The Beertender Can't Get Enough of That Wonderful Duff's Beer Dinner

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As if the holiday itself wasn't great enough, this year's Twelve Days of Halloween included some pretty fantastic beer moments. Celebrating the long-awaited opening of Foam on Cherokee Street. Sharing a friend's homebrew made with hops he grew himself. Pouring my own beer during a Mike Sweeney-led brewhouse tour at the Schlafly Tap Room. Dressing up as Fidel Castro and knocking back a few Tecates with my buddy Che.

The pinnacle of the week had to be to the autumn beer dinner at Duff's Restaurant. For nine years, Duff's has collaborated with New Belgium Brewing Co. to create a fantastic fall feast. This year -- my third in attendance -- chef Jim Voss chose to pair his hearty, locally sourced creations with selections from New Belgium's Lips of Faith series, and the results were, shall we say, freakin' exquisite.

click to enlarge The New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado - M. Doxtad, Wikimedia Commons
The New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado
The five beers chosen from the series were La Folie, Biere de Mars, Le Fleur Misseur, Fall Wild Ale and Transatlantique Kriek. These beers are indeed leaps of faith, for the brewers as well as drinkers, because they are examples of the Belgian-inspired creative abandon many American brewers employ today. Strange yeasts, unconventional spices, completely unexpected flavors: This is the cutting edge of brewing.

Opening with the sourness of the Flanders Red-style La Folie was brave. Several in attendance were unsure but eventually expressed surprise at how much they enjoyed their first sour beer. Voss wisely decided to pair the beer with flavors that stood up to it and matched its intensity, as opposed to trying to cut or balance the strong sourness. Smoked trout on pumpernickel and goat cheese crostini worked beautifully.

Biere de Mars is an ale brewed with lemon verbena and Brettanomyces yeast. I certainly expected some funky flavors but the aroma said "plastic diapers" to me. Maybe I was just feeling guilty for enjoying a rare kid-free night with my lovely wife. Anyway, the paired pork belly and warm cabbage salad with smoky blue cheese was absolute heaven. Real last-meal kinda stuff.

The third course paired a delicate seafood stew with a nice appley, peppery golden ale whose name recalls a sweet moment during New Belgium founder Jeff Lebesch's first bike ride through Belgium. "A flower, sir?" Also recalled is Lebesch's misspelling of the quote in his journal. Gotta love this brewery.

Next up, a Wild Ale, a loosely-defined style that appeared in the U.S. a few years ago. Simply, wild ales are fermented using naturally-occurring yeasts, little bugs that most brewers struggle to keep out of their beer. Many classic Belgian brewers enjoy this ancient way of brewing, though, so it's unsurprising that we'd see some examples of it in America sooner or later. The Fall Wild Ale has a gang of flavors going on, from cloves and molasses to bright sweet fruits and barnyard funk. It was paired with cranberry duck and sweet potato puree, the whole cranberries providing a bracingly tart pop with each forkful.

The meal ended with a bright red cherry ale, made by blending cherry lambic from Belgium with a strong golden lager from New Belgium. Light-bodied and crisp, it was a sweet little partner to an excellent dessert of chocolate truffle ice cream on a white chocolate waffle (!) topped with cherry sabayon.

Jim Voss shines at his beer dinners. He knows his stuff, isn't afraid to experiment but believes in the classics, too. He also knows how to give you just enough food and beer to leave you completely satisfied, instead of deep in a food coma or wishing you'd reserved a designated driver. Can't wait for next year -- the tenth annual promises to be unforgettable.

Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer every Wednesday.
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