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Nor’Yeaster Preview + Junk Food Pairing

James Gribbon

Flowers are popping up everywhere this spring, even in our beer. TomorrowMay 7th, will see a special bottle release at Two Roads Brewing Co. in Stratford, featuring their newest creation, Roads Garden. The spring  Nor’yeaster event will also include limited supplies of Framboise Noir, a black raspberry lambic, and Road 2 Rouen, the brewery’s “wild, Franco-Belgian IPA,” based on Road 2 Ruin DIPA.

A sold-out, ticketed preview event was held this past Monday, when the brewery’s tasting room is regularly closed, and CTBites was able to taste several of Two Roads’ smaller production run beers, paired with “re-imagined junk food,” via event partner Marcia Selden catering.

Attendees were given a Road 2 Ruin bottle label upon entry which entitled the bearer to a free draft at the tasting room bar, and I opted for the newest S.H.O.P. series beer, which was single hopped with the new Mandaria Bavaria variety. This had the same medium body and crystal clarity of the other S.H.O.P. beers, and a thickish head. Mandaria Bavaria is a hybrid of Cascade, Hallertau Blanc, and Hüll Melon hops, and smells like fruit salad with plenty of cantaloupe. The hop’s flavor is sharp and sweet over the malt body, like citrus hard candy. It was immediately compelling, in that it compelled me to drink more. This was a good start.

Roads Garden is a Belgian-style saison which has been brewed with red rose petals, heather tips, and chamomile. The scent alone is delicious, and bursts from the glass like crocus from the frozen ground. The flavor is tangy: the Belgian yeast big and readily apparent in both the flavor and aroma, and it aligns well with the herbs and flowers. I’ve had several saisons from Belgian and U.S. brewers who added floral components to their beers, and Two Roads’ newest is all ready to sit at the grownups table.

Roads Garden was paired with the first dish of the evening, heirloom tomatoes over ricotta, with roasted peppers, balsamic glaze, Ritz cracker crostini, all sprinkled with green apple Pop Rocks. The ricotta and tomatoes were both very fresh and flavorful, and there was just enough herb, plus the salt and butter from the crackers, to lend depth. The Pop Rocks were mostly dissolved by the time I got my plate, but their residue left a few little sparks.

The second course was mac and cheese made with aged white cheddar, Lays BBQ chip crumbles, and a topping of crushed Cheez Doodles. The cheese was very creamy, and it alone overpowered the other flavors, although the chips added a good crunch and a bit of welcome smoke. It was a cold, rainy evening at the brewery that night, and this dish seemed to hit all the right spots for the atmosphere. The strong, funky Brettanomyces in the Road 2 Rouen cut right through everything and refreshed my palate every time the mac and cheese threatened to get a little one-note. As far as yin and yang, the balance between the food and the beer was excellent.

Chicken and waffles have fully caught on in the northeast, and the third course was corn flake crusted chicken with enhanced Eggo waffles and smokey Aunt Jemima’s. “Enhanced,” as I came to find out, was an understatement. The chicken was crunchy, sweet, and only slightly smokey, but the waffles themselves were impregnated with hot sauce which leveled up all the other flavors. Southerners would be happy with this version. The dish was paired with Two Roads’ 2015 Kriek, which I previously discussed as part of the firstSourcopia dinner last year. The acidic lambic easily cleared away the fatty waffles and syrup, while the mellow, fermented cherry component added a new profile alongside the dish’s other flavors.

Coca-Cola BBQ crusted short ribs came next, topped with Honey Nut Cheerios brittle, and served with a fat tube of sweet potato, itself treated with Honey Jack and crowned with homemade toasted marshmallows. Individually, all of these ingredients can be found at or close to any Shop Rite, but the skill of CATIE Award Chef of the Year Robin Selden turned them into art. This was easily my favorite plate of the evening.

The short ribs retained all the grain and flavor of the meat, while being fork tender on the inside, and crusted with piquant, caramelized sauce on the outside. The brittle on top was sweet, but the dry oats and crunch of the Cheerios counterbalanced the softness of the braised meat and sweet potatoes. I described an earlier pairing as yin and yang, complimentary opposites, but the rye whiskey barrel-aged Henry’s Farm double bock in a glass next to the short ribs was hand-in-glove with the dish. The heavy malt, boozy heat, and rye punch of the beer energized and percolated through the meat, both serving to make the other shine a little brighter.

Since at least 1950, the Hostess cupcake has been a junk food staple and icon. We made our own, then bedded it on crushed Oreo dirt and edible flowers. The cupcake was nearly identical to what you’d remember buying at the corner store, and I’m going to say “a taste of childhood,” then hate myself for having typed it, so let’s try to save both this paragraph and my dignity by mentioning they were paired with the new Framboise Noir. This sour lambic was made using black raspberries, then aged in wine barrels for a full 20 months before bottling. I didn’t catch what type of wine barrels, or else it wasn’t mentioned that night, but the beer electrified the rich cocoa and vanilla of the dessert course. Those lucky enough to score a bottle tomorrow would do very well to match it with chocolate, cream topped berries, or the original article cupcakes themselves.