Fondue Beer Dinner
By Bobby Bush
Five courses, five beers and thirty-five people. As our tables were prepared, we gathered in the bar area of The Melting Pot, Hickory's fondue restaurant. While waiting for all to arrive for this Tuesday, October 1 dining experience, we sipped from wine glasses, sampling a Belgian-style ale brewed in Cooperstown, New York by Ommegang Brewery. Served from corked liter bottles, Hennepin was slightly sweet and wine-like, a perfectly pleasing appetizer beer and proper introduction to our dining experience.
The dining room doors opened and en-mass we scurried into the party room, finding our places at two large booths. Spaced along the tables at intervals, cauldrons steamed as the fondue fun began. Long forks, loaded with fresh bread, apples and vegetables, were swirled in the bubbling pots of Gruyere and Emmenthaler Swiss Cheese and white wine. Accompanying this tasty hors d'oeuvre was a German import lager, Warsteiner Premium Verum. Light and crisp, this traditional style beer did not hide the subtle cheese flavors, serving more for palate cleansing rather than making a statement on its own. Exactly what it was supposed to do.
With The Melting Pot Signature Salads came Olde Hickory Brewery's Oktoberfest. Seated at our table were brewer Jamie Bartholomaus and brewery owners Jason Yates and Steven Lyerly. (Yes, they paid to drink their own beer). Jamie's malty, sweet ale, which had a tiny hint of chocolate malt, paired well with the fresh, green salad.
Bring on the meat. New pots were delivered to the tables, filled with bouillon broth. Plates of mushrooms, new potatoes and broccoli were positioned. Chunks of tenderloin steak were skewered and placed in the pots. The multi-colored handles looked like dangling pick-up sticks. The two to three minute wait while meat cooked seemed short as we sipped on McEwan's India Pale Ale. This Scottish ale, now brewed in England, does not really fit the hoppy, bitter IPA style. Actually better suited as an English Pale Ale, the amber brew was a bit more challenging than the Warsteiner, playing foil to the sizzling steak, especially the teriyaki-marinated beef.
Spices were added to our fondue pots for course four. Cajun fondue made for a filling second entrée. Chicken, shrimp and scallops were dunked into the hot (thermally and spicy) broth. To accompany such a big flavor, only a big beer would do. From the Stone Brewing Company of San Marcos, California came the newly released Ruination Ale. Big in hops and alcohol, this big brother to Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale (a favorite at previous beer dinners) met the Cajun sting head-on. With nearly 8% alcohol and 100 bittering units (for comparison, budmillercoors has no more than 8 bittering units) the combination was exhilarating.
No room for dessert? Too bad. The Original Chocolate Fondue was more than anyone imagined. Strawberries, bananas, marshmallows topped with crushed nuts, pound cake, brownies and even cheesecake were placed before our bloated bodies. Slender champaign glasses of Lindemans Lambic, Kriek and Framboise, were served as goodies were bathed in the hot, thick chocolate sauce. The sweet Belgian cherry and raspberry beers - as bright in color as they were in berry taste - was a marriage made in heaven. Smiles of satisfaction were unanimous.
For most in our group, it was their first visit to The Melting Pot. Assistant general manager Willie Williams and kitchen manager Doug Lowdermilk both hustled to make this another successful beer dinner. Willie and Doug also enjoy good beer, witness the nice bar beer selection. Four of the six beers served came from The Melting Pot taps and cooler.
We've done Thai, Italian and now Fondue beer dinners. What's next? How about dinner at the Olde Hickory Taproom? On a Sunday afternoon in January, beer dinner number four will include recipes that use beer as an ingredient, accompanied by OHB and other beers, of course. Send your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll keep you informed.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush