BACCO & CBX Celebrate the Italian Craft Beer Revolutionby timmons / Jun 04, 2012
When most American folk (or 'Mercans, alternately) think of Italy, they probably share a list of stereotypical things.
That list may include sports cars, pasta, small accordions, and wine. We, as a nation, are quite fond of boiling down rich, complex cultures into a handful of images we can use to communicate about, or dismiss, whole swaths of people on a whim. It's what we do.
One aspect of Italian culture that is relatively unknown in America, but is becoming a revolutionary force in the culinary world there, is craft beer. BACCO, which I've described before as "a powerhouse Italian eatery in Mount Pleasant," teamed up with the Charleston Beer Exchange crew for the third time on Thursday, May 31st to celebrate that force and all its glorious potential to complement Italian food. Chef Michael Scognamiglio shared hosting duties with CBX's Scott Shor, guiding diners through four courses and five beers seldom seen in these parts.
Before the first course, light appetizers were served at the bar, paired with Birrificio Le Baladin Isaac (4.8% ABV, 81, 73) in a spotless wine glass (the presentation for all the beers throughout the night). Local, first-of-the-season local cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, crisp panzanella salad, lardo crostini, and a chilled soup made with fennel, orange zest, and pistachio kicked off the warm-weather-friendly meal. Isaac proved a great start, an farmhouse-leaning take on witbier named for brewer Teo Musso's son. The interplay between Isaac's more traditional orange and coriander notes linked especially well with the soup and melon.
The diners casually made their way from the bar to their seats for the first course, which may have been my favorite of the night. A gorgeous plate of local shrimp, clams, and scallops, cooked in the foolproof seafood trifecta of lemon, olive oil, and garlic, sat atop local green peppers and zucchini (again first-of-the-season). All this was presented over a beurre monté, infused with the paired beer, Piccolo Birrificio Seson (6% ABV, 87, 73). Seson is a cute spelling of Saison, the beer's French farmhouse style, though it's particularly unique in that it's been aged in chardonnay barrels. The marriage of wine and beer is something explored by many modern Italian craft brewers, and in this case to great success. The fact that this is regularly on tap at BACCO is reason enough for beer geeks to go (and in turn discover the fantastic food).
Glasses and plates were switched out in short order for course two, a risotto made with farro (as opposed to rice), grilled cornish game hen with leg confit in duck fat, topped with a crispy kale leaf. This was set against My Antonia (7.5% ABV, 90, 96) known to most as a large-format bottle from Delaware's Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, but brewed originally at Birra Del Borgo in Italy as a collaboration with Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione. The beer is an "imperial pilsner," a bold, strong, hoppy take on what's normally a lighter style. Though the quantity of hops is large, many of the varieties are tradition to a pilsner, with distinct notes of spice and earth. I kept coming back to the earthy notes especially, which paired particular well with the farro grain, the "gamey" quality of the game hen, and even the kale. It was a course that evoked "earth" to me throughout, maybe even "forest?" My vocabulary fails me here, but it was well-executed and delicious.
We experienced a bit of a delay between courese two and three, but diners were anything but restless, entertained by good company and the ever-increasing volume of table conversation typical of a beer dinner. Braised lamb neck with roasted pearl onions, carrots, brussel sprouts, and figs were paired with Birrificio Montegioco Demon Hunter (8.5% ABV, 86, 91) for course three. Demon Hunter is described as an "Italian Dark Ale," but shares many qualities with a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, notably that old favorite, "dark fruit." The dried and braised mission figs became the key to unlocking this pairing. Bringing a bit of that fig in with the lamb, or the vegetables, ignited interplay with the beer, something I didn't experience sans fig, although the lamb was braised in Demon Hunter. Enough fig was provided to make this composition a success, one I'd definitely like to revisit.
Lastly, dessert, or rather, desserts. A trio of sweets was sandwiched between two beers tending toward the sour spectrum. First up was D'uva Beer (8% ABV, 84, 94), a product of Birrificio LoverBeer, a newcomer to our local market. Much of what Loverbeer makes includes a grape component, including D'uva, which presents with a pinkish color thanks to the addition of grape must. The nose indicates the sourness to come, although the taste is certainly not overwhelming - more refreshing and effervescent than pucker-inducing. The beer made its way into two desserts, a slightly brûléed zabaione with tart Amerana cherries, and a D'uva-infused golden raisin cannoli. The third, a sweet Florentine grape foccacia, was also an excellent combintation. As if that wasn't enough, dessert was followed by another Baladin creation, Nora (Sour Edition) (6.8% ABV, 86, 91). Wild yeast was present here, but did not create the same level of acid as was found in D'uva. That proved fantastic, an excellent beer to end the evening and encapsulate the ambition of Italy's brewers. Who else uses myrrh and old-world botanicals as bittering agents?
But no, we were not done. Diners once again mingled at the bar for a final treat - small glasses of Baladin Al-Iksir (10% ABV, 85, 90) (also a regular tap at BACCO) topped with a wafer-thin house-made chocolate. A sweet way to end the evening!
You'll be hard pressed to find another establishment with this much focus and knowledge on the excitement of Italy's craft beer scene in South Carolina, maybe not even the Southeast. Do yourself a favor and try them out, even if only to see their short-but-impressive tap and bottle list, but the food is consistently and equally impressive. Leave your Moretti- and Peroni-soaked preconceptions of Italian beer, and your accordion, at the door.