Saturday, April 12, 2008

Devils and Saints on the Main Line (Bill Covaleski Interview)

Most of us can clearly remember some of the best meals we’ve ever had. Those meals stand out as peak moments in our lives. Unfortunately, modern life, for most Americans, provides too few moments like these. Even those of us who cook seriously go through times when all our meals seem rushed and our food is little more than fuel. Even when the meals are good, there’s often something missing. This is where beer comes in.
- Garrett Oliver

Beer Dinners. This is where we as craft beer drinkers, makers, and manipulators put on our best and take ourselves seriously. And for good reason. A chef with a mind open to good beer brings a bevy of flavors and textures into his kitchen. Whether these dinners teach you something or just please your palate, they shine a light on the efforts of two hand crafted worlds and put their convergence on the main stage.

Bill Covaleski, co-founder of the Victory Brewing Company is no stranger to beer dinners. With a host of regular and seasonal releases at his disposal, he’s got Victory booked up with events from intimate 5 course meals to beer and tapas pairings all over the area.

Most immediately, Bill will be sharing some of Victory’s finest and most interesting beers with a dinner menu put together with Teresa’s Next Door chef and co-owner Andy Dickerson. The sold out dinner is right around the corner hitting plates and pints this Monday, April 14th. There will surely be leftovers on tap throughout the week, so if you don’t have a ticket to the big table, then definitely show up for leftovers.

Covaleski had a few minutes away from his massive construction project at VBC to provide the A’s to my Q’s.

How’s construction coming along?

Very well. All on the construction crew are still talking about May 1 finish. These will be two crazy weeks ahead!

Are you maximizing dining space, brewery space, or both with these renovations?

The dining area is swelling into space that was dedicated to brewing, before we expanded in 2004 with a new brewhouse in a new portion of the building. We'll increase seating significantly, like double! We got so tired of watching young couples arrive on Friday and Saturday nights, one kid in a baby carrier and one over their shoulder and get turned away with an hour plus wait. Those are precious moments of relaxation for young families. We know, we've been there. If those folks choose to spend their precious moments at Victory, then by all means we want to accommodate them. No new brewing areas need be developed at this time as the 2004 renovation bought us excess capacity.

So what can we expect at the Victory Dinner this Monday at Teresa’s Next Door?

You can expect some great creativity from Chef Andy as well as our great beers. How does St. Victorious Doppelbock with morel and aged goat cheese puff pastry sound to get you interested? Five courses of such delight, including a V Twelve dessert.

What is it about a beer dinner that allows a brewery to connect in a different way with the people that enjoy their beers than they get to through marketing or beer festivals?

Well, it's more intimate. A much better forum to exchange information and insights between the creators (brewer and chef) and the appreciative audience. I, personally, enjoy and appreciate the audience's insights. Also, the timing allows the conversation and relationship to evolve, rather than the quick hits of a beer festival. And, no one at a beer dinner approaches you and says "what's your strongest?"

What do you enjoy most about doing beer dinners?

The interactive nature of them. First, our beers inspire the creativity of the chef. Then, their dish with our beer causes sensations for the consumers that they, hopefully, share with us. The tongue is a reference instrument so every new sensation is evaluated against the last input. So, fireworks can fly!

I’m sure practice makes perfect, but can you think of any definitive, perfect pairings for some of your beers? Maybe things from past dinners or things straight out of your kitchen?

HopDevil Ale with a really great cheddar like Cabot Jasper Hill clothbound is just so right, every time. But, that said, the fun is in discovery. When a Chef picks out flavors in our beer and brings them to life in an inspired dish, that's the moment that rewards everyone.

A very memorable dish was prepared by Chef Aaron Wilson at the Dilworthtown Inn's Innkeepers Kitchen a few years back when he took on Hop Wallop, not a beer of immediate subtlety. Aaron picked up on the refreshing menthol flavor in the hopping a spun out a savory, spiced lam ragout over mint taglietelle noodles. I was floored and licked my plate.

With summer right around the corner what should we be keeping our eyes open for from Victory?

Throwback Lager, available now, is our lager send-off before all of the ales of summer like Whirlwind Witbier and Sunrise Weissbier. Now, bear in mind that our renovated bar will feature 20 draft lines and you can imagine that there are fun things bubbling away in the cellars right now to make the draft line up exciting. Maybe even a dark and delicious return of something somewhat between the lager and ale world...

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