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Safari Park Brewmaster Dinner Featuring Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

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Johari the cheetah stopped by during the reception.

Last Saturday’s Brewmaster Dinner at the Safari Park featuring Ballast Point Brewing Co. held no surprises. Guests came expecting to make some animal friends, enjoy four courses of delectable food paired with equally delectable brew, and have an amazing time—and that’s exactly what happened.

The reception appropriately began with BBQ shrimp and grits crisps, jalapeño shrimp and tasters of Habanero Sculpin IPA. If you’re not familiar with Sculpin IPA, then you’ve clearly been living under a rock. It won gold in the 2010 World Beer Cup and has since been a craft beer staple. Take one of the best IPAs in the world, add a hint of habanero spice and pair it with spicy Creole appetizers, and you have instant melt-in-your-mouth awesomeness. After rubbing elbows with Johari the cheetah (of Cheetah Run fame) and Julio the female Eurasian eagle owl with a male’s name (long story), it was time to get the show on the road.

The first course was a sunburst salad with mesclun mix, port-soaked cranberries, sliced almonds, crumbled stilton, and cinnamon-raspberry Tabasco vinaigrette paired with Wahoo Wheat Beer. Head Brewer Colby Chandler from Ballast Point introduced this pairing as a no-brainer way to kick off the dinner (in more or less words), and he was right. The subtle tang of the beer played nicely with the fresh and fruity salad, allowing the dish to take center stage but not falling completely into the background.

Out came the second course, a Louisiana gumbo with shrimp, Andouille sausage, crab, okra, and all the trimmings, paired with a decidedly hoppy, big-boy beer—Big Eye IPA. The rich, bold gumbo needed a beer that could match it, and Big Eye IPA was up to the challenge. The copious amounts of the American Columbus and Centennial hops in the beer punched through the gumbo’s wall of flavor, enhancing the spice in all the right ways.

Brewmaster Colby and the culinary minds at the Safari Park put on their thinking caps for the next pairing, combining an incredibly unique beer, Smoke Screen Smoked Lager, with bacon-wrapped stuffed Berkshire loin with apple trinity pepper chutney, haricots vert and three potato boulanger. Whereas the previous course punched you in the face with flavor, this course took a more nuanced approach, massaging your palate with depth and complexity. I’m not even sure I have the lexicon to describe everything that was going on with this course, but trust me, I enjoyed every second of it.

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Smoke Screen Smoked Lager paired with bacon-wrapped stuffed Berkshire loin with apple trinity pepper chutney, haricots vert and three potato boulanger

By this time I was about to explode, so I tragically couldn’t fit more than a few bites of the brioche bread pudding with whipped cream, Ballast Point Three Sheets Rum, and caramel butter raisin sauce paired with my favorite beer on the face of the planet, Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial porter. This pairing was as decadent as it sounds, rounding out a finely executed dinner.

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Brioche bread pudding with whipped cream, Ballast Point Three Sheets Rum, and caramel butter raisin sauce paired with Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial porter

Cheers to Colby Chandler and Ballast Point Brewing for proving just how beautiful and complex beer can be, and cheers to the Safari Park staff for pulling off yet another flawless event. I’m already excited for the next one.

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Ballast Point Brewmaster Colby Chandler (front), schmoozing with guests.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.

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Albert’s Winter Brewmaster Dinner w/Sierra Nevada

Smoked pork loin on a spiced cactus masa cake with tomatillo chilies, citrus sauce, and petite ice plant

The latest brewmaster dinner at Albert’s Restaurant featured one of the largest craft breweries in the country, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Based in Chico, California, Sierra Nevada has been rocking the beer industry since 1980, making a name for itself with its aggressively hopped pale ale. Thirty-two years later, it’s still pumping out delicious brews from a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly brewery, impressing beer geeks and casual drinkers alike. The brewing genius of Sierra Nevada mixed with the expertise of the Albert’s kitchen crew resulted in pure awesome.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and Torpedo Extra IPA were served during the reception along with carne and pollo street tacos with all the fixings. Guests also got to make friends with Victor the echidna (the oldest mammal in the Zoo’s collection), Shaman the great-horned owl, Baba the pangolin, and Phu Ket the binturong before heading downstairs for the main event. Brewery Ambassador Steve Grossman and Assistant Brewmaster and Field Educator Terence Sullivan took the floor as soon as we got down to Albert’s, giving us lessons in beer and talking us through the pairings.

First up was spiced shrimp and avocado salad paired with Orvila Abbey Saison. In case you’re not a beer aficionado (nobody’s perfect), a “saison” is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, and Orvila Abbey Saison is the result of a collaboration with the monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, California. You wouldn’t think a Belgian-style ale would go well with spiced shrimp and avocado, but you’d be wrong. The beer completely transformed the dish, turning it all to butter with its biscuity notes and creamy mouth feel. The dinner was off to a good start.

The next course was smoked pork loin on a spiced cactus masa cake with tomatillo chilies, citrus sauce, and petite ice plant served alongside 30th Anniversary Brewer’s Reserve Grand Cru. This course was perhaps the best I’ve ever had at Albert’s. No joke. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth, the spice was subtle but still very present, and the sweet masa provided the soft, crumbly base, creating the best of both worlds: sweet and savory done right. The slightly tart, smoky grand cru rounded out the experience, harmonizing wonderfully with the complex dish.

Then came another heavy-hitting meat course: braised-beef short ribs with enchilada mole sauce, yellow tomato salsa, caramelized onions, and molasses pinto beans topped with micro cilantro. This bad boy was paired with Life and Limb, a bold, dark ale brewed collaboratively with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware. The short ribs were appropriately tender, but more subtle than the pork. They were slightly overshadowed by the sweet, vinegary beer. The mango salsa was a nice touch, adding a floral, citrusy layer to balance out the smoky aspects of the ribs and mole. While not trumping the previous, this was a solid course.

With barely any room left in our satisfied bellies, dessert came out in the form of a butterscotch white chocolate mousse with vanilla caramel sauce and cream, paired with 30th Anniversary “Jack and Ken’s Ale” Barleywine Ale. The big, malty punch of the barleywine and the fluffy, creamy goodness of the mousse were the perfect finale.

Thanks to Sierra Nevada for proving why they’re so revered, and thanks to Executive Chef Chris Mirguet, Sous Chef Charles Boukas, and the rest of the Albert’s crew for pulling out all the stops yet again. If you have a foodie side, do yourself a favor and check out one of these dinners. You won’t be disappointed. Have a look at what’s next at Albert’s.

Have you been to a delicious pairing event recently? Do you have a suggestion for future dinners? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Rhino Poaching Increases at Alarming Rate.

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Albert’s Brewmaster Dinner with Ballast Point Brewing Co.

When I commented on the relative tranquility of his kitchen throughout the course of service during Saturday night’s Brewmaster Dinner, Chef Chris Mirguet smirked at me. “We’ve been doing this for seven years now, we’re like a well-oiled machine,” he said.

If you were at our Brewmaster Dinner with Ballast Point Brewing Company at Albert’s Restaurant last Saturday, then you know what Chef Chris was talking about. From start to finish, the dinner was as smooth as the delicious libations that the brewing wizards over at Ballast Point seem to craft so effortlessly.

The evening started out with a one-hour reception upstairs in our Treetops banquet room, complete with a full spread of delicious hors d’oeuvres, including baked brie en croute with brown butter and walnuts, ahi poke, and fresh garbanzo bean hummus. Guests were also treated to an open bar where they could grab tasters of Ballast Point’s Sour Wench Blackberry Ale (a refreshingly tart and citrusy Belgian-inspired ale), as well as their GABF gold medal winning Sculpin IPA (a boldly-hopped, kick-you-in-the-pants IPA with a surprisingly smooth finish). Some of our animal ambassadors also dropped in on the reception to compete with the beer and food for attention. Priscilla the North American porcupine, Laveau the American alligator, Shaman the great horned owl, and Amina the African hedgehog nearly stole the show.

Keeper Nicole Gossler introducing one of our hedgehog animal ambassadors to guests

After the reception, diners were led downstairs to Albert’s, and the deliciousness commenced. The first course was a cured Cypress Island salmon, fried caper remoulade, and yellow heirloom jam paired with Ballast Point’s Calico Amber Ale (which is one of my absolute FAVORITE Ballast Point brews). The salty punch of the cured salmon was balanced nicely by the sweet, nutty notes of the Calico Amber Ale, and the fried caper remoulade and yellow heirloom tomato jam were the cherry on top. One diner put it nicely when he said “The salmon and Calico are singing together!”

The second course was an absolutely delectable kabocha and butternut squash soup with California smoked cheddar cheese (garnished with some kettle corn from one of our concession stands) paired with Bourbon Barrel Aged Piper Down Scottish Ale. The smoky, creamy soup harmonized beautifully with the woody, earthy notes of Bourbon Barrel Aged Piper Down. When I took a bite of soup and followed it immediately with a sip of Piper Down, a finely-tuned symphony of flavors erupted in my mouth. All of the courses were fantastic, but if I had to choose a favorite, this course would be it.

“The Piper Down Ale was by far my favorite of the beers that night,” said Chef Chris, “and I wanted to make a statement with a beer other than their gold medal beer (Sculpin IPA). The soup is something I have made before, and I thought the complexity and smokiness of the cheddar would pair well without masking the beer. The kettle corn was just a whimsical finish.”

Kabocha and butternut squash soup with California smoked cheddar cheese, garnished with kettle corn.

The kabocha and butternut squash soup was followed up admirably by slow-roasted Niman Ranch pork with Carolina-style barbecue sauce on a potato chive pancake paired with Abandon Ship Smoked Lager. This was quite literally the meat and potatoes of the meal. The pork melted in your mouth, and the sweet Carolina-style barbecue sauce provided just the right counterpoint to the rauchbier-style Abandon Ship Smoked Lager. Rauchbiers are noted for their likeness to bacon, a natural choice for pairing with barbecued pork. As you can imagine, guests were in heaven.

For the grand finale the guys over at Ballast Point brewed up a special one-off batch of their Black Marlin Porter and added cinnamon to it just for this occasion. The tasty libation was paired with a Julian apple tart with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel sauce. In another ingenious twist, the guys in the kitchen infused the caramel sauce with Ballast Point’s Three Sheets Rum (yep, they distill too!). It was the perfect end to a delightfully delicious evening.

Julian apple tart with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel sauce

Thanks to Colby Chandler, James Murray, and Ryan Glenn from Ballast Point for providing the tasty brews, and as always, thanks to Charles Boukas and the rest of the Albert’s kitchen staff for yet ANOTHER job well-done. The next special events at Albert’s are the Fall Members Appreciation Dinners (Saturdays, October 9, 16 and 23), Late Harvest Winemaker Dinner (Saturday, November 13), and Thanksgiving Day Buffet (Thursday, November 25). Go to the Albert’s special events web page to make reservations. Check out the rest of the mouth-watering pictures on flickr. Cheers!

Matt Steele is the social media planner for the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, First Birthday Bash