Each February, Free State Brewery in Lawrence hosts one of our absolute favorite events of the year - the Free State Beer Banquet (actually, they host four of them, two each on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the month). They close the back half of their large restaurant, and serve ticket-holding guests five to six courses meticulously paired with their signature and seasonal beers. As chef Jimmy Martin explains, "it's one of our favorite events of the year," as it's an opportunity for Free State's kitchen talent to show what they can do in addition to churning out the restaurant's familiar (and great) regular lineup. Yada yada. Here comes delicious BEER!
The evening's host was Geoff Dieman, the charming and friendly head of Free State's downtown brewing operation. He introduced us to the evening's beers and food, poked at Budweiser's "brewed the hard way" bit and as always, helped make the evening feel special.
... To the beer and food already! Isn't this comics-inspired menu design great?
The evening's first course ended up being my favorite of the night; the Umami lager was paired with a sweet langostino ceviche, made with grapefruit, fried onions, lime and cucumber. Ceviche is a favorite dish of mine, and this was light and sweet, and was a perfect pairing for the Umami lager, with its underlying flavors of melon and pepper.
The bold, funky Eccentricty was paired with a pork belly poutine (they already were batting 2 for 2 on my favorite dishes...). The fries were deliciously crunchy, and the pork sweet. It was a bit tough to eat (forking it proved a challenge and since I am a lady I just ate the fries with my hands), but tasted wonderful and no one was complaining about the surprisingly large portions.
A robust, briny and earthy miso soup followed, served with the Brewery's signature Wheat State Golden. It was a good point in the meal for something smaller and light, and while perhaps my least favorite dish of the night, it was only because the others were so excellent.
Two (!) more protein dishes followed, the first being some smoked duck served on top a crisp Frisco cheese cracker and with orange marmalade. The marmalade's sweetness was tempered by the extreme hoppiness of the Yakimaniac IPA, which was itself inspired by Philadelphia brewery Tired Hands.
While describing the doppelbock that was to be enjoyed alongside the pork dish, our host Geoff made his joke about the much-maligned Budweiser ad.
"I dunno if you saw the Super Bowl ad," he said, "but this really is beer brewed the hard way." Beer nerds chuckle, knowingly.
That heavy, effortful beer did little to keep our eyes off of the ridiculous portion of the herbacous pork tenderloin roulade, which was served on a crispy, cheesy grits cake that surprisingly was the highlight of the dish (this is a high compliment - it was all, of course, quite good). We probably only needed half, or even a third, of what was on that plate after the four previous courses, but if that is actually the only complaint you can muster, everything is just fine.
The evening was closed out heavy and sweet, with the Templeton Rye barrel-aged Owd Mac's imperial stout, and a beer-imisu (we see what you did there). Chef Jimmy Martin explained to us that his take on tiramisu was made in part by cooking the um, cookies down in the imperial stour wort malt (with a bunch of sugar then added).
We left stuffed and of course, buzzed. Thank you, lovely Free State, and Misters Dieman, Magerl, and Chef Martin. You make February a whole lot better.