In case you hadn't heard, both the Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch restaurant / brewery chains have been acquired by some large investment group and smashed together under the umbrella of CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries Inc. We don't have the Gordon Biersch chain in Indianapolis, but the concept isn't quite the same as Rock Bottom. Their brewers all brew common German-inspired recipes, while Rock Bottom was known for unique recipes at each location. Unfortunately, the new owners see more value in creating a common experience across the beers and have chosen 4 Rock Bottom recipes to become standards across the brand.
If you've been to the downtown Rock Bottom, you've probably noticed that the Light, Wheat, Red, Pale, Brown and Stout are always on tap (although the Wheat and Stout rotate styles). These 6 mainstays are replaced by a Kölsch, Belgian Wit, IPA and Red Ale. That's not to say the remaining taps (I believe they have a total of 10 taps plus a hand pull) will go unused, they will still be populated with the rotating local recipes we're all familiar with, such as the BrewBracket-winning Hop Bomb. This session of the Brewer's Dinner featured all 4 new recipes paired with a variety of summer-inspired dishes. Here's my take.
First Course: Wasabi Bacon Scallops paired with IPA
Why It Worked: The new IPA is very forward with its grapefruit presence, dominating both the aroma and the flavor of the beer. The body is slightly creamy with nice dryness that makes it a very sessionable IPA. Personally, I preferred the heaviness of the Sugar Creek Pale, but I think this new IPA will sell well and likely clocks a bit higher on the IBU scale. An IPA heavily dosed with fruity hops tends to pair well with shellfish (think of the common coupling of seafood and lemon juice). The lighter body on this IPA helps keep it from dominating the lighter flavor of the scallops, something higher on the alcohol or gravity end of things could possibly dominate the scallops. The bitterness of the IPA certainly aided in cutting through the creamy tartar sauce and the fat of the bacon. I did wish more wasabi was tucked under the bacon, but overall this course was very enjoyable and a classic pairing.
Second Course: Chilled Cucumber Soup paired with Kölsch
Why It Worked: The Kölsch is a bit on the American side of the style. I always have a hard time not coming off as an asshole about this, but after having the great experience of enjoying Kölsch in Köln, I've become all to aware of the difference between an authentic Kölsch and an American rendition of one. The American version is always slightly stronger in body (emphasis on slightly, it's still a lighter beer) and brings out much more sweet white wine character from the yeast. That said, this recipe is sweeter than its German heritage, but certainly doesn't take it out of balance. My favorite part of this course was discovering what an amazing pairing cucumber and Kölsch is. This was certainly a new experience for me but one I will definitely revisit. The soup was creamy, yet light, and would have worked great with either the Kölsch or a Pils.
Third Course: Ribeye with Kennebec Steak Fries paired with Red Ale
Why It Worked: Red Ale is a fairly common pairing with steak, similar to red wine and steak. The new Red Ale is a tad less hoppy than the previous Raccoon Red and perhaps a bit maltier. If the previous recipe was a take on an ESB, this is closer to an Irish Red. The steak itself was boldly seasoned and cooked well (and by well I mean medium rare). The sweet and spicy mix of the rub was an additional compliment to the malty sweet Red Ale and the fries certainly trumped the fries on the regular Rock Bottom menu. Note to Rock Bottom - consider putting this recipe on the menu for a side to your burgers.
Fourth Course: Gelatin Dessert paired with White Ale
Why It Worked: The White Ale aroma is very up front with its banana presence and is followed up by an expected citrus compliment. Perhaps borrowing from both the Hefeweizen and Belgian Wit categories, its flavor profile is filled out with bananas, oranges, cloves and lemon. The clean and fruity gelatin amplified the sweetness of the beer and emphasized its fruit notes. The fruit flavors of the different gelatin layers all paired well with the banana and citrus flavors of the beer.
Pairing Lessons: Maybe not so much a lesson as my general impressions of the new beers. The move toward a consistent recipe base is certainly a step backward for the Rock Bottom brand, but if I'm going to be a glass-is-half-full kind of guy I would say that the new styles offer a good diversity and refrain from the pitfall of being too close in style or flavor to matter. Going with a Kölsch over a Light is a bold move and I'm curious how it plays out in the long term. The styles do represent light, hoppy, malty and fruity and with the extra taps free I'm curious to see what new beers start showing up. I hope the Brickway Brown stays on, in all its chocolatey porter goodness. The key pairing takeaways focused on the relationship between citrus hops and shellfish, but only when done with a sessionable IPA. A 9% monster is going to be way too sweet for the meat. Cucumber and Kölsch were my revelation of the dinner and left me very excited. The gelatin pairing was also a new experience for me, and while it wasn't quite as shocking, I do think it has a lot of potential when pairing with other beers that lend themselves well to fruit.