“Hoppy Hour” a great choice for beer lovers and valentines

Sampling a rare batch of "Blackout Stout" from Great Lakes Brewing
Sampling a rare batch of "Blackout Stout" from Great Lakes Brewing
Sampling a rare batch of “Blackout Stout” from Great Lakes Brewing that has been aged in bourbon barrels. Outstanding! In the background are brewer Luke Purcell and regional sales manager Connie Tucci of Great Lakes Brewing Co.

If you’re still trying to think of something fun to do on Valentine’s Day, I have a suggestion for you. Last week I attended the first “Hoppy Hour” event scheduled by the Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson. Hoppy Hours are beer tastings intended to showcase various breweries, where you can sample selections from the brewery’s lineup along with food pairings that the menu described as “light bites” (but they were substantial enough that eaten over the course of the evening, they made a satisfying meal). This first event featured Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company.

For this event, we gathered at 6:30 at the bar (yes, a bar inside the grocery store—-how can you refuse to go grocery shopping now?) and the tasting began right there with a light malty Conway’s Irish ale and a mini shepherd’s pie. This was a great start and a favorite of mine, but the tasting had just begun.

Then we went upstairs where the event room was set up with five more tasting stations closely supervised by brewer Luke Purcell. At the first station we were greeted with a lager, Dortmunder Gold, and a slice of Hawaiian pizza. At the next station, a trio of French bleu cheeses was accompanied with a citrusy Burning River IPA. Next an amber lager called Eliot Ness with spicy smoked salmon on grilled sourdough bread. (As a baker and sourdough aficionado, I was interested to learn that the bread is made in house at the Market District every morning from scratch.) Gyro burger sliders were served with Commodore Perry IPA, a dry fruity IPA. For desert? Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, a bittersweet beer with hints of coffee and chocolate, the perfect match for a parfait of chocolate ganache and berries. I wasn’t crazy about the ganache, but I’d enjoy drinking the beer again.

Brewer Luke Purcell took the time to answer all our questions at the end of the tasting. And perhaps to keep the Pittsburgh crowd friendly, he pulled out a bourbon barrel aged stout. This beer is made in such small batches that it’s not even available for sale at this time, and maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it. I’m not a beer expert, but to call this complex beverage mere beer is almost demeaning. This beer was as sophisticated as a port or a well-aged bourbon. Great beer and a great evening.

If you’re looking for something different to do, the Market District will be hosting these beer tastings for several more weeks and the next one is a Valentine’s special. Ladies, your man will love it!