On January 28, 2014 The Top Hat in Missoula, Montana, will host its third Craft Beer Dinner in the last seven months. The first two dinners, each seating 150, sold out completely. This third dinner is already over half sold out. Tickets are $40 each and provides seven 7-oz. pours expertly paired with six courses of The Top Hat’s tapas and a dessert.
“We set up a family-style dining experience,” says Top Hat owner, Nick Checota. “It works well with beer and makes it a true community event. We seat 8-10 diners per table, and it gives you a chance to meet new people.”
The Top Hat is well-known for being a music venue, so of course live music is part of the experience. For the January (aka. Winter) dinner, Andy Dunnigan, Cameron Wilson, and Jesse Brown of the Lil Smokies will play between courses and between commentary by the guest of honor. That guest of honor for this dinner is Jurgen Knoller, owner of Bayern Brewing. There are seven different Bayern beers being paired with food for the Winter dinner, including the debut of its seasonal, Killarney, which will be tapped from a wooden keg.
“The Top Hat changes its menu four times a year, so we’re using these beer dinners to launch each of our new seasonal offerings,” says Checota. “It might be tapas, but no one leaves wanting more to eat.”
To give you an example of previous pairings, take the first dinner, which partnered with KettleHouse Brewing Co. Its Double Haul IPA was paired with lamb & fig flatbread and a marinated pork skewer. Brick & Mortar Porter was paired with bacon-wrapped dates and chocolate con churros.
For the Fall dinner, smoked salmon fritters were paired with Blackfoot River Brewing’s Steam-Style Amber Lager, and roasted butternut squash raviolis were paired with Wildwood Brewery’s White Bark Wheat. What was unique about the Fall dinner was that it featured not only eight different beers from eight different Montana breweries, but the brewers from each of those breweries were also sitting among the different tables and able to answer questions about their beers.
These beer dinners, according to Checota, are not just useful for debuting new foods. They can be helpful to the breweries too. “When we included the Phillipsburg Brewing Company in our Fall dinner,” says Checoata, “it was their launch into the Missoula market. In less than three months, they have become our #3 tap handle.”
The Top Hat’s #1 tap goes to Blackfoot River’s SingleMalt IPA, and #2 is Kettlehouse’s Cold Smoke. In fact, the Blackfoot River IPA is outselling Cold Smoke 2 ½-to-1 in terms of volume, and the bar pours through four kegs of Blackfoot River IPA every week.
Back to the upcoming dinner, Checota is also partnering with the Montana Chocolate Company for its dessert offering, making a unique Doppelback-infused chocolate to pair with Bayern’s Bad Santa Eisbock.
To close, beer dinners are a burgeoning side effect of craft beer’s popularity. They were a staple in the first two years of Missoula Craft Beer Week, and other breweries, like Bitter Root Brewing and Blackfoot River Brewing, have had great success with these beer/food/fun times.
Tell us, what’s been your favorite beer/food pairing or beer dinner experience?