If you’re a beer geek who’s lived a virtuous life, you can only hope your heaven is something like SAVOR, the beer and food pairing event put on by the Brewers Association this past weekend in New York City. It was truly a brewhound’s paradise.
This annual soiree is a fancy affair, designed to celebrate the elegance and artistry of finely crafted beers by coupling them with gourmet foods that bring out the best in their flavors. While upscale (and at $170 per ticket, expensive), SAVOR is anything but snobby - the brewers themselves are fun and down to earth people, making it impossible for the proceedings to be stiff or uptight.
There were over 150 beers on hand, and each was paired with a scrumptious morsel of food, like a duck rillete with peach hoisin on black brioche bread, or a crispy pork belly in kimchee rice balls with green garlic aioli. There were also stations overflowing with artisanal cheeses, organic chocolates, and raw oysters.
These gourmet bites were delightful, but I soon found my beer-geek self forgetting about the food and focusing on the beer, as many were extremely rare, or in some cases, only available at the event.
“We did our first SAVOR event a few years back, and we decided to bring a couple of our best-selling beers,” said Laura Bell, marketing director for Bell’s Brewery. “We took a look around and saw the rare beers that others had brought, and we knew we had to step up our game in the future.”
Related story: 5 reasons why SAVOR is the best beer event in America
Bell’s did just that this year, bringing their tart and dry Raspberry Wild One, a whirlwind of sweet raspberries, puckering sourness and oaky funk, and Black Note, a silky imperial stout they should rename “velvet fudge” for its chocolaty smoothness.
Some other standouts included Left Hand Brewing Co’s Good Juju, a 4.5 percent ABV ale with a lovely snap of ginger on the back of the flavor that made it unnaturally satisfying for a low ABV brew. It’s not a rare beer, but it’s rare that a beer this low in alcohol tickles my fancy.
Denver Beer Co’s 5.6 percent ABV Graham Cracker Porter was a roasty treat, with notes of vanilla and smoke and graham crackers that just begged for a little bite of chocolate, which happily could be found just a few steps away, courtesy of Green & Black’s Organic Chocolates.
Heavy Seas’ Holy Sheet made quite an impression as well, with its big tastes of dark fruit, caramel and brown sugar set off by a boozy undercurrent of brandy, compliments of the barrels in which this 9 percent strong ale was aged. It was paired with roasted duck and balsamic peach with toasted pumpkin seeds, and I can attest that duck, peaches, caramel and brandy are like the Beatles of food (Ringo is the brandy).
Other fun brews included Cigar City’s Cucumber Saison, a fragrant and grassy summertime treat, and Willoughby Brewing Co’s Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter, which featured big hits of peanut butter and coffee, both of which were sent into the stratosphere when paired with a butterscotch brownie topped with crushed pretzels.
But for me, the big winner of the night was New Holland Brewing Company, thanks to the wizardry of their wood master Tim Faith, whose work was put on full display during one of the evening’s educational salons.
His Smaug’s Breath, a variation of the brewery’s Dragon’s Milk stout aged with toasted chile de arbol, showed just how succulent a spiced-up stout can be (not an easy feat). It was paired with a coconut Gianduja chocolate made with fresh ginger ganache, and the Smaug’s Breath simply set the ginger in the candy on fire in the most delicious way imaginable.
Then there was New Holland’s Night Tripper Reserve, a variation of their imperial stout that has spent time in Bourbon, rum and whiskey barrels. I’m a guy who loves big boozy beers, and this 10.8 percent revelation of flavor delivered like few others I have tasted.
After its New York fling, SAVOR is returning to its regular Washington D.C. home next year, and if you’re a beer geek who’s looking for a little taste of heaven, I recommend you don’t miss it.