Thursday, December 7, 2023

Third Window's Boffo Bierbara

I don't know how I have been so remiss never to post about one of my favorite annual food-drink events in  Santa Barbara, in particular because it honors Saint Barbs herself. The St. Barbara origin stories, as with most of the old time saints--you know, the ones before the Romans even knew they'd need an M to count years--is murky, but basically she was a babe so her dad locked her up in a tower to keep her safe. (And keep her valuable to sell when a rich suitor came a-courtin'. It wasn't the good old days.) Pagan dad was later shocked to learn Barbara found the Catholic God in the meantime. Indeed, she convinced workmen to put a third window in a bathhouse on the family property, in tribute to how light comes in to one's soul through the trinity. Unhappy dad asks her to recant. She refuses. Turns her over to be tortured into recanting. She refuses. (Note: bad parenting.) Sentenced to death, her dad Dioscorus offers to wield the beheading sword himself, killing Barbara, only to be instantly smote by a lightning strike. So henceforth, St. Barbara is the patron of protection from things that go boom, especially thunderstorms and gunpowder.

Kris Parker, owner of Third Window Brewing, jokes, "Since all the mountain ranges were taken when we were looking for a name for a brewery that had an affinity for monastic ales, we turned to St. Barbara as a way to honor the town we are in." A graphic designer loved the idea--no surprise, as they have a nifty logo for all their merch--and Third Window was born. Every year for St. Barbara's feast day, December 4th, Third Window releases Bierbara, a strong ale that varies from year to year, and holds an actual multi-course feast. This year was number X. (Might as well stay with that Roman counting, no?)

There's Kris Parker, left, discussing one of the special pours before one of the courses. To his right is chef Logan Jones of Tamar, who has had an off-and-on pop-up at Third Window in the past (and currently at the old Tyger Tyger location Fridays), and given his foods all about Middle Eastern flavors, it seemed a particularly good fit for a feast day for someone rumored to have lived in that general region. It certainly worked this night, and he joins the line of esteemed chefs to prepare the Bierbara Feast these past ten years, including John Cox when he was at Bear & Star and Justin West when he owned The Mill's Wildwood.

Please note that non-optimal lighting makes these photos less the sell they should be. Every dish, brought out family style and placed so every four people had a platter to share, was as gorgeous it was delicious. Take that salad above, vivid with its Castelfranco and Treviso red-ivory streaks and then enough variations of shades of white to make you want to bring in an Eskimo who has all those supposed words for snow to help make distinctions--mixed chicories, Belgian endive, Asian pear, sheep's milk cheese, daikon radish. Toss with some toasted hazelnuts, sugar snap peas, and preserved lemon vinaigrette and you had a wonder of a winter salad. Especially when paired, like-to-like, with a lambic beer, a Ranch Koelschip re-fermented on Regier Farms peaches for an extra-sour-sweet snap of fruit. 

The second course offered the delight of ranch oak-smoked lamb kofta meatballs, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, full of flavor, sat in some of the yummiest cucumber and mint tzatziki I've ever had, somewhere between that Greek dip and a raita, punched up with black garlic chili oil. As a delivery vehicle there was Michelline Parker's soul-satisfying sourdough bread, grilled and drizzled with just enough olive oil. All of that good taste was amplified by the vivid Winter Saison '23 poured alongside, an imperial aged in Cognac puncheons, mellow and bright and artfully acetous, with the exact additions of ginger and orange peel without overpowering the ale's balance. The beer did that fine cleanse the palate trick that helped keep the food course seeming light.

The third course proves yet again brown foods might be made for the belly but not for Instagram. That's the fall-off-the-bone tender braised Fess Parker (what else?) beef short rib amidst a stew of homey loveliness--braised wheat berry porridge, pomegranate, toasted pistachio, roasted turnip, butternut squash, smoked dates. Atop the savory crunch of crispy shallot. Winter savory eating at its finest, so good you could have it without the beef and be completely pleased, and I say that usually not a huge fan of the whole porridge/oatmeal/congee texture of foods. (I tell myself I'm saving them for my toothless 90s.) But this dish I ate with relish. And drank with the '23 Bierbara, this year an abbey-style quad aged for a year in Willett Bourbon barrels, then rested on roasted pistachio and pomegranate. Super smooth for its no doubt high alcohol content, it was vivid with vanilla, piquant with the pistachio and pomegranate that the food also delivered. As ever, something special. (It's probably on tap/in bottles at the brewery soon if you want some.)

Note the reason for the season beer was poured alongside course three. For dessert we each got a generous glass full of dark chocolate budino, a very adult pudding that took a bit to get to through the whipped cream, tangerine segments and candied rind, and the peanut brittle that Chef Jones should be selling on its own. The beer match once again went for the samesies trick--the method of this feast's madness was always amplification, intensity, underlining--a bourbon-barrel aged walkabout, an imperial chocolate stout made with Third Window's almost neighbors 24 Blackbirds cocoa nibs, vanilla, and backyard orange peel. It could have been dessert in a glass itself, but we also had a dessert in another glass. 

And at least two of us were very glad we waddled our fested selves the 2.3 miles home on foot, reminiscing of deliciousness all the way.

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