The idea behind this event (in its second year) is to feature the best of NH beer and pair it with the best of NH and local Portsmouth restaurants as a benefit for both Strawberry Banke (a living history museum in Portsmouth, NH) and NH Public Television. Last year’s event was extremely sucessfull, and its popularity and coverage helped to make it a sell-out event this year. There were some visible changes to the event from last year, and I’m going to share a few of them with you. But overall this event remained a great way to network, eat some creative and tremendous foods and paired with some very good beers.

To read a review of most of the pairings I sampled, you can check out my regular Beer Review blog (www.thebeerbabe.com) but here I will share the highlights, and some observations about the event.

From NHPTV Passport – a Craft Beer & Culinary World Tour

Strawberry Banke is a beautiful place, and what better place to have people stroll around and go from tent to tent, sampling delicious cuisine. Held later in the year this year, there were significantly fewer bugs (I remember getting quite a few mosquito bites last year) and was a warm fall evening. This year’s event included a VIP event beforehand – last year VIPs got in an hour early but sampled the same food/beer as non-VIPs. This year, Smuttynose went all out to provide vintage/aged Smuttynose beers to sample, and had some additional delicious bits to accompany them, served on the back deck and gardens of “Mombo” restaurant.

I have to admit that my first taste of a 2007 Barleywine was heaven – I was very pleased at its mellow warmth and its intoxicating sweetness. After that it only got better – with the 2008 Smuttynose Baltic Porter and Smuttonator (dopplebock)topping my list. The pouring was in a small back room that was half outside, with a garden to wander around in. I think they could have improved flow by bringing the pouring stations to outside, but there were probably logistical reasons why this wasn’t a possibility. If you could get through the bottleneck of the lines (which weren’t too bad) then you could easily sample all the brews – if you wanted to. The high ABVs gave me pause and I decided not to try all of them – but I did try all the appetizers. My favorite was duck on a crispy fried wonton, followed closely by venison tartar with goat cheese (just melted in your mouth). After meeting a few cool people during this VIP event, we were “released” into the grounds of Strawberry Banke.

From NHPTV Passport – a Craft Beer & Culinary World Tour

The Banke was arranged as last year – with spread out tasting places around the grounds. A notable absence, however, were the multitude of period actors that usually grace the ground – these were a whimsical and pleasant presence last year and I was sad to see them gone. The cooper – who actually provided a barrel for aging a Moat Mountain beer – was around and talking about his craft, but the “pub owner” that gave the history of NH breweries was not.

The premise of last year’s Passport event was to feature the best of NH and some southern Maine breweries and I was impressed with the local flare – Moat Mountain, Tuckermans, the Portsmouth Brewery – but there were (still) some conspicuous absences. And the weirdest in the lineup? There was a sole ceviche paired with a great wheat beer… from Colorado. Newly distributing to NH, the Boulder Brewing company somehow snuck its Sweaty Betty into the mix. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sure we could have the “ultimate pairings” from any number of breweries – but I’m a little bit sad to take the focus away at all from local brews. And there are plenty more to choose from. What about Martha’s Exchange? White Birch Brewing? Maybe Red Hook could have broughtsomething special outside of their regular line… I’m a little worried that eventually the shift may go too far away from local – and that’s something that could ruin what makes this event special.

What was a nice addition was the “Meet the Brewers” section in which several brewers got to answer questions about their philosophies on beer. I listened for a while to Peter Eggleston talking about how he was inspired by homebrewers like Charlie Papazain, and how beer can be a great vehicle for dialogue. I couldn’t agree more.

All and all it was a terrific event – a delightful showcase of the best the culinary world had to offer. RiRa’s restaurant provided the food for my favorite pairing – an apple curry eggroll paired with Allagash Curieux. I definitely forgot how much I like the Curieux… but paired with apples and curry it just had a perfect fall feeling to it. Another great one was the Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale paired with a fried oyster – it was breaded w/cornmeal and still tasted briny and fresh – not over-friend and tasting like everything else in the fryer. Very nice.

From NHPTV Passport – a Craft Beer & Culinary World Tour

As the evening wore down I tried some absolutely delicious things and stopped to consider the evening. I got stopped several times by people that I knew or who knew me (thanks for saying hi, Todd!). The grounds were beautiful and it was an unseasonably warm night. A bonfire was another pleasant addition to end the evening. In all, I’d recommend this event to anyone – and I applaud Strawberry Banke/NHPTV for giving it another attempt this year. I hope that events such as this can be staples in the local beer/restaurant culture – it gives us a chance to discover quite a lot.