citrus vinaigrette was a perfect accompaniment with the spice from the tuna. Although both beers were entirely different from each other, each added a different depth to the dish. My favorite pairing, however, was the DFH Festina Peche. I thought that the acidity in the Festina Peche helped to cut the spice on the tuna and complimented the citrus vinaigrette very well.
THE FOOD = Crispy Skin Five-Spiced Poussin, Snap Peas, White Corn Pilaf, Sweet & Sour Sauce
THE BEERS =
- Dogfish Head Midas Touch: This recipe is the actual oldest-known fermented beverage in the world! It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas. Somewhere between wine & mead; this smooth, sweet, yet dry ale will please the Chardonnay of beer drinker alike.
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, is a delightful interpretation of a classic style. It has a deep amber color and an exceptionally full-bodied, complex character. Generous quantities of premium Cascade hops give the Pale Ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor.
THE VERDICT = The Poussin was cooked extremely well — the skin was delightfully crispy while the meat remained extremely juicy and fell right off the bone. The white corn pilaf was rather plain and I did not care much for it. I really did enjoy the chemistry between the 5 spice blend on the Poussin and the sweet & sour sauce. As for the beers, they happen to be two of my all-time favorie beers. Although Midas Touch is one of my “epiphany” beers and one of my all-time favorite DFH beers, the Sierra Nevada pale ale made a better pairing for this dish. The clean, crisp refreshing hops helped to cut the spice and syrupy sweetness of the dish.
THE FOURTH PAIRING
THE FOOD = Wokked Tourenedos of Beef Tenderloin, Sweet Onions & Peppery Cress
THE BEERS =
- Sierra Nevada Celebration: The long, cold nights of winter are a little brighter with Celebration® Ale. Wonderfully robust and rich, Celebration® Ale is dry-hopped for a lively, intense aroma. Brewed especially for the holidays, it is perfect for a festive gathering or for a quiet evening at home.
- Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron: An unfiltered, unfettered, unprecedented brown ale aged in handmade wooden brewing vessels. The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this beer comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. Palo Santo means “holy tree” and it’s wood has been used in South American wine-making communities.
THE VERDICT = The beef tenderloin was cooked very well. It was juicy and the spice blend in the sauce was a great combination of heat and sweetness. It was interesting to see two very different beers being paired with this dish. Prior to being served, I had already made up my mind that Palo Santo Marron would make the better pairing with the meat. But oddly enough, I actually preferred the Celebration Ale with the dish.
THE DESSERT PAIRING
THE FOOD =
- Valrhona Dark Chocolate Semifreddo
- Flourless Cocunt Run Cake
THE BEER = LIFE & LIMB
Life & Limb is a 10% ABV strong beer that defies style characteristics-brewed with pure maple syrup from the Calagione family farm in Massachusetts and estate barley grown on the Grossman “farm” at the brewery in Chico. The beer is alive with yeast-a blend of both breweries’ house strains-bottle conditioned for added complexity and shelf life, and naturally carbonated with birch syrup fresh from Alaska; it is the first beer we know of ever to use birch syrup in the brew. If stored under good conditions, this rich, full-bodied beer should age well for years.
VERDICT= I was honored enough to get a sip of the Life & Limb right after it was tapped. Despite its rather hefty ABV, Life & Limb was extremely smooth and very well balanced. Oak, maple and malts definitely dominated the aroma and taste of the beer. Finish was pleasantly dry. This was BY FAR the best pairing all night. The dark chocolate semifreddo was so rich and amazing and the beer complimented it perfectly.
Overall, I had an amazing time at the beer dinner. Big thanks to both Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada for putting together the event. Also, big props to both breweries for collaborating on two spectacular beers!