Three Ring Circus Beer Dinner & Sideshow was a SF Beer Week Highlight

A nine-course meal, twelve beers from three breweries and circus performers were on the bill for the Three Ring Circus Beer Dinner & Sideshow at the Elks Lodge in San Francisco on February 15th. The event was a collaborative effort organized by the Home Brew Chef Sean Paxton, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, Shmaltz and Ninkasi Brewing. It was by far the most ambitious and elaborate festivity taking place during SF Beer Week and lived up to the $120 price tag.

Every detail of the event paid homage to the circus, including the food. Paxton put his spin on a variety of carnival treats using local ingredients and gave each course a playful name, such as The Mermaid, The Drumstick and The Sword Swallower. Nearly every component of the food incorporated beer from the three breweries. The most highly anticipated course was the Hopped Cotton Candy wrapped around a cube of Sonoma foie gras terrine mixed with He’Brew Geneisis from Shmaltz. The sugar laden candy instantly melted around the fatty goose liver. It was delightfully decadent.

As the dinner progressed circus acts and sideshow performers entertained the crowd.  Most of them fell into the freak show genre. Classic acts like sword swallowing, walking on glass and mind reading took the stage along with a few acrobatic performances that mesmerized the dinner party, including Spiral, the pioneer of contemporary hoop dance.

The grand finale of the dinner was the unveiling of the collaboration beer, appropriately called Three Ring Circus Ale, that was created by the evening’s organizers. Brewed at Speakeasy, the very unconventional nut-brown ale was made with dulce de leche, popped corn and peanuts. Other noteworthy beer selections included Ninkasi’s Conventionale Imperial Stout (2010), He’Brew Genesis 15:15 by Shmaltz, and Speakeasy’s Massacre Black Wheat Wine. A complete food and beer menu can be found below with photos.

Although the evening extended well into the night due to slow food service (a minor flaw) the event was a great success. The historic Elks Lodge provided a wonderful backdrop, the entertainment was exceptional and the whimsical food paired nicely with the beer in almost every instance. Hopefully the organizers will bring this event back next year. SF Beer Week needs more quality events like this one.

 

The Menu

 

Pre-Dinner Reception Nibbles: Gourmet Popcorn

Bacon fat popped organic popcorn seasoned with tomato powder, roasted garlic, hop salt and smoked in bourbon barrel wood

Black Truffle Oil Scented Popcorn with cooked in vegetable oil with roasted garlic salt flakes

Thyme Infused duck fat popcorn with Sonoma Vella Dry Jack shavings, green peppercorns

 

First Course: The Mermaid

Lobster and prawn mousse infused with Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale, wrapped around petrale sole filets, Speakeasy White Lightning Ale “Tide Sauce”, Ninkasi Little One Beer Foam, Speakeasy Prohibition Ale quinoa “sand”

Paired with Ninkasi Sterling Pils

 

Second Course: The Drumstick

Willie Bird Smoked Turkey legs rillettes layered with He’Brew Genesis 15:15, shallots, dried figs and thyme, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk cheese, malt pickled heirloom pumpkin, assorted crackers, breads and spiced nuts

Paired with Speakeasy Massacre Black Wheat Wine and Coney Island Geektoberfest

 

Third Course: The Sword Swallower

“Haute” Dogs infused with 4-H style Lamb, Speakeasy Scarface Imperial Stout, caramelized onions and rosemary Ninkasi Renewale Porter Beer mustard, fennel carrot slaw, sweet roll

Paired with He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA

 

Fourth Course: Hopped Cotton Candy

Centennial hop scented sugar, wrapped around a cube of Sonoma foie gras terrine mixed with He’Brew Genesis

Paired with Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA

 

Fifth Course: Slider

Ground elk and duck heart patty, rendered dry aged beef fat, Brioche bun, house made He’Brew Genesis 15:15 beer ketchup, baby arugula, Speak Easy Payback Porter braised red onions

Paired with Ninkasi Conventionale (2010 Imperial Stout), Speakeasy Scarface Imperial Stout and He’Brew Genesis 15:15

 

Sixth Course: Churro

Point Reyes Blue cheese mixed into a Speakeasy Double Daddy savory churro, roasted garlic powder

Paired with Ninkasi Total Domination IPA

 

Seventh Course: Three Ring Circus

Roasted red, gold and white baby beets, Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog crumbles, carbonated citrus segments, malt candied hazelnuts, micro greens drizzled with a Three Ring Circus Collaboration vinaigrette

Paired with Speakeasy Prohibition Ale

 

Eighth Course: Funnel Cake

He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA infused batter with bergamot zest, Three Ring Circus Wort Honey Drizzle, Malted Powdered Sugar Dust, Ninkasi Sleigh’r Beer Caramel

Paired with Coney Island Albino Python

 

Ninth Course: The Non-Fried Non-Twinkie Cupcake

Ninkasi Conventionale Imperial Stout Chocolate Cake, filled with a He’brew Jewbelation 15 mousse filling, Speak Easy Prohibition Frosting, THCO Cocoa Nibs, Caramel Malt

Paired with the Speakeasy, Ninkasi, Shmaltz, Home Brew Chef Collaboration beer: Three Ring Circus

Rich Higgins Departing Social Kitchen & Brewery, Kim Sturdavant to be Brewmaster

Rich Higgins / Photo © Brian Stechschulte

By the end of February Rich Higgins will have made his final batch of beer at Social Kitchen & Brewery on 9th Avenue in San Francisco. The Master Cicerone has been at the helm of the brewing program since the Inner Sunset brewpub opened back in May of 2010.

His immediate plans call for some time off and research in Belgium, England and Germany, and then he’ll focus on his craft beer consultancy business. According to Higgins, “I’ve got too many opportunities, gigs, and contracts out there that I’m not able to seize upon and move my career forward.”

Higgins’ career started back in 2004 when he took an assistant brewer position at the San Francisco Brewing Company (now closed). After leaving in January of 2005 he spent time at Gordon Biersch and ThirstyBear Brewing before taking the brewmaster position at Social Kitchen.

During his two years at the brewpub Higgins created a balanced menu of session styles and bold high gravity beers. He also worked closely with the kitchen and several visiting chefs on his monthly Brewmaster Dinner Series. Higgins firmly believes that “there’s a beer for every food, and a food for every beer,” which he carefully explained during a recent series of beer and food pairing classes at the Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts in San Francisco.

Higgins’ exit from Social Kitchen also means he’ll be stepping away from his involvement with the San Francisco Brewers Guild, where he spent two years as Secretary, two years as President, and one year as a Board Chair. He spent many hours with the group organizing SF Beer Week, Brews on the Bay and other Guild activities. While he said the extra work outside the brewery has been exhausting, “I’ve learned a ton and it has given me great tools for effective leadership, organizing, and rabble rousing down the road.”

Don’t expect Higgins to disappear from the Bay Area brewing community. He’ll be working with restaurants and other venues around town that could use some help on beer menus and food pairing options. Before you can enjoy those results, head down to Social Kitchen over the next few weeks to try his strong beers while you can.

Enter Kim Sturdavant

Kim Sturdavant at right with James Davids

Fans of Social Kitchen shouldn’t despair. Higgins will be handing off the brewing system to a set of capable hands in Kim Sturdavant, who’s spent the last five and half years at Marin Brewing Company under the mentorship of Arne Johnson. Sturdavant plans on easing his beer onto the menu while learning the ropes of Social Kitchen’s brew system.

Down the road his goal is to get 10 beers on tap at all times, but he’s still figuring out how to juggle the equipment to ensure it happens. According to Sturdavant, Social Kitchen’s brew system is far too large for on-site consumption only and ownership has decided to pursue a distribution license.

As for the beer he has in mind, priority number one is a Pale Ale and then some hoppy English beers. Fans of Higgins’ Belgian styles won’t be disappointed. Rapscallion will stay on board and Sturdavant is thinking about brewing some sort of Belgian Single. You can also expect a Stout and Pilsner in the future.

Sturdavant is excited about the new opportunity even though he’s leaving a mentor behind. He said, “Arne Johnson is a great brewer and has impeccable taste. I can’t say enough about how valuable it was to learn from someone like him, to really learn to do things the right way, right off the bat.”

In the coming month you can expect to see Sturdavant’s hard work appearing on Social Kitchen’s beer menu.