Beer dinner in the Texas Hill Country

Jaime Jurado (William M. Dowd photos)
SAN ANTONIO, TX -- After 20 years of moving from one hotel kitchen to another, chef Jeff Foresman thought he'd seen it all.

Foresman trained in the respected Johnson & Wales University culinary program in Providence, R.I., then moved among eight Hyatt Hotels from Florida to Hawaii to California to San Francisco to Washington. D.C.

Things changed when he met Jaime Jurado (seen here), director of brewing operations for The Gambrinus Co. Jurado holds master's and doctoral degrees in engineering but worked his way through college in breweries in Maryland and Florida. When it became clear his career preference didn't involve a drafting table, he went off to study brewing in Munich, Germany.

Each man went on to establish credentials as among the best in their field. Both wound up here in San Antonio -- Jurado some years back, Foresman eight months ago -- but their paths didn't cross until a major wine competition in January at the posh Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa here.

A wine event might seem an odd place for beer to be spotlighted, but those involved in judging large competitions are known to prefer anything but wines after a day swirling, sipping and spitting sometimes hundreds of them.

Thus, the 7th annual San Antonio Express-News Wine Competition that drew an international field was ready for a beer dinner for judges -- including yours truly -- and staff.

Jurado is an erudite and voluble beer advocate who, rather than merely having each course paired with a particular beer, wanted brews used as an essential ingredient in every dish.

"Beer, like wine, has enough different properties to enhance food in the preparation stages, not just in accompanying what you're eating,'' Jurado said.

"For example, you might use an IPA (India Pale Ale), which is hoppier and more bitter than other beers, in an oiler course using a vinaigrette. Or, you can take into account beer's chemical properties and how they'll affect other food ingredients in the cooking process.''

Foresman was a bit gunshy at first, despite Jurado's international credentials as one of the stars of the elite Master Brewers Association of the Americas.

"It took a while to experiment with precisely how to use the beer,'' Foresman said. "For example, for the jumbo prawns hors d'oeuvres, it wasn't difficult to figure out how to use the beer in the basic preparation, but we wanted to stretch what we did and how to go about it.''

Jurado and Foresman collaborated on scripting a five-course dinner that incoporated a line of Shiner brand beers brewed by The Gambrinus Co.

The Texas-based firm also brews Pete's Wicked Ale in Utica, N.Y., Bridgeport Ales in Portland, Ore., and Trumer Pils in Berkeley, Calif., as well as Tappeto Volante of Italy and Moosehead of New Brunswick, Canada, and is the importer for Groupo Modelo's Corona beer for the eastern U.S.

The aforementioned prawns canape was one of two butler-passed hors d'oeuvres.

"We boiled the prawns with their shells in a court boullion of water, Shiner Light Beer, pickling spices, peppercorns and parsley stems, then chilled it overnight in the broth,'' Foresman said. "Then we spread a mixture of cream cheese, whipped at high speed with lemon, salt, pepper and light beer, on toasted bread rounds, put the shrimp atop them and brushed a bit of a beer reduction on top.''

The trick in this dish, Foresman said, was to use only a dot of the reduction "because in the reducing process it became bitter -- almost unpalatable as far as drinking it would be concerned, but just enough body to sink into the shrimp when brushed on.'' A mango chow-chow was the final topping.

The second canape was strips of portabella mushroom, brushed with olive oil, herbs and garlic, seared on a flat-top grill, skewered then drizzled with the light beer as the strips became soft. They were served with a grilled red bell pepper dipping sauce.

The four courses of the plated dinner were nicely balanced among simple and rich offerings. A superb shellfish chowder, presented en croute, relied on Shiner Bock, the company's flagship brew. Bits of Texas lump blue crab, scallops and shrimp were added to a thickened broth of shrimp/lobster stock and beer, topped with a leek and aged cheddar crust.

A simple salad of hydroponically-grown local lettuces served with fried brie croutons and a Shiner Blonde/lemon vinaigrette set up the next course, a hickory grilled ribeye steak.

A thick, succulent piece of aged Texas beef, cooked medium-rare, was served with a compound butter utilizing herbs and Shiner Hefeweizen (German for "yeast wheat beer''). The same beer was used to steam the vegetable accompaniments as well as to help caramelize garlic which was then pureed and added to mashed potatoes.

The dessert course was one Foresman balked at, at first.

"Jaime wanted me to use a seasonal Shiner Dunkelweizen in the batter for a warm flourless chocolate torte,'' the chef said. "I didn't think it would work, but he asked me to indulge him. So, I tried one with beer and one without. The beer version poofed up nicely and became lighter. We're thinking of using it regularly.''

The cake had a liquid chocolate ganache center plus a drizzle of pistachio creme Anglaise, all of which went superbly with the rich, dark wheat beer and its inherent caramel notes created by strong hops mostly from the Mt. Hood, Ore., hop fields.

Foresman's summation: "This was quite an experience, and we all learned a lot. It was our first beer dinner, but it certainly won't be our last.''

Lobby of the host venue Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa.

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