A Community of Collaboration: Born In Denton Beer Dinner

Born in Denton Beer Dinner
Denton County Brewing Company (Seth Morgan) + Armadillo Ale Works (Bobby Mullins) + Barley & Board ( Austin Ford)
@ Barley & Board

In just such a town as Denton, of paramount importance is collaboration. We’ve all got to look out for each other, lift one another up, and above all, work together to be competitive and on the map in the burgeoning scenes endemic to North Texas. Bearing this mentality in mind, three local brewers and their respective businesses - Seth Morgan of Denton County Brewing Company, Bobby Mullins of Armadillo Ale Works, and Austin Ford of Barley & Board - set out to create the ultimate collaboration from grain to table. Like the ultimate reunion tour, this culinary supergroup and its setlist is one for the ages, and one that words cannot do justice. Nevertheless, this is our part in just such a community effort, and we’re here to make sure that this is no flash-in-the-pan to live on only in the memory of those in attendance.

Welcome Course: Boys Down the Hill + Curried Crab Cake Spoons (Green Curry - Mango Puree - Shaved Fresno - Crushed Cashews - Radish)

Kicking things off with a light, citrusy ale and a similarly petite offering, the Crab Cake Spoons are juicy with a crunch, with a medley of spice and spices to boot. The offering is perfectly mellowed and quenched by the crisply sweet three-way collaboration beer, which marks the first of many “collabs” that this evening represents. The curried crab cake has a spice that lingers, but blends seamlessly with the beer, neither of which fills the stomach or consumes the palate, but in fact whets the appetite for what is to come. And, let’s be honest: this little one-bite spoon is cute as hell. A dramatically minimalist, but microcosmic offering - like a miniature terrarium - this is the perfect opening act to signal the headliners to come, while also allowing those in attendance to mingle as they down this first course in one gulp. After all, what kind of party doesn’t begin with a cheers and a shot?

Second Course: Honey Please (Armadillo Ale Works) + Prosciutto-Wrapped Pears (Whipped Black Pepper Goat Cheese - Toasted Macadamia Nuts - Herbed Orange Honey)

Opening up with Armadillo’s Honey Please, this course is simple, sweet, and woven with a homespun narrative that delights the mind as much as the mouth. Armadillo’s very own Bobby Mullins reveled in the history of this beer by relaying his parents’ history with mesquite beans, and his own childhood filled with jams and jellies made from them. Thus, this blonde ale was born as both an answer to his parents asking if he had ever brewed with mesquite beans and, clearly, a celebration of local Texan crop and craft, being made from Texas wildflower honey. The downhome vibe doesn’t end at the tall-tale; with aromas of freshly-baked oatmeal cookies, it evokes a honeyed tea with a light biscuit, enjoyed on the porch as the orchard comes into bloom. The work of a deft hand with a subtle touch.

Pairing with the slight smoky notes from the wildflower honey and mesquite beans of the beer, the Prosciutto-Wrapped pears are a tangy, decadently rich opener-in-earnest to the dinner. You get an immediate smoke from the prosciutto, with an earthy pseudo-char from the microgreens, followed by a creamy release in the yielding cream of the pear. Indeed, a veritable medley of flavors presents itself in a single bite, and though the texture is fairly uniform, it’s more a testament to the unity of the dish than it is to any lack of variety. The goat cheese is, quite literally, the cherry on top, creating an opulent experience that feels like dessert before dinner: every inner-child’s dream come true.

Third Course: Blueberry Fortune (Denton County Brewing Co.) + Chicken Liver Mousse (Grilled Sourdough + Pickled Beets + Shallots + Pink Peppercorn)

Seth Morgan of Denton County Brewing Co. took center stage to introduce this delectable beer and the inspiration behind it: food. Attempting to capture the flavors of breakfast in a glass - blueberry pancakes, maple syrup, and a bit of citrus zest - the Blueberry Fortune lives up to its name, in both the fortune’s worth of blueberries that went into it (500 pounds) and the good prospects of anyone lucky enough to drink it. One wouldn’t think to pair such a luscious breakfast flavor with chicken liver, but an open mind does have its rewards.

This unusual pairing surprised even the cooks who created it, but the science is there all the same. Rich, fatty liver cutting through the saccharine-sweet beer; pink peppercorns adding a mellowed but poignant spice to that tempers the richness of the dish; the pickled beets rounding out the affair with a welcome tang. It’s fresh, meaty, but goassamer - a bit like ceviche on toast or a beef tartar, with the zing of citrus zest and the boldness of uncooked meat. The liver, surprisingly, is almost like an ice cream or whipped topping: bright, cold, creamy, slightly sweet but with a bit of salt. The vegetal of the greens seamlessly dances with the zesty blueberry and lemon, while the fat cuts through the sweet. Together with the Blueberry Fortune, it’s a caprese salad on a blueberry waffle - a strange pairing, to be sure, but one that speaks for itself the minute it hits the taste buds. You heard it here first, y’all: Barley & Board just made liver sexy again.

Fourth Course: Home Grown Hero (Denton County Brewing Co.) + Slow Roasted Pork Belly (Mangú - Red Pepper Puree)

Up at bat again, DCBC offers a true labor of love in the form of the Home Grown Hero, which itself speaks once again to the underlying theme of local collaboration. This hefeweizen utilizes wheat grown a few miles north of Denton, with the post-brew spent grain going to cows in the next field over. The “labor of love” factors into the science behind creating as true a “Texas Hefeweizen” as there ever was: San Antonio scientists took wild Hefeweizen yeast pulled off a flower in Houston; this yeast usually comes from Germany, where thousands of varieties naturally occur. It’s a rare, close-to-home find - just like the beer itself.

The bright citrus and slight sweetness of this beer mingle exquisitely with the pairing for the course, allowing both beer and plate to have their own time in the spotlight without consuming one another. The direct line of continuity between the two comes in the mangú: mashed, roasted plantain. The banana notes common to hefeweizens are elevated to center stage by the similarly sweetness of the plantain, the roasting of which transitions well into the warm smoky flavors of the meat. The warming spices on the outside also provide complementary flavors to the beer style: brown sugar, clove, and coriander, all of which are common tasting notes in hefes.

Upon first bite, the palate immediately senses a star anise-like flavor from the coriander, and an immediate hot spice that fades quickly; a flash in the pan, in the best quick-sear for the palate possible. The roasted plantains add sweetness and spice; this spice, however, actually lingers, but only in the background, and not with the acute sting of your typical chili burn. It’s spread evenly across the mouth with a smoky, chipotle-esque, mild adobo sauce note. The fat of the pork belly, meanwhile, melts while the outer char provides that perfect textural resistance. Just below that is the brown sugar sweetness often found in good old Texas barbeque, reminiscent of a sugar cookie crust resting above a savory core. Sweet and spicy as a couple don’t often find their way into the American cannon, so this Caribbean/Southern BBQ fusion provides a unique spin on an American offering. It’s jerk chicken done barbecue style, with a nice tropical fruit spin.

Fifth Course: Quakertown Stout (Armadillo Ale Works) + Seared Duck Breast (Celeriac Puree - Blackberry Balsamic)

As if on a dual-headliner tour, this main course sequel is the round two knockout punch we’re always excited for in a beer dinner, and the beer - weighing in at a whopping 9.5% - does not let us down. One might find themselves weathered and weary - or downright tipsy - by the time such a course comes around, but for something as dear to Denton’s hearts as the Quakertown Stout, we can all rally for a second wind. Being the first commercially available brew by Armadillo, this beer is no stranger to carefully crafted pairings and artfully curated tap walls in the little d. It features bold roasty notes tempered with maple syrup-sweetness and a nice chocolate, nutty finish left to linger on the palate. It’s no wonder this beer has found itself as such a lynchpin of the craft scene.

Following in the footsteps of such a bold offering comes the duck breast: a bouquet of flavors, featuring an unsubtle char that finds perfect partner in the stout. And the bouquet of flavors does not end there: vegetal greens, root puree, and newly invented “duck dust” - chili powder, cacao, coffee, and black pepper - all join the fray. While the fruity blackberry balsamic cuts through the dark stout and the fatty duck, the greens and puree create a perfect celery-esque bite, yielding a fresh, green flavor that complements and contrasts the darker, roastier flavors. This contrast is not unlike a similar pairing in the American canon: wings and celery. There’s a slight tang, a hint of spice, and a vegetal brightness to cut through and provide relief from the thick, meaty notes. The greens are so light they’re almost citrusy - bright, grassy, hydrating goodness. The duck breast’s sweetness almost harkens back to the liver of the earlier course - it’s decadent without being cloying; savory without being straight bloody. It’s like a raspberry coulis on a celery log; a salad with saccharine fruits. 

Sixth Course: Champagne Ale (Barley & Board) + Roasted Apples (Champagne Foam + White Chocolate + Pistachio)

Closing out the night comes Barley’s own Austin Ford with the delightful, experimental ringer of the setlist: a Champagne Ale. Brewed with champagne yeast, with a base Vienna malt and carbonated in the same manner as your favorite bubbly, this “Brut pale ale” was brewed with every bit of precision and elbow grease available. Ford used the méthode champenoise to truly create beer’s answer to bubbly: a painstaking process that, simply put, allows final fermentation to occur in the bottle, and then requires sediment to be released from the inverted bottle by popping it like a bottle of true champagne, and finally topped off with “donor wine”: a champagne with added sugar.. So raise a toast to Austin Ford next time you see him, or to Barley’s brewing in general: this is a true homage, and a triumph at that. The malts lend an almost Belgian-ale sweetness to the affair, the likes of which set this beer apart from any other Brut by way of an added dimension of flavor and an ever-so-slightly fuller body.

The apple of this dessert is tart in just such a way as to compliment the malts in the champagne ale; the foam melds with the beer’s head, supplementing the classic “bubbly” flavors one expects from a good New Year’s pop off. White chocolate tops this digestif like crisp newfallen snow, and has every bit the magic that just such weather brings. It’s a blend of flavors not unlike the dinner overall, and certainly a microcosm of the collaborations to be found in Denton at large: homespun tradition meets haute artisanality in a melding of high- and low-brow offerings that are as rustic and traditional as they are contemporary and creative.

Collaboration is what this town is all about, and this aptly-titled offering was just such an ode to the core values of our little town. A year to the day ago, Barley & Board celebrated its first brew. At the end of April, Denton County Brewing Company will celebrate two years of successful craft and “posi-vibes”; Armadillo Ale, similarly in April, will soon celebrate a year in its own brewery after eight years on the scene. Remember: a rising tide lifts all ships. Don’t miss out on the wave.

Header image design by Kylie Phillips