Five Crowns in Corona del Mar hosted its seventh annual Porktoberfest on Oct. 11, a celebration of pork and beer where the beer won the evening, as well as the hearts and minds of many.
It's not to say that Five Crowns, a Corona del Mar institution of more than 50 years, served five courses that weren’t tasty and memorable. It’s just that the six rounds of beers, combined with descriptions about them from the guy who makes them, took center stage.
For a seventh year now, Paso Robles-based Firestone Walker Brewing Co. brought its brews down south to Five Crowns. David Walker, a British expatriate and co-founder of the brewery, where he’s dubbed “The Lion,” emceed the evening.
“I’m your entertainment tonight, which is pretty sorry,” Walker joked to the crowd.
He added that a few things have changed since Porktoberfest began, including the fact that, seven years ago, “Britain was still part of Europe.”
When asked how Firestone Walker came to be associated with Five Crowns, Walker said that someone from the restaurant invited the company years ago, and the duo has stuck together ever since.
With each course and pour, Walker discussed the brew, giving it greater context and a sense of placement in the arc of styles presented.
The evening, which took place on Five Crowns’ patio just outside its famed greenhouse, began with a self-serve buffet dubbed a “porkuterie.” Patrons grabbed samples of Olympia Provisions’ red wine salami, prosciutto, mortadella, soppressata, house-made rillettes, chicharrónes, crispy pig’s ears, head cheese, bacon onion marmalade, farmers market pickled veggies and pretzel bread.
The introductory beer was Firestone’s lager, which Walker said pays homage to great American lagers and was first made by the brewery 22 years ago.
It was a good intro beer to the brand but was quickly overshadowed by the perfection of beer No. 2: Walker’s Cuvee, a wild fermented ale. The reddish brew sat in French oak. Walker called the concoction a strange brew, but one could taste that wood and no one minded. It went down easy when paired by a great duo of Five Crowns’ pork cheek and spinach salad.
Next came the brewery’s Patrick Hayze, a hazy IPA. That type of beer (it stands for India pale ale) was relatively quiet for many decades until brought back from obscurity by West Coast breweries. Walker noted how the American brewers were “aggressive” in their production to make the hoppy, bitter, floral varieties.
“It’s a real credit to the independence of American brewers,” he added.
The Hayze came accompanied by belly and beans (braised kidney beans and white beans, roasted pork belly, radish and parsley and pork jus).
Next came a pour of Firestone Walker’s 2014 Sucaba, a barley wine aged in bourbon barrels with hints of coconut and dark chocolate. It comes 12% to 13% alcohol by volume (ABV).
The name was originally Abacus, but a winery sued Firestone Walker over that usage, so they just reversed the name.
“We decided to be clever,” Walker said.
Next came Firestone Walker’s DBA, or double barrel ale — a basic English pale ale. It had wonderful hints of caramel. That came accompanied by a country fried shank (breaded and fried pork shank, chicharrón country white gravy, a cheddar biscuit, bread and butter pickle), Cajun-style Brentwood Farms corn succotash and chilled green beans in a champagne mustard vinaigrette.
Topping off the evening was an absolutely exquisite crème brûlée (maple-infused custard with bacon jam and a crispy brown sugar bacon stick). It was the smoothest crème brûlée I've ever had, with a great consistency that reminded me of mashed potatoes — not a watery, overly gelatinous custard that often passes for that dessert.
Firestone Walker’s 2014 Velvet Merkin, a barrel-aged oatmeal stout, came alongside it. It was chocolate cake in a glass — or, more officially, a stout aged in bourbon barrels with suggestions of coconut and chocolate.
“It’s a rare, beautiful beer,” Walker said.