J.J. Brewsky’s
2433 Ventura Blvd.
Camarillo
482-5249
$40-$50

Specialty dinners have always been dominated by wine: white wine paired with fish, red wines with steak, ports with dessert. J.J. Brewsky’s proves that an entire feast can be built around the right lineup of beers and ales.

At the launch of J.J. Brewsky’s monthly beer dinner, a mix of beer enthusiasts and foodies were treated to a brief PowerPoint presentation by Steve Grossman, co-founder of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

For those who frequent Southern California bars, Sierra Nevada may seem ubiquitous, so it surprised more than a few of us to know that the brand was first sold as recently as 1982. In the span of five minutes, we were treated to the story of Sierra Nevada’s humble beginnings in a warehouse, where the Grossman brothers’ success came as a result of elbow grease and solid recipes.

The wait staff alternated between pouring small glasses of the featured beer — refills available and at the ready — and setting out dishes crafted by chef Gael Lecolley. The meal began with mussels la mariniere, a light dish of succulent shellfish resting in a subtle, buttery sauce that enhanced but did not overpower the taste. Wheat beer accompanied, and was my personal favorite (I favor lights to ales). Made with Strissel Spalt hops, the beer had a mild, sweet taste.

In the brief intermission between courses, the story of Sierra Nevada’s evolution continued and jars of barley seeds and hops — at least five varieties — were passed around the table. In what could easily have turned into a snobbish, overly formal study of beer varieties, the atmosphere remained friendly. Few of us knew what hops looked (or smelled) like, and as the night went on and our tastes became more informed and refined, Grossman’s brief, helpful lessons added to an impressive lineup of dishes and libations.

Harvest ale, a heavier beast, was served with a flawless quiche, presented pastry-style, of Roquefort cheese and leek. The chef’s smart flourish of baby arugula tied the dish together, balancing out the heavy richness on the Roquefort. Harvest ale is noteworthy for its use of fresh and unprocessed hops. Although I am not an ale enthusiast, I was impressed with this blend’s notable caramel taste. The ale was nearly a meal in itself.

Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, the heaviest of the bunch, had a bite that was echoed in its eponymous barbecue sauce, drizzled carefully over a duck confit crepe. The rich, fatty quality of the duck played off the dark tones of the Bigfoot ale, and the slight tang of the barbecue grounded the dish.

India Pale Ale, we were told, is based on the English variety of lager. As a former UK-based barkeep, I was reminded of the golden amber lagers that were standard fare in any neighborhood tavern. True to the pub tradition, the accompanying dish was a bloody pepper-crusted ribeye steak, with the pleasing twist of sweet potato fries and the subtle topping of grilled sweet onions.

Although butterscotch and chocolate chip frozen soufflé was on the menu, the capable chef, upon hearing about the shades of apricot present in the Scotch Ale, improvised and created an ice cream dish that featured apricot, walnuts and flicks of chocolate (butterscotch soufflé, we assumed, might have been redundant). If it wasn’t gauche to dump ice cream into beer (spiked Pale Ale float, anyone?), the combination of these two elements would still have made an ideal dessert.