SALT | Sour Beer Dinner
We’ve been visiting Wes Johnson’s SALT since he opened it late last spring. We live within walking distance to this converted old mansion formerly the location of Savor restaurant. Given its close proximity to our home, focus on local ingredients, and fresh seasonal menu, we’ve had several dinners and brunch at Salt. Wes has been racking up the awards recently: RTF’s best new restaurant and winner of the Chef battle at Taste STL. We have generally enjoyed dining at Salt, and we’ve watched Wes grow and enhance the restaurant over the last 6 months. Robin found out via twitter (@enjoysalt) that Wes and co. were planning a beer and wild game dinner, featuring her favorite, sour beer, so we couldn’t pass it up.
On prior trips to Salt we’ve enjoyed several dishes, that are now basically permanent members of the menu. The “seared scallop” with mustard, cedar smoke, and herbs is one of our favorite dishes, comes served in a tiny mason jar, and traps the cedar smoky goodness inside…for us, one of the better seafood dishes we’ve had in St. Louis. Wes also prepares a fantastic lamb dish, well seasoned and cooked perfectly on the rare side with herbs and jelly. In addition, they make a now somewhat famous sorghum lacquered duck, and duck-fat fried chicken. The trend here is that Wes likes to use more non-traditional meat varieties…he takes a more creative, risky approach to his cooking than many of the other chefs in St. Louis. (This isn’t to say we don’t have adventurous chefs, just not as many as we should).
The beer portion of the sour beer dinner was largely organized and put together in a team fashion. Chris Shea (Morgan Street Brewery, Assistant Brew Master) and bar manager Matt Obermark worked with Wes Johnson to pair some rare sour beers with wild game dishes influenced by seasonal autumn flavors. The dinner took place deep in the old mansion’s wine cellar at a large communal table and was presented family style with generous platters for all of us to share.
The first course: braised rabbit with three varietals of beans and paired with Haandbryggeriet hesjeol ale (drammen, norway). The rabbit braise was heavily peppered, with a potent spicy kick while the butter beans added a nice crunchy texture. As many of you know, rabbit is difficult to prepare, given its propensity to dry out, but Wes and the team did a great job maintaining the moisture – infusing the meat with herbs yet retaining that hint of gamey flavor. The beer, translated as “Harvest Ale” in English, was sort of a combination of a sour and brown ale, and it presented just enough tartness to cut the rich braise sauce.
The second course (above-top right) was a soup dish presented in a mason jar paired with De Ranke Kriek (Dottenijs, Belgium). The soup contained a vegetable stock backbone, kale, sour cherries, and hunks of venison sausage. This beer was a true Belgian sour ale brewed with schaarbeekse krieken morello cherries, a rare variety localized to the Brussels region of Belgium. Having tried Rodenbach while in Belgium a few years ago, and this beer containing 30% of Rodenbach’s sour ale, we were both quite impressed and purchased a bottle for cellaring at the end of the night.
The third course was probably our favorite of the night (above-bottom left), for both the flavor qualities of the dish and the complexity of the beer. Wes made a huge portion of wild boar breaded with 3 types of flour, including cornmeal and acorn and drizzled with apple butter made from empire apples from Mills Farm across the river in Illinois, served with cabbage kraut and roasted black melon seeds. The sour beer was a “Biere trois dames grand dame oud bruin”…or just Oud Bruin for short. A richly complex beer with hints of leather, and smoke, yet with a long and an incredibly intense sour-bitterlike bite at the finish. Having only shipped less than 24 bottles to Missouri, 6 of which were at this dinner, we were lucky to have experienced a taste, and to take a few bottles home with us for the cellar. This beer is easily one of the most fascinating beers Robin or I have had in recent memory and with the apple butter’s sweetness and rich rustic boar, we felt we could just end our meal at this point, full and content…
We were next served a nice cheese course with pickled black walnuts, whipped local goat cheese, and one of our favorite cheeses-humboldt fog. This was paired with the “Anchorage Brewing Love Buzz, a lighter bodied American sour. We were also treated to a surprise beer tasting from a newer local craft brewery- Perennial Artisan Ale’s (brewmasters Phil Wymore and Cory King in presence at the dinner) of their Strawberry-Rhubarb blonde ale. Not a sour ale in the pure sense, but a refreshingly crisp, yet sharply tart and balanced ale. We haven’t been to their tasting room yet-but after this brief taste we are certain to visit.
For dessert, Wes’s excellent pastry chef created a crispy, sticky plum pudding topped with warm pickled plum syrup (above-bottom right), and Chris paired it with the Jolly Pumpkin Artisan ale-La Roja. La Roja is one of the better american sours-easier to find, and fits the “intensely sour” bill well. It brings a rush of puckering fresh berry and bitter grassiness to the tongue.
Wes told us he’s planning several other dinner events, including a movie night, where each course is representative of a famous dish from Hollywood films. He also promised all of us that more beer dinners were on the way…
4356 Lindell Blvd
St Louis, MO 63108