Fine dining has come such a long way in a relatively short amount of time here in the States. All but gone are the stogy reminders of classic continental cooking; trite but tasty bastions of the stuffy American culinary scene.
Beef Wellington and lobster thermidore have been usurped by Wagyu beef carpaccio and potato-crusted sea bass. Fred Flintstone-ian slabs of prime rib drowning in a lake of suspect jus are slowly sliding out of sight in place of smaller, more refined dishes demonstrative of a chef’s training and creativity as evidenced in plating and harmony of ingredients.
Desserts have evolved as well. After piling on the calories of an over-sized American restaurant dinner, desserts had become a distant afterthought as belly space diminished. Even if one had “saved room for dessert,” as the server cliché goes, choices were usually the ubiquitous pre-fab, pre-sliced cheesecake or artificially tart wedges of Key lime pie. Occasionally, one could find crème brulee.
In the past decade and a half, crème brulee became the “new black” and, suddenly, everyone churning out anything from chicken Parmesan to crispy glazed Kurobuta pork belly had a variant of this custard dessert on their menu. The combination of cream, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla topped with sugar and torched until a crispy caramel shell forms proved to be a low-fuss crowd pleaser equally enticing visually, texturally and flavor-wise.
A very adaptive dessert it seems there isn’t a flavor that won’t work in a crème brulee. Rosemary? Had it. Pumpkin? But of course. Topped with fresh fruit and dusted with powdered sugar? Old hat. Beer? Wait a minute.
Instead of working beer into the dessert, let’s go the opposite direction and find a beer that claims to hearken to everything that had us fall in love with crème brulee in the first place. Southern Tier Brewing has a Southern Creme Brulee Milk Stout incorporating two-row grain and dark caramel malt for a rich, deeply-flavored and textured jet-black beer with no traces of light visible around its edges and a mocha head that leaves behind abundant lacing. Lactose sugar builds a sweet and creamy counterpoint to the huge roasted flavors of caramel, butterscotch, burnt sugar and espresso. This stout actually smells and tastes like someone set fire to a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, but in a good way!
The heavy charred/sweet flavors make this an ideal match with anything from roadhouse chili to coffee-rubbed tenderloin of elk. This is a beer as innovative and adaptive as our current culinary landscape. Now that’s gustatory evolution for you.