Florida Beer Pairing Dinner is Worth a Road Trip to Gainesville
Story and photos by Amie M
Gainesville is a city full of originals.
If you’re a music fan, chances are you have heard of Tom Petty, the Eagles or Less Than Jake. Gatorade was invented at the University of Florida. To make a long story very short, numerous authors, artists, and musicians have called “Gainesvegas” home.
Two fairly recent additions to the Gainesville Original Clan are Dragonfly Modern Izakaya & Sushi and Swamp Head Brewery. Dragonfly is celebrating its 10th birthday this year, and Swamp Head is just a little more than three years old (though they’ve only been producing beer for the past two). Both institutions make creative, innovative local products that have already won awards, made friends, and influenced people. I love both Dragonfly’s sushi and Swamp Head’s beer, so the prospect of a pairing dinner for the two had me licking my lips in anticipation.
Swamp Head has received lots of critical acclaim this year, including having two of its beers take first and second place at the 2011 Best Florida Beer Championships. I was excited to get a chance to try some of their beers paired alongside the killer Asian Fusion creations at Dragonfly.
The dinner was six courses with a short reception at the beginning.
One of the first to arrive at Dragonfly, I was ushered onto their front porch where I was presented with a champagne flute of Wild Night Honey Cream Ale, a perfect beer for a hot summer evening in Florida. This beer does a spectacular job of presenting the heady Tupelo Honey that it’s brewed with and was a nice complement to the edemame we were given to snack on. The Swamp Head Guys, owner Luke Kemper and brewer Craig Birkmaier, circulated as did Dragonfly’s co-owner Hirofumi Leung. I was greeted by each and given a chance to ask questions about the menu, the beer and the dinner.
The first course was Swamp Head’s Cottonmouth Belgian White Bier paired with citrus-cured Kampachi (yellow tail) sashimi with ponzu jalapeno vinaigrette and wasabi tobiko. Like the snake this beer is named for, the beer and the amuse bouche both packed quite a bite. The spicy (there is a huge coriander presence) wit paired quite nicely with the well prepared sashimi that left a hint of heat in your mouth – an excellent start to the dinner.
For the second course, we were served the Saison de Swamp with braised pork belly on a steamed bun accompanied by Asian slaw. This was, for me and the majority of the other diners, the highlight of the menu. Saison de Swamp is one of the most complex saisons I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. It is very fruity (pineapple, lemon, apple, and pear) with a significant amount of black pepper in the palate. The 8% ABV is hidden very well. Paired with the buttery, melt-in-your mouth pork belly and steamed bun and crispy, spicy, Asian slaw, each emphasized the other and led to a very deep tasting experience.
My favorite Swamp Head beer is their Black Water Florida Black Ale. This Black IPA is made with chocolate wheat malt instead of the typical chocolate barley malt and is a lot smoother and less burnt-tasting than other Black IPAs. Full of hop flavor with that smooth, roasty underbelly, Black Water was a perfect pairing for the sweet and savory braised short ribs and seasoned rice that was the fourth course. This was a pairing that complemented rather than contrasted, each spice in the dish balancing a different note in the beer.
Other courses paired the Spring Break Blonde Ale with Dragonfly’s take on beer-battered fish and chips (using pearl onions instead of French fried potatos), the Chipotle Smoke Signal Porter with a Chef’s Sushi Roll featuring Smoked Salmon and Torched Avacado. The dessert course was Catherine’s Inspiration Russian Imperial Stout with a brownie glazed with miso butterscotch (think salted caramel). All were excellent.
My evening with Dragonfly and Swamp Head was one I won’t soon forget. If I had any criticisms, it would be that I wish the beer had been served in snifters rather than champagne flutes. Overall, the experience was one for all the senses. The food was lovely to look at, smell and taste and complemented the beers that it was paired with exquisitely.
If you would like to participate in the next Swamp Head dinner at Dragonfly Sushi, it will be Monday, July 11, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased in advance. For more information, call Dragonfly Sushi at (352) 371-3359.
Amie is a freelance writer and photographer, a beer lover and a home brewer, based in Gainesville, Florida.
DISCLOSURE: Dragonfly Sushi provided a complimentary dinner ticket to Road Trips for Beer, which was given to Amie for the purpose of this review. We have been assured that all opinions are hers alone.