Our regular readers might remember the “12 Beers of Christmas” dinner that we did at Food 101 last December on Date Night #11. Food 101 is not doing an event this year, so we set out in search of another Christmas beer dinner. Lo and behold, we saw a snippet by Bob Townsend in the AJC about Big Tex in Decatur and their Christmas beer dinner plans. Five Bell’s beers (Bells of Christmas, get it?) and a four-course meal. Will we make it to the end?
We feel like we need some partners in crime tonight, so we invite our dear friends and occasional Date Night co-stars Claudia and Randy along and they readily accept.
There will be no driving tonight. We have hotel rooms downtown and are planning on taking MARTA both ways to Decatur. Will we live to tell about it?
To set the scene, Bell’s Brewery is in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We have enjoyed some of their beers before and are looking forward to the offerings tonight. Big Tex is owned by the Fox Bros., who some say make the best BBQ in Atlanta.
This is not a BBQ joint, though. Instead, think Tex-Mex with big portions. We’ve got our own private room in the back, and 30 lucky people are going to experience a fabulous night. As luck would have it, we are seated right next to Bob Townsend, so we have our own private beer expert sitting right next to us.
As we enter, we are greeted by the manager, and both owners, who thank us for coming to the dinner. We are also welcomed with a beer.
Our first offering is the Bell’s Winter White Ale (5% ABV). As we are drinking it, the Bell’s southeast representative enters and talks about the beer. It’s only available in the winter and the cinnamon/nutmeg hints in the beer are not from spices, but from the mixture of hops and malt they use in the brewing process. He comes in throughout the night as each beer is served. It’s nice to have your own draft master on tap as you drink his wares.
Someone else who comes in with every course is Chef Rick Watson.
He explains each course, how it is prepared, and why it goes well with the beer that is being served. His first offering is very simple.
Everyone gets a raw oyster with a spiced butter sauce. It goes nicely with the first beer.
To complete the first course, we get a different kind of oyster, but grilled. Again, the simple oyster goes well with the winter ale.
The second course begins with a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (7% ABV).
This is Bell’s biggest selling beer. It’s their IPA offering, yet it does not have the sour taste that a lot of those overly-hopped IPA’s tend to have. Chef Watson presents a beef carpaccio to go with the IPA.
There’s a tomato and corn roasted salsa on the top. Some might not like to eat their meat this raw, but we have done this many times in Europe and it is nice to “eat it raw” in the USA. The seasonings on the incredibly tender beef make you want to eat it raw all of the time.
The next course had me at “duck fat”. There’s nothing fatty about our next beer, which some of us felt lived up to its name and truly was the “best” beer of the night.
It’s a Bell’s Best Brown Ale (5.8% ABV), which has a lot of malty flavor. With the beer comes the duck fat.
Those are duck fat fries with a lamb slider. The slider is grilled to perfection and goes so well with that Bell’s Brown. Wait, there’s more! We get a bonus dish that is not on tonight’s menu.
Chef Watson treats us to a small piece of pork belly, served with slaw on a toast point. Remember that Big Tex has BBQ in its family and this two-bite portion might have been the best part of the entire meal.
We are starting to get full, and we have not even had the main course. Our next beer is delivered.
The Bell’s Porter (5.6% ABV) is similar to the brown, but has a lot more coffee flavor in it. It is paired with some Georgia boar.
There are large chunks of meat in there as well as cabbage that is stuffed with house-made bacon. Some of my meat is a bit dry, but by this time of the night and after this much beer, who cares? We do not finish the entire dish, not because it isn’t good, but because we still have dessert and a very special beer ahead.
Have a look at the Bell’s Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout (11.5% ABV). This beer is barely available in Atlanta (you can only get it at Taco Mac in Sandy Springs), but we’ve got our own private keg. It’s a combination of two different kinds of Bell’s stouts that is, as the name says, aged in bourbon barrels. This infuses a bourbon flavor into the beer.
We are introduced to pastry chef Jessica Luna, who brings out our final dish.
Take a bite of the bourbon caramel chocolate eclair, which is designed as a match with our dessert beer. As usual with a dessert this good, plate licking is discussed, but we are able to get almost everything off our plates with the utensils provided.
We leave Big Tex after four hours of beer, food, fun and great conversation. Because the beer is lower in alcohol this year, we feel “happy”, but we did not overdo it like we did in 2011. Our MARTA ride is uneventful and gets us to our hotel safely.
It’s another special holiday Date Night. How can we possibly top this next year?