With a number of its draught lines already dedicated to pouring some of Surly’s finest, Tracy’s Saloon & Eatery in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood was a fitting venue for the brewery’s SurlyFest bar release party Monday evening.
Malt forward with a spicy rye crispness, SurlyFest delivers a relatively hoppy twist on the much celebrated Oktoberfest-Märzen style compared to more traditional examples like Paulaner, Ayinger, or Hacker-Pschorr. And Tracy’s six-course tasting menu showcased not only how to successfully pair some of the Twin Cities’ most popular craft beers, but also that its chefs were serious about stretching the venue’s gastronomic aspirations.
The evening began with a bed of julienned greens topped with a sliver of mozzarella and Surly Cynic dressing (above, left), providing a somewhat bland introduction that was thankfully saved by the wonderfully salty house-cured wild salmon, a perfect foil to the malty sweetness delivered by the course’s SurlyFest pairing.
Next up was a skewered flat iron steak, grilled perfectly medium-rare, with a spicy Surly Bender barbeque glaze (above, center). Very nicely done, with the faintest bit of heat providing a nice prelude to what we quickly realized was the dish’s shining star, a roasted pineapple, onion, and jalapeno relish. Slightly citric with a nice building heat, it was ably augmented by the heady perfume of hops from the Surly Furious pairing. The course’s caramelized plantains, while somewhat pleasing in their rummy sweetness, fell a bit flat for our table, resembling something more like a kettle-cooked potato chip with their hard, brittle texture.
The third course proved simple and delicious, an expertly crafted cheddar soup infused with Surly Furious that was the evening’s highlight. Decadent, satisfying, and well-balanced, the soup was accompanied by a home-baked cracker and sprig of thyme, a pair that offered a subtle earthiness.
The cheddar soup was a hard act to follow. The fourth course was a confusing mix of SurlyFest-braised wild boar and cranberry, beer-battered green beans and red onion, and thinly sliced pickled daikon. While the boar was nicely cooked, the sweet malt and velvety oatmeal texture of the dish’s Surly Bender pairing wasn’t enough to overcome the acidic nature of the cranberry.
The battered vegetables were somewhat forgettable, and the vinegar intensity of the daikon only exacerbated the lack of balance on the plate. In short, it was difficult to divine the course’s vision.
An interesting sight greeted us with the fifth course, a Surly Furious mint julep shooter served in a highball glass that, while aesthetically intriguing, unfortunately lost its luster once we tried the concoction. The cooling from the mint sugar and small pieces of mint leaf suspended in the hoppy beer did little to augment, or even downplay, the intense bitterness.
The evening ended on a high note, with a dessert of Surly Bender and coffee pudding. Light, airy, and complex in both its flavor and texture, we were pleased to learn that of all the offerings presented, this one has made its way to Tracy’s regular dinner menu.
Aaron Masterson is the author of local craft beer and homebrew blog, The Captain’s Chair.