Utah Craft Beer Dinner at Finca

Dead soldiers from the 2nd Annual Utah Craft Beer Dinner

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock while trapped in a sea chest and thrown to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, you know that Utah beer makers are kickin’ some serious ass, and throwin’ down some wicked clever names at national and international brewer’s competitions.  Recently, 60 lucky folks attended the 2nd annual Utah Craft Beer Dinner, slurping up some award-winning suds alongside a table of impressively mustachioed brew masters representing four of Utah’s top breweries: Wasatch Beers, Red Rock Brewery, Uinta Brewing, and Epic Brewing.  All hosted at the ever-lovely and luscious Finca restaurant.  I was lucky enough to sit with my buddy IPA (aka Hoss on Hops), who actually knows A LOT about beer.  Hoss wrote a terrific blog review of all of the beers at the dinner, and you can read all about what a real beer aficionado thinks over there.  I thought they were all super tasty, and wonderful with the pairing menu. Yup, that just tapped out my beer knowledge (badap-bap-pssshhh).Oysters with a coriander and citrus vinaigrette

Finca (and Pago) owner Scott Evans, along with executive chef Phelix Gardner pulled out the big guns for this celebration of all things hops and yeast.  Oysters on the half shell with a playful coriander mignonette, grilled citrus salad, a rich Verduras y Castillas—that would be fall veggies in sherry cream with house-smoked bacon and pull-apart-with-butterfly-wings-succulent braised short ribs.  Duck confit Empanadas were delicious with Uinta’s Sea Legs Smoked Porter, my vote for sexiest label.  (I don’t know if they have that category at the Brewers competition, but they should).

Uinta Sea Legs Baltic Porter, fondled by my spectalulary tatooed buddy, Ramos Gin Fizz

Uinta Sea Legs Baltic Porter, fondled by my spectacularly tatooed buddy, Ramos Gin Fizz

We’d heard rumors that Finca’s massive paella pan would be pulled out for the event and weren’t disappointed.  How big is it?  Well, let’s just say we are tempted to sneak into Finca and pull it off the wall some snowy morning so we can take our whole family sledding on it, dogs included.  Or, put to it’s intended use (feckingkilljoys)  you make one bangin’ maldito Paella with house-smoked chicken, roasted local-foraged mushrooms and black garlic for six dozen of your closest friends.

Paella for 70

Paella for 70

Confirming that these guys take their final salvos seriously, Epic Brewing rounded out the meal with Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout, a respectably shitface inducing 10.5% alcohol beer brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans and aged in High West Distillery barrels.  It’s terrific on its own, but paired with Finca’s delicate churros snuggled alongside a chocolate-stout beer dipping sauce it put us over the top.  Happily so.  I’ll be sending The Macallan with my beer shopping list to Epic’s Brewery Cold Case (at 825 South State Street – OPEN Sundays!) to go with all those holiday cookies I’ve told myself I wouldn’t eat this year.

Field Trip: Finca’s High West Distillery Whiskey pairing dinner

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Finca’s cheese & charcuterie plate, paired with High West Prairie Punch

Last night Salt Lake City experienced a small but powerful bit of wonder that I couldn’t have envisioned ten– maybe even five– years ago:  60+ guests gleefully paid for the opportunity to sample Utah-made whiskeys paired with a delightful small-plates tasting menu.

At a neighborhood restaurant.

On a Wednesday night.

With just a couple of weeks of social-media savvy forward lead time.

BOOM.

After bookings for the originally-conceived 18 seat tasting filled within hours of the High West Distillery pairing dinner announcement, Finca owner Scott Evans realized he could easily fill his joint for an exclusive event.  The draw?  Oh, let’s just look at the line-up, shall we?  The talented palate and vision of Pago-founder Scott Evans.  Finca’s locally-sourced Spanish-inspired tapas created by executive chef Phelix Gardner.  Four varieties of High West Distillery booze, presented by the distillery’s passionate proprietor, David Perkins.   And mixing it all together, the man behind Finca’s bar, Scott Gardner.  Who also just happens to be named Salt Lake Magazine’s “Best Mixologist” for 2013.  Done, and done, my friends.  [Don’t worry – if you didn’t get in to this dinner, more food/beverage pairing menus are planned through the next few months, including a Spanish wine tasting menu for March].

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Locally-sourced mushroom Spanish-style flatbread, paired with High West Campfire whiskey. Sorry, the potatoes were all gone before I could take a photo.

The folks from High West brought four whiskeys to the dinner:  their American Prairie Reserve Bourbon, Son of Bourye (a bourbon-rye blend), Campfire Whiskey (a rye-bourbon-scotch – yes, I know, SCOTCH) blend, and the award-winning Rendezvous Rye.  Scott Gardener introduced guests to the Prairie Reserve in the form of an old-fashioned whiskey punch (recipe, below), which the chef paired with a cheese and charcuterie plate.  The remaining whiskeys were all served neat in scant 1 oz. pours, with plates intended to complement the layered flavors of whiskey –sweet, savory, mellow, smoky – in the form of roasted carrots, mushroom-topped flatbreads, and local beef sliders with house made pickles.  All exquisite.

I’m not going to lie, I expected to be underwhelmed by the Frankensteinian hybrid Campfire Whiskey, one of the few High West products I’d not yet tried. “Dubious” understates my apprehensions about adding scotch to a rye-bourbon blend.  Married to a long-time scotch purist, I was prepared for both of us to be disappointed by the pour.   I couldn’t have been more wrong:  in the midst of all of this food and whiskey fabulousness, we both moaned over an unassuming-looking plate of fried paprika-dusted potatoes with a tangy garlic aioli paired perfectly with the complexity of the smoky blended Campfire whiskey. This combo stole the show.  It also introduced us to our new favorite hunting-camp compromise whiskey.  We no longer need to bring a bottle each of bourbon and scotch:  now, we’ll be bringing a bottle of High West Campfire.

High West Prairie Punch:

Finca’s bar man Scott Gardner resurrects the concept of an artisanal punch in this recipe, harkening back to the time when every bar or local watering hole worth its salt had a proprietary and exclusive house punch.   The traditional oleo saccharum (“oil sugar”) preparation takes some lead-time to assemble, but is worth the effort to create a well-blended traditional punch.  Here’s his recipe, which makes A LOT (good for a party of 20 or more guests):

1)      At least two hours, or up to one day ahead, prepare oleo saccarum by gently muddling 8 oz. granulated sugar and the peels of 6 lemons.

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Finca’s Scott Gardner (second from left) supervising the carefully-metered pouring of a lot of whiskey.

2)      After the sugar has turned to a syrup/paste consistency, add 6 oz. lemon juice, stir to combine, and let sit for an additional 30 minutes.

3)      Strain out the lemon peels from the mixture and discard

4)      In a large punch bowl (or two pitchers), combine:

–          lemon sugar

–          1 bottle (apprx 25 oz.) High West American Prairie Reserve bourbon

–          40 oz. cold water  

–          ½ oz. angostura bitters

5)      Just before serving, add ice to chill your punch

6)      Float 8 oz. brut cava on top of the punch

7)      Garnish with lemon wheels and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg

8)      Note from A Bourbon Gal:  Lovely served in shallow ‘coupe’ stemmed glasses