Words and Photos by Carrie Havranek
Before I even commence with this week’s Tasty Tuesday, I need to fully disclose the degree to which I am connected to this story, because it’s a little bit ridiculous, even for such a close-knit community as the Lehigh Valley.
First: I adore Black & Blue, much the way I loved Which Brew before it. I’m certain I’m not alone in this; nor am I the first journalist to pledge such a thing.
Second: I wrote about Black & Blue for the May issue of Lehigh Valley Style, where I write the Inside Dish column. I’m writing this piece with both Laini Abraham and Style editor Lisa Gotto’s blessing; I didn’t feel right just forging ahead without asking.
Third: My next-door-neighbors, Chris Laskey and Linda Calsetta, were the guest chefs for the Shelton Brothers dinner. They are good friends and even better neighbors (because they are good friends), the kind of people who have a Mad Men party and allow you and your crazy toddlers to crash it and make you, the adults, cocktails and allow your toddlers to glom all the fancy cheese. (We sort of share a yard.)
Ok, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m moved to write about this event because it makes for a great, wish-I’da-been-there kind of recap journalism. And it gives you an opportunity to plan for the next one, which will take place in late July, I’m told. (Think tomatoes. And more!) And it shows you that there’s a restaurant here in the Valley that’s truly trying to do something different with beer these days, by bringing in a representative from Shelton Brothers (a name more befitting for an old-school country-bluegrass band than a beer importer) to the table. The company’s mission is to import traditional, hand-crafted, unfiltered, unpasteurized (and generally unadulterated) brews from 90 breweries in the U.S. and around the world. We lucky 14 diners sampled a half dozen of them over the course of an amuse bouche (pork belly), four courses, and an after-dinner selection, for the price of $65 per person.
I’m not going to go into exhaustive, course-by-course detail because I’d rather the photos evoke the scene. No one left the meal unhappy, that much I can assure you. I will tell you the following: the food at these events is more haute than you would typically encounter at Black & Blue, but it’s befitting of an alcohol pairing dinner. The pours were 5-6 ounces and just right: not overly generous but not stingy either. We also learned that you can get some of the beers Shelton Brothers imports at Stockertown Beverage, which is wonderful news for anyone who’s fallen in love with a beer at a bar (or wine, for that matter) and then scurried around our Commonwealth in vain trying to find it. Shelton imports well-regarded brews from Cantillon (Belgium), Haandbryggeriet (Norway) and Kapuziner (Germany), among others, and distributes the likes of meads, ciders, and beers from Celestial Meads, Farnum Hill and Jolly Pumpkin, respectively, from the United States. And all of the beers we sampled are currently available on tap, with the exception of Jolly Pumpkin La Roja and Achel Extra. According to sales representative Kevin Brooks, who guided us through the tasting, the company does not have a very strong presence in the Lehigh Valley restaurants just yet, so that means what you’re seeing at Black and Blue, true to form, is unique to the Valley; in some cases, the restaurant may be the only place in the state to get a certain beer.
A few words about the beers are necessary. All the beers we tasted were on tap, except the Jolly Pumpkin and Achel Extra. The first one we sampled was a Flemish sour, but it did not smack your palette into submission the way many sours do; instead, it was a sneaky sour, one that didn’t immediately hit you and was well-rounded, with some earthy, caramel-y spicy notes. This struck me because it’s the second time in two separate pairings someone has started with a sour; the beer cut right through the fat in the pork belly. I also liked the Kapuziner Weisse, from Germany, and we all admired the glass so much for its beauty and ballast (it’s a hefty, well-balanced glass) that it became our take-home glass of choice. This cloudy wheat beer pours with a puffy white head, and is made with roughly equal portions of wheat and barley malt. The citrus notes were evident, but there’s a welcome spiciness from cloves, and an overall complexity that catapults this leaps and bounds above the average wheat beer. Perhaps, though, the crowd favorite may have been the Achel Trappist Extra, a Belgian strong dark ale (9.5 percent A.B.V.) It’s a slightly sweet, slightly tangy bottle-conditioned ale, with an aroma of dried stone fruits. It drinks easily, but not too easily. It’s also one of two Trappist monasteries in Belgium (out of six) where the monks still participate in the day-to-day operations of brewing. And the money goes back to the monastery. How’s that for drinking for a good cause?
The full disclosures continue: Carrie Havranek is a writer in Easton who hated beer in college and therefore drank very little of it—until she started discovering real craft brews.