I had to bend a few New Year’s Resolutions and cut my Dryuary short to review the first in the Brewery-of-the-Month Dinner series at Chelsea Tavern. But if I had to boil my experience down to two words: Worth it!
Chelsea Tavern is a favorite among local hopheads and malt mouths because of their long beer lists and Tuesday night Flight Club. The evidence of this can be found in Chelsea Tavern’s following on Untappd. With this dedicated customer base, curated beer dinners seemed a logical next step. The dinners provide a way to dive even deeper into local beer culture and to marry that experience with another of Chelsea’s strengths—fine cuisine. The formula is simple: Five beers paired with five courses for $55 (a steal, in my opinion)—all served in the lower level dining room. To kick off the series, Chef Alrick Mitchell created a menu that pairs thoughtfully with beers from Fordham & Dominion (Dover), Delaware’s second largest microbrewery. Because this was the first dinner of the series, Fordham & Dominion added a dimension to the beer tastings. They presented attendees with two 6-ounce pours of each of their selected beers, one from a bottle and one from a can, in order that we might be able to crown a champion. This Bottle vs Can theme was reinforced, perhaps even skewed, with a showing of Film Brother’s short film Beer Can: A Love Story.
Chelsea Tavern’s lower dining room, where the dinners take place, feels like an inner sanctum, a clandestine lair. Entering the room, I was handed a cold bottle of Gypsy Lager and was greeted warmly by Chelsea Tavern owner, Joe Van Horn. Could a secret handshake be next? I found my place card at a large central table that looked to seat about two dozen people. It had been a while since I had a lager (or any drink), so bottle or no, my first beer was tasting mighty good. I barely let it out of my sight as I made my way to the cheese and charcuterie display that made up our first course. Here is some wisdom earned the hard way: don’t fill up on the first course. The artisan cheeses and meats were dazzling in its array, but eat them sparingly, so as to save room for the rest of the courses.
Rookie that I was, I returned to my seat with a loaded plate and talked with other guests. A mix of people, some came as a couple, some came as singles—with or without friends. I came with my husband who abandoned conversation with me in favor of the geeky hop talk going on to his right. Across from us sat Rick and Laurie Benson, hosts of WDEL’s popular beer-centric talk show Thirsty Thursday. To my left, James McClain of Sikar Cigar Lounge was scouting out the venue for his upcoming cigar-themed dinners. The brewers from Fordham & Dominion were seated further down on my left. They were sharing anecdotes and answering questions. At the head of the table sat Mr. Bottle and Mr. Beer, the stars of the short film we were about to view. Altogether, we were an animated bunch-more so, after a few beers.
An aside: Not every beer dinner will include the film (which is a shame because it is a delight) so I don’t really need to offer the admonition about not eating too much popcorn drizzled with bourbon caramel or the popcorn dusted with parmesan cheese. But I mention the popcorn that accompanied the movie to show you the attention to detail that Chelsea Tavern puts into their events.
Back to the showdown. Bottle vs. Can. I admit, I came to this dinner with bias toward the can. (Be careful how you word this preference. The running joke of the evening was “Oh, you like it in the can?” Snicker, snicker, snicker.) I blame my predilection for cans on Heady Topper mania and a penchant for tubing in local creeks. But would my preference hold out in blind tastings? I certainly preferred our first beer, the lager in its canned form, but that tasting wasn’t done blind. The results of the next two tastings, F&D’s Copperhead Ale and Backstage I.P.A, left me feeling pretty haughty. Not only did I pick out the cans (still my favorite) in the blind tasting, but I beat out the brewers who couldn’t pick them out of the lineup. My triumph paired well with courses number two, a lovely little prosciutto pizzette drizzled with local honey & sriracha, and number three, a bowl of the best cheese soup I have ever had.
Course four is when the error of my ways at the charcuterie spread and the popcorn bowl set in. I was starting to feel full and couldn’t quite discern bottle from can. But I powered through the tastings, boxing up what I couldn’t finish. (Pan-seared sea scallops on potato pancakes made for an excellent breakfast this morning with an over-easy egg.) Believe me when I say that that this dinner will leave you satisfied, so pace yourself. And save room for dessert. We capped off our experience with Snickers Egg Rolls and an oak-barreled stout. By this point the can/bottle debate was secondary to the flurry of contact information exchanges. Beer-networking is a thing! When dinner was over, Chef Mitchell paid us a visit, and we lauded his achievement with applause and a final toast. So yes, I caved on my resolutions, but I had a memorable evening and gained some brownie points with my husband, who was reasonably impressed with my can-deciphering abilities.
Chelsea Tavern will be offering these dinners monthly. The next one, featuring Dewey Beer Company, is February 27 at 6:30 PM. The same deal applies. Five Beers and five courses for $55. Plan ahead and reserve a spot. While you are at it, you may want to make arrangements for an Uber for the evening. Chelsea Tavern is also offering another special dining event, a Valentine’s Day dinner available from February 14-16 which includes three courses and 2 glasses of bubbly for $75 a couple. For more information on these special events as well as information on Tuesday night Flight Club, check out the Chelsea Tavern website or call 302-482-3333 for reservations.
February 27: Dewey Beer Company
March 26: Dogfish Head
April 23: Cape May Brewing
IN May, Beer Dinners morph into Smokin’ Joe’s Cigars Under the Stars Cigar Dinners inherited from Ernest & Scott Taproom!