The road leading up to Blackberry Farm winds gently through the hills of East Tennessee. Transition abounds along the way as farms and homes are slowly being buttressed by modern creations that pay homage to the past with an eye towards the future. Blackberry Farm lies at the heart of it all acting as the isthmus that has drawn the attention of the world to this special place shaped by time and the grace of God.

While many of us know Blackberry Farm Brewery, the farm existed long before. The late Sam Beall transformed this special spot in Walland, Tennessee into a world-renowned destination known not only for culinary feats but also for leveraging the farm to influence the table. The fact that three James Beard Awards have been bestowed on Blackberry Farm is a testament to the vision, dedication and energy brought about by its team.

The guest experience is a central theme on the farm. Memorable, purposeful, unparalleled are a few of the words that could be used to describe this approach. This past September the experience focused on the melding of farm and beer with an experience tailored around Blackberry Farm Brewery’s team, Roy Milner and brewer Daniel Heisler along with Sam Calagione Founder & President of Dogfish Head Brewery.

Sam has been wildly heralded as one of craft brewing’s great pioneers pushing the boundaries of conventional styles while also uncovering lost techniques and recipes. 60 Minute will forever be seen as a highly lauded example of an American IPA. As a pioneer in the craft brewing industry, Sam has influenced many brewers in their approach to style and breweries in their creation. However, Sam’s approach to building culture very much influenced Roy as he helped shape Blackberry Farm

For three days a small group of guests spent time with these gentlemen exploring the facets of the farm and the integration of earth with beer. In preparation for the event, Sam had the idea to take this theme literally and bury beer in the gardens on the farm. He was curious to see if the East Tennessee climate and soil would have an effect on the aging process. The gardeners at Blackberry Farm took this a step further and used the garden areas as inspiration based on what was growing in relation to the ingredients in the beer. What was unearthed was a very educational and unique experience as the buried beers were tasted side-by-side with their non-interred brethren. The result? A noticeable difference between the beers and an enlightening conversation.

On another occasion guests were able to gather around and hear Sam tell the story of Dogfish Head from 1995 to present. He weaved a story of both time and beer in a way that was engaging, memorable and impactful. Both Sam and his wife Mariah have an incredible and unique perspective on the craft beer community and culture that is both inspiring and amazing.

The event concluded with a finale dinner not to be forgotten which I was fortunate enough to attend. Dinner was held in the wine cellar of what is known as “The Barn.” Many may simply compare The Barn to a restaurant but it can be best described as containing a kitchen and culinary team of epic proportions. A table was elegantly set for the group with 6 beer glasses circling the top of each place setting beckoning of what was to come. After a brief introduction, the feast began. Five courses in all, each paired with a Dogfish Head beer that Sam Calagione provided the history and inspiration behind.

We began with a marinated watermelon salad containing coriander, pecans and pickled shallots paired with Dogfish Head 60 Minute. Sweet, juicy meets hoppy and slightly bitter. The contrast between the two allowed the flavors to dance elegantly together and brought out more flavors in each.

Next wood grilled okra, spiced pepper purée, charred tomatoes and peanuts paired with Dogfish Head Burton Baton which is, perhaps, one of my favorite Dogfish Head beers. The smokiness of the okra contrasted against the wood/tannin notes from this beer made each more memorable in its own way.

For the third course, hearth roasted shrimp, charred zucchini purée and basil mignonette paired with Dogfish Head Midas Touch. Midas Touch was the sweetest beer of the evening and while I would have naturally started here given the selection, it was a welcome change for the 3rd course. The purée and shrimp created an elegant backdrop to allow the flavors of this beer to shine through.

food-dog-fish dogfish-peopleFor the main course, painted hills strip steak, smoked beet purée and horseradish béarnaise paired with Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron. Palo Santo is a rich and decadent brown ale on its own, especially at 12% ABV. Paired with the strip steak and the flavors from the beet purée the richness of both food and beer intertwined in such a way that it was difficult to focus on much else.

Lastly, smoked hot chocolate, devil’s food cake, toasted marshmallow and Aleppo pepper with Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. World Wide Stout is an exceptionally full beer that coats the mouth with notes of fig, chocolate and coffee. While this beer is a robust 18%, the alcohol warmth doesn’t make itself known until the aftertaste and even then, it is very subtle. Paired with the sweetness and varying textures of the dish, each became more decadent with every bite. Truly a closing act to remember!

For those three days in the mountains of East Tennessee craft beer was brought to life for a small group of people by two breweries who are making consistent innovative strides in shaping this art. Both Dogfish Head and Blackberry Farm Brewery are consummate leaders in quality and excellence which is evident not only in their beer but also in their approach to their craft, the community, their teams and to one another. Through the backdrop of the farm with a deep cadre of artisans of both culinary and agricultural trade, the beer from both Dogfish Head and Blackberry Farm Brewery was brought to life in a way that showcases the complexity, flavor, passion and vision of a renaissance that is just beginning.

Written by Rob Shomaker