Craft Beer and "Craft Salmon" at T. Cook's Alaskan Beer Dinner Last Night

See also: Craft Beer of the Week: Schneider Aventinus Weizenbock

T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Resort invited guests to an Alaskan Beer pairing dinner last night, in what it hopes will be the first in a series of beer pairings to run throughout the fall and winter. The evening featured a variety of Alaskan Brewing Company beers and showcased Skuna Bay's Vancouver Island craft raised salmon - yeah, craft salmon.

The lush (particularly for being in the middle of the desert) grounds surrounding the Royal Palms and T. Cook's provided a romantic background for the intimate dinner experience. Several tables of diners inside the restaurant enjoyed an evening of brews and summer-themed cuisine from T. Cook's Executive Chef Lee Hillson.

Even before the first course landed on the table, waiters poured a (hearty) tasting of Alaskan Brewing Company's IPA, or Indian Pale Ale. Although IPAs are known for their hoppy and sometimes bitter flavor, the Alaskan brew favored a more mild profile that even winos could appreciate. The flavors paired excellently with house-cured charcuterie and cheeses, the particular standout on the plate being the smooth and slightly salty goat cheese.

The dining pairing also served as a build-up to the Phoenix Cooks! Culinary Festival coming up on September 1. In addition to Hillson, one of the headlining chefs of the event, recognizable names such as Matt Carter, Steven Toevs and Jason Alford will come together to make a "culinary wonderland" to benefit the Phoenix Children's Hospital. It also served as an unofficial preview of what Chef Hillson plans to serve in his upcoming dinner at the James Beard House this December.

For the second course, Alaskan Brewing offered their coriander and orange peel flavored wheat beer: the Alaskan White Ale. The slightly, sweet beer with a subtle citrus finish matched well with the frisee, arugula, and watermelon salad.

By the time the main course arrived, we were more than ready to taste the Skuna Salmon. As Chef Hillson would explain later in the dinner, the family-run salmon farm raises its fish with the same care and consciousness that have long-been pillars of raising high quality beef and chicken. The Skuna Bay salmon are carefully caught in a stress-free manner and then hand-expected and processed. Sounds excessive...until you try it. Chef Hillson serves as a sort of spokesperson for the salmon company and spoke passionately about the importance of buying farmed fish in order to preserve populations wild salmon.

The buttery and perfectly pink fish came topped with a salsa verde of anchovies, capers, lemon and olive oil. Sitting atop a bed of fingerling potatoes, artichokes and peppers, the dish complemented the Alaskan Amber quite well. The beer, based on a recipe from a turn-of the century Juneau area brewery, offered a smooth but malty flavor that could harmonize with almost any meal. We struggled to finish every last bite of the thick fillets, already knowing desert would be a tight squeeze.

The simple but delectable desert arrived in the form of two, heavy and decadent brownies aside a cup of Bailey's ice cream. The dish accompanied the 2011 Alaskan Smoked Porter extremely well. The limited edition beer comes in "vintages" like wine and is one of the most awarded beers in the history of the Great American Beer Festival. Its dark flavor profile and heavy feel stood up nicely to the uber-chocolately (in a good way!) brownie.

To end the night, we correctly identified the most eastern state to which Alaskan Brewery distributes (answer: Minnesota) in order to take home a copy of the Alaskan Brewery Cookbook signed by brewery owners Marcy and Geoff Larson. With our prize and our complementary Alaskan Brewery beer glasses, we took a brief tour around the gorgeous grounds before heading home to dream of happy salmon and sweet, golden beer.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria