Lamb and Beer? Bring' Em On


April 07, 1996|By ROB KASPER

On Easter I think of lamb. Who doesn't? But I also think of ale with the lamb chops. I didn't use to think of lamb and beer as a couple until I saw them together one night.

It happened at a Maryland Micro-Brewed Beer Dinner at Sisson's in South Baltimore a few weeks ago. The idea was to match some of the beers brewed in Maryland with various dishes. It was a night of unusual pairings. A night when you found yourself turning your head and saying, "Those two? Together?" But for the most part, each matchup worked.

The lamb course of the meal was a whopper. A double rack of New Zealand lamb chops that towered over a rice cake. It was the World Trade towers of lamb. These big hunks of lamb had spent the night cloaked in a mixture of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, peppers, oregano and thyme.

Bill Aydlett, the chef at Sisson's, cooked the lamb twice, first on a grill, then in the oven immediately before serving. Cooking the TC lamb on the grill gave the meat a good crust, he said, and the roasting session in the oven cooked the interior.

The rice cake was no mere mound of fluff. It was risotto, creamy Italian rice. It had been cooked in a liquid flavored with the stems of portobello mushrooms, olive oil, onion and garlic. Near the end of the cooking process, Aydlett stirred in a little cream and some Parmesan cheese, producing a dish with pleasant oat flavors.

Ordinarily, when I see a hunk of lamb I expect to see a glass of hearty red wine at its side. But on this night things were different. This lamb was so big that it had two beverages at its side, both of them beer. There was a glass of Iron Man Pale Ale, a brew that is made with English hops called Styrian and East Kent Goldings, according to Howie Faircloth, brewer of Oliver Breweries in the Wharf Rat pub near Camden Yards.

The other glass contained an Oxford Real Ale, which, according to Bill Boar of the Oxford Brewing Co. in Linthicum, is also made in the British style. It is unfiltered, has natural carbonation and is served at a higher temperature than most ales. It is, he said, a special-occasion ale. In my book, eating twin towers of lamb chops always qualifies as a special occasion.

The lamb-ale matchup had its moments. It was not, however, the couple of the night. That honor, in my mind, went to the creamy seafood pan roast and the sprightly Stone Beer from Baltimore's Brimstone Brewing Co.

The seafood dish, Aydlett said, was strongly influenced by, if not downright copied from, one served at the Oyster Bar in New York City's Grand Central Station. Fresh oysters, clams and mussels were poached in a sauce made of fresh cream, onions and pepper. It was wonderful.

Its companion, the Stone Beer, is so-called because it is made with hot rocks. Mark Tewey, brewer and president of Brimstone, described the process used to make the beer. Basically, he heats up diabase rocks to 1,200 degrees, and drops them in a kettle of unfermented beer.

In addition to making a big splash, the rock-dropping process boils the beer and caramelizes sugars, he said. The sugars stick to the hot rock. When the sugar-coated stones cool, they are removed. They're put back in the beer when it is in the lagering stage. In this stage, the rocks shed their sugars, giving the beer a slightly sweet flavor. It was quite a story that Tewey told me, and quite a course.

For another course, handmade pasta was matched with hand-crafted lager. The handkerchief pasta was made for the dinner by the Casa Di Pasta shop in Baltimore. Sisson's chef served it with a tomatillo and roast pepper sauce. The lager came from the new Clipper City Brewing Co., headed by Hugh Sisson. Clipper City, based in Halethorpe, joins the ranks of Frederick Brewing Co. in Western Maryland and Wild Goose Brewery in Cambridge as Maryland firms that bottle what they brew.

The lager-pasta mating was the least successful of the night. The lager flavors seemed to get lost in the peppery pasta sauce.

The appetizer was a wheat beer, or Weizen, made by the Baltimore Brewing Co. Until the other night I had never thought of having just a glass of beer as an appetizer. I like the concept.

The surprise of the night came with dessert. Sisson's Stone Cutter Stout, a dark, rich beer made at the restaurant, proved to be a delightful companion to frozen chocolate mousse served on a chocolate waffle.

When I read a description of the mousse and stout matchup, I thought the tastes would be rich, indulgent and beyond the bounds of proper behavior. And they were. They lived up to all of my expectations. The pairing was a lip-smacking finish, a fitting good-night kiss.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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