Heartland Brewery has been a culinary staple during my New York City residency. Before there was a craft beer bar every few blocks, or Whole Foods sold almost every beer imported to the east coast, New York housed only a handful of influential, craft beer pubs. Bars like The Blind Tiger, Gingerman or the Peculiar Pub were landmark destinations for beer drinkers in search of the best “microbrews.” In the more heavily trafficked neighborhoods such as the South Street Seaport, the Theatre District, or even Union Square, craft beer lovers were at a loss. Thankfully, Heartland Brewery was there to fill the void. Even today, there is no better meal near Port Authortity than a pint of Red Rooster and an HB Burger.
Like craft beer in America, Heartland has evolved beyond their flagship taps to include new, seasonal drafts. This is due in no small part to Kelly Taylor, Heartland’s (and Kelso’s) brewmaster for over a decade. Since 2001, Kelly has brought his pacific northwest upbringing and international beer knowledge to Heartland. He has expanded their portfolio to include, amongst others, a Belgian dubbel, a honey porter and an excellent barley wine. The Brewmaster’s Feast, held on February 8th at their Empire State Building location, was a celebration of Heartland Brewery’s last decade of rapid growth and development.
“Join Heartland brewmasters Kelly Taylor and Sam Richardson and DRAFT Beer Editor Chris Staten on Feb. 8 for an evening of food and craft beer pairing. Heartland Brewery’s Empire State Building location will pour Heartland brews alongside food stations serving up delicacies. The food’s highbrow, but the evening’s casual; walk among the stations, sip Heartland suds and chat with the pros at your own pace.”
This six-course, walk-around tasting paired some of Heartland’s more noble culinary creations with both classics and new, small batch beers. Since both the drinks and plates were coming from the same source, the pairings were well thought out and complimented one another successfully. Overall, the event was a true testament to Heartland Brewery’s position as New York’s leading brewpub and Kelly’s reign as head Brewmaster.
Historically, Heartland has shown skilled craftsmanship in their session strength beers creating a balancing of light body with balanced flavors. This was evident in the first pairing of the night, Harvest Wheat paired with chilled mussels on the half shell, lemon-pepper aioli, cucumber salsa and chervil individually plated on a bed of sea salt. Here, the lightness of the beer complimented the crisp, cucumber salsa while its subtle, grain-focused finish cleansed the palate. While my personal preference leans towards mussels served in a rich broth, this chilled variation added a pleasant alternative in the walk-around setting.
The evening also successfully paired Heartland Brewery’s new Quad Bock with char-grilled lamb tenderloin, stuffed with spinach and goat cheese and plated with rosemary lamb jus and tomato compote. Interestingly, the sharpness from the lamb (primarily the goat cheese and tomato components) served as the complement in this pairing, cutting through the Bock’s big, malty sweetness. The Quad Bock is a prime example of Kelly’s role in aligning Heartland portfolio with today’s big-beer trend. While their previous strong beer – Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout – has a light body and clean, dry finish, the Quad Bock is sweet, with complex Belgian esters of banana and clove.
The most straight-forward pairing of the evening came in the form of the aforementioned Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal stout paired with pepper seared, stout glazed beef tenderloin and wild mushroom-leek puree. Steak and stout is an obvious combination and these were solid versions of each. Sadly, the puree seemed to be a missed opportunity and added little to the plate beyond a textural element.
Great food and beer was not the only thing that Heartland Brewery was premiering this evening. The bar was also pouring the first available tastes of their brand new whisky. Produced from a distillation of Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout, the whisky is a limited-batch collaboration with New York state’s own Tuthilltown Spirits. Despite its brief, two year aging, the resulting whisky hid its youth and drank surprisingly smoothly with a stately vanilla nose and hints of hazelnut, cinnamon and chocolate in the glass.
While Heartland Brewery has always been a “burger and a beer” joint for me, this evening was a refreshing look into their culinary possibilities. As expected, the beers were some of New York’s finest and the pairing of the two resulted in a casual, enthusiastic evening from the city’s finest brewpub.
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