No worries, my friends. I’m first and foremost a craft beer guy. But after tonight’s dinner hosted by Crispin Cider at The Happy Gnome, I may be making a bit more room for the cider category.

You know you’ve shown up to an event when local gossip-columnist C.J. is seated at a table nearby.  Aside from the people-watching and local celeb sightings, there was of course excellent fare from executive chef Matt Hinman, paired with Crispin’s three year-round offerings and their soon-to-be released Honey Crisp Unfiltered, the first in a line of planned Artisanal Series ciders. Here’s the menu and critique (and for another perspective, check out Jim Norton’s story at Heavy Table):

Braeburn apple crêpe and cured salmon
Chive and cream cheese béchamel, salmon caviar

I was certainly intrigued with this one. The chive and cream coupled with the delicate crepe and smoky salmon really worked. Kind of wished this was more of a full course in some way, as one bite was a cruel teaser (but I suppose that’s the point).

First course
Frisée and fennel salad
Peaches, pancetta, St. Pete’s blue cheese, apple cider vinaigrette
Paired with Crispin Original Light

A great salad. As my friend at the table commented, it was one of those masterfully crafted dishes where every component has its moment in the spotlight. Very tasty, and surprisingly the Crispin Light held up very well to the authoritative blue cheese on the plate.

DSC02480Second course
Achiote poached Alaskan halibut
Green curry and apple cous cous, celery root bisque, yellow curry oil
Paired with Crispin Original

Of the five courses, probably one of the least interesting. The nice level of heat from the green curry was its only saving grace. The halibut could have been a little more intriguing, as opposed to simply serving as a vehicle for the curry, but then again I’m not sure what else you can do with something like halibut. Nice texture combination with the apple cous cous. The Crispin Original really added a nice mellowing touch in opposition to the heat from the curry.

DSC02481Third course
Seared amish chicken breast
Roasted cipollini onions, baby carrots, broccolini, thyme-apple foam
Paired with Crispin Brut

Definitely my least favorite course. Chicken was tender, nicely cooked. But the foam was sort of weird, didn’t really impart much flavor. And the carrots gave me the feeling like I was eating grandma’s pot roast…not in the sense they were mushy or overcooked, but more like they were just “there” and didn’t add anything, kind of lowered the sophistication of what I was experiencing. The Crispin Brut was great, probably my favorite of their three regular offerings. A building astringency in the finish, which was a welcome change of pace from some of the sweeter and more savory flavors on the plate.

DSC02485Fourth course
Cider glazed buffalo
Fingerling potatoes, smoked pork belly, porcini mushrooms, fig brulé, watercress coulis, horseradish aspic
Paired with Crispin Honey Crisp Unfiltered

My favorite course of the night, and the one that seemed to have the highest degree of difficulty in pulling off given all the very unique flavors going on at once. Never had a full-on buffalo steak before, and I found it to be noticeably more dense and “stringy” than beef. The connective tissues in the meat were very apparent, which could have been more about the medium rare serving than the meat itself. But I enjoyed it, very flavorful. The pork and mushrooms also were good, but the fig (while interesting from an execution standpoint using a flame to sear the sugars) was a bit undercooked for my liking. I’ll come back to my take on the Honey Crisp Unfiltered in a moment…  

DSC02493Fifth course
Crispin cider poached apple
Izzy’s ice cream, walnut tuile, cinnamon and crispin caramel
Paired with Crispin Honey Crisp Unfiltered

Dessert was great, as expected. How do you go wrong with Izzy’s? But Crispin’s new Honey Crisp Unfiltered was the surprise of the evening for me. Much more akin to a hefeweizen in its unfiltered appearance, and a witbier in its yeast-forward aroma and flavor. Very bready, with a touch of floral honey and clove. In other words, it was about the furthest thing from a cider that you’d expect. The apple took a serious back seat to everything else going on. According to the Crispin representative at my table, they plan to do more of these Artisinal Series ciders (maybe ginger-infused, maybe Minnesota maple syrup?). I think they have a real winner on their hands with this one, if the goal is to appeal to a wider audience of craft beer enthusiasts that may not have considered cider before.