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