“Eff, you, Flo.”
“Go home, Flo.”
No matter how it’s said, it’s all about a good cause supported by good people. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but as sinfully delicious as sugar kisses and stouts sounds, I’ve got two words for you: Sold. Out.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, breweries, retail shops, restaurants, and more have been joining forces and pooling their profits to make sure our community has access to resources it needs. So, what do you get when you combine exquisite Italian-style eats from Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria with the daringly bold, hella-hopped, silly-named brews of New Anthem Beer Project? Magic. Obviously. And one hell of a fundraiser.
Five beers and four courses, with Benny’s entire staff donating their time, and New Anthem contributing the brews, 100-percent profits are going to hurricane relief via #OverFlo—which will assist nonprofits in ongoing recovery to rebuild the community. Sixty-five seats later (which were gone almost immediately after the event’s initial promotion in early October), and the hungry samaritans, who each dropped $60 a ticket, are in for a solid night of sipping and eating.
And it’s not Benny’s and New Anthem’s first rodeo together—it’s their second.
Benny’s chef de cuisine, Jim Diecchio, and general manager Andrew Sutton planned on crafting the menu around the brews (instead of vice versa). I snagged an invite to the tasting party to get a head’s up on what diners can expect, alongside New Anthem owner / brewer Aaron Skiles. In the dimly lit tasting room, Skiles burst through the back door, set down two sloshing goblets, teeming with an exotically rich, intensely ebony liquid. He slid one between the group, swirled the other in his palm, and then—without skipping a beat or cracking a smile—unexpectedly announced, “Sugar Kisses.”
Heads up: I can’t guarantee the final brew lineup or matched courses will be identical to what I encountered at this planning sesh. I’m just here to share details as they were presented to me. From what I do know, both establishments are planning on blowing the minds (and palates) of all diners, from start to finish.
As we sniffed and savored the silky black double stout, Skiles broke down a few things. The seven-percent ABV sipper was aged on maple wood in Maker’s Mark barrels for five months, so marshmellow and toffee really come through. On the nose, there’s a hard-caramel candy scent, but the flavor is much less sugary than one would expect. I saw a flicker of excitement in Diecchio’s eyes. “Yeah, we’re making floats,” he said with a poised grin, and then began scribbling in his notebook.
Up next: a little number by the name of “Fragile Things”—a pilsner malt/wheat with a surprising twist. “The pink peppercorns and verbena set off a perfume of lemon tea,” Skiles noted, “but the catch is it’s made with magic yeast.”
Yep! This Norwegian farmhouse yeast, Kveik (pronounced “kwike”), is known for its high-heat tolerance, quick-fermenting character, and the fact it can be dried and reused.
“The yeast allowed the beer to go from grain-to-glass in seven days,” Skiles remarked and paused. “Well, it was done in two days but we let it sit.”
A few sips of the subtle, citrusy gem and Diecchio’s brain started spitting out inspiration from a light greens course to starters with artisanal cheeses. “Not a blue necessarily,” he confirmed, “but something with a funk—not like a moldy funk, though.”
We then spent 10 minutes gushing about one of my favorite Italian cheeses, taleggio. Diecchio reminisced on a blueberry bruschetta he had done with the pungent, fruity beauty at his last beer dinner with New Anthem.
Next, we toasted the “Pause and Reflect,” a barrel-aged saison whose sour slap on the tongue was softened by its light, mineraly aftertaste and sweet traces of bourbon.
“It started as a double Berlinnerweis,” Skiles explained, “but then we threw bread in it.”
His two cents on the pairing: “A tart, citrusy dessert would be epic.”
He was still tinkering around with an ideal IPA for the meal, so he poured the “11th and Folsom” (named after a street corner in San Francisco where he once saw nostalgic bands like Third Eye Blind). In true New Anthem fashion, it was quite the hazy, juice-bomb in the most delightful way.
“The Ball & Chalk”—a crisp English bitter—then made the cut as a potential companion to an entrée.
Sure, tickets to the fundraising meal are gone, but Benny’s owner Vivian Howard—award-winning chef from Kinston’s Chef and the Farmer and the PBS award-winning “A Chef’s Life”—and her husband and business partner Ben Knight are donating 10 percent of sales from their Margherita pie during the entire month of October to #OverFlo.
Just as well, they started an online-based apparel campaign for the month of October to benefit residents in Jones County. The area where Howard’s family resides was hit especially hard by Florence and often goes under the radar for relief efforts. So a major portion of Howard’s “Country as Cornbread” t-shirt proceeds are going into the hands of families in the area displaced by the hurricane (vivianhoward.com/products/country-as-cornbread).
Also, all New Anthem brews are on tap and available for folks to try any time.