I was recently invited to attend a beer dinner hosted by the Wine Vault & Bistro, and Stone Brewing Company. What is a “beer dinner” you ask? A beer dinner is a fun-filled evening of great food paired with great beer paired with great education and conversation. Having been to a few of these events previously, I was delighted to accept.
The Wine Vault & Bistro is a place that takes pride in culinary expression and dining atmosphere. As you ascend the steps to the Wine Vault’s loft location, you get the sense that you are being transported away from San Diego and delivered to a picturesque Mediterranean bistro. The decor is clean and simple with shades of white and open space dominating the design. The commotion of the street below is left behind and relaxation envelopes you as you sip on a glass of wine and look out over San Diego Bay before dinner.
As I cozy up to the bar to order a beverage, I can’t help but notice the fine selection of Stone beers on tap. As I am at a Stone Beer Dinner this is to be expected, however, I am delighted to see some of San Diego’s finest craft brews right next to some excellent wines. I decide on a Stone Pale Ale to start my night. The beer is served to me at perfect cellar temperature, with a finger of head, in a wine goblet. Impressive start to the evening!
My wife and I take our seats for dinner at our table for eight. Everyone in the dining room is sitting with couples and groups outside of their circle of friends. With the anticipation of dinner looming, we all become quick friends. The conversation is light and interesting, and everyone is enjoying the company.
The service begins with a course of grilled local spot prawn, served in garlic butter and parsley, with blistered shishito peppers. The prawn is the size of a roll of quarters and the garlic butter fills the air. We are given Stone’s Levitation Ale as a pairing. Levitation is an amber ale with rich malt flavors, balanced by a big hoppy character and citrus overtones. The prawn is light and savory at the same time, and the peppers add a dimension of bitterness and color to the dish. Levitation enhances the sweetness of the prawn and the bitterness of the peppers in a balanced pairing.
Our second course consists of pan-roasted salmon over braised leeks and lentils. Stone Pale Ale is paired here. The salmon is light, flaky, and perfectly cooked with a beautiful crisping of the outer skin. The leeks and lentils are lightly salted and add a nice starch component to the dish. The savory flavors of the oily salmon and seasoned lentils go nicely with the robust and full flavored pale ale. A distinctive hop spiciness allows the beer to compliment and cut through some of the heavier flavors.
As the conversation and laughter grow louder, we are presented with a cheddar and smoked porter soup with bacon lardons. This soup is made with Stone Smoked Porter and is paired with it as well. The soup is a deep golden-brown color, from the yellow cheddar and the deep mahogany color of the porter. The aroma of earthy produce and heavy cheese welcomes me on my first taste. The soup is light, with a deep flavor of smoked peat. The cheese subtly adds a component of richness to counter the earthy overtones. Stone Smoked Porter is the perfect pairing as it compliments itself well!
Next on the menu we had a lamb shepherd’s pie served with Stone “Sublimely Self Righteous” Ale. This beer is a treat for any “hop head” as it is a black double IPA boasting 90 IBU’s (International Bitterness Units) and a healthy 8.7% alcohol. Couple that with the fact that this beer is hard to come by, as it was first brewed for Stone’s 11th Anniversary. This beer was the center of this course for me. The intense hop flavors melded with the floral and citrus aromas make for a wonderful tasting experience. Add in a smooth roasted maltiness and you are hooked. The shepherd’s pie was a nice pairing as the heavy starch of the mashed potatoes and the concentrated flavors in the lamb meat provided comparable flavor intensity.
I remember as I eat that this is the second in a series of three dinners run by the Wine Vault and Stone Brewing, the first of which was held on St. Patrick’s Day. I am quickly reminded again of this fact, as our next course is a beautiful piece of corned beef and cabbage with German potatoes, baby carrots, and whole grain mustard. The meat was braised in an undisclosed sauce tasting lightly of mustard and honey? The chefs held this recipe close and refused all requests for it. Regardless, the corned beef was tender and beautifully flavored. The cabbage and potatoes added the authentic components to this dish, but the star was the beef! Stone brought their Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale to pair. Deep red in color, this beer has a sweet aroma that is enhanced by the added vanilla from the oak. The slight sweetness of the corned beef and the beer was a hit at our table, and the hoppiness and well-balanced mouthfeel easily stood up to the big flavors on the plate.
As the sixth and final course, we were presented with a slice of 5-Year-Aged Gouda paired with Stone Ruination Ale. Saving the biggest flavors for last. The Gouda is served with a spot of honey to compliment the bold fattiness and bitter flavor of the cheese. Ruination paired well as it is one of the bitterest beers Stone makes. At over 100 IBU’s, the intensity of this beer easily cut through the strong Gouda, with its complex aged flavors.
By the end of the meal I took a scan of the dining room and there was not a soul who was not enjoying themselves. The chatter was deafening and the smiles were abundant. The scene was a perfect example of how properly pairing food and drink can turn a meal into a meal to remember! I took the time to thank the servers, and our hosts from the Wine Vault and Stone Brewing for a wonderful evening. If you have never been to a beer dinner, you should take the time and experience one for yourself. You won’t be disappointed! Cheers!
Wine Vault & Bistro is located at 3731-A India St, San Diego, CA 92103