Function Brewing Dinner The Definition Of Paired Excellence
How do I love beer? Let me count the ways: small, independent, and traditional. Those are the characteristics that define a craft brewer according to the Brewers Association (BA). Of course, things are never as simple as they seem. What does it mean, for example, to be small? The BA defines small as having an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less.” In my opinion, 6 million of anything is not small. Okay, maybe 6 million atoms is small, but do you have any idea how many atoms are in a barrel of beer? To find out, you’ll have to calculate the molecular weight (mole) of a bunch of particles. I’ll get you started by telling you that a mole is the number of atoms in one gram of hydrogen, which is 6.022 multiplied by 1 followed by 23 zeroes. Don’t forget to show your work!
But my point is…what is my point? Oh, my point is that if Steve Llewellyn, brewer and co-owner of Function Brewing in Bloomington, were to brew a batch a day on his 3-barrel system, it would take him 5,479 years to brew 6 million barrels. Look out Sam Adams! I guess what I’m arguing is that craft is not a categorical variable—either you’re craft or you aren’t; instead, think of craft on a continuum, with nano-breweries like Function on the neighborhood end of the scale and craft mega-breweries like Boston Beer Company on the global end. AB InBev is way out in the next solar system. My personal preference for craft beer tends toward the local end of the spectrum, something handmade, as locally sourced as possible, and maybe a little eccentric. Function Brewing personifies that in every way, so when they announced a special fall dinner with beer pairings, I was on the phone before Facebook finished loading all of its ads.
A few days before the dinner, my big toe experienced a flare-up of gout, which had me hobbling around and not-so-quietly cursing. In case you’re young or otherwise unfamiliar with gout, it’s a kind of recurring arthritis that is sometimes called “the disease of kings,” which makes me feel kind of special; I’ve often suspected that my “parents” abducted me from some aristocrats who happened to be traveling through the Midwest. Gout is associated with the consumption of alcohol (especially beer and spirits), meat, and seafood—all of which I’ve had in abundance over the last couple of weeks and none of which I’m giving up any time soon, despite my wife’s helpful suggestions.
“So I guess this means we’re not going to the Function dinner?” I hope I don’t have to tell you that my wife said this, not I.
“Oh we’re going,” I rejoined. “We’ve already RSVP’d, so we have a social obligation.” I have a very strong sense of responsibility, especially when it comes to beer and food. Arlyn Llewellyn, chef and co-owner of Function, creates dishes that sound incredibly complicated but are beautifully balanced and a joy to eat. I wasn’t about to stay home for a meager meal of salad and water.
We arrived at Function just before 6:00pm and grabbed a bar table for two. Shortly thereafter water arrived, followed by a roughly 6-ounce pour of Function’s Ratio Golden Ale, a crisp, sweetly malty palate cleanser. Function has a kitchen that might best be described as a small walk-in closet crammed with appliances, and I could tell from my careful study of the menu that, in the nearly two years since Function opened, Arlyn has learned how to overcome constraints that would cause most celebrity chefs to gnash their teeth and beat their sous chefs with an heirloom ravioli rolling pin (I’m picturing a Hell’s Kitchen and Goodfellas mashup). Arlyn designed the fall dinner menu to showcase seasonal produce with a Spanish-inspired theme featuring flavors of smoke, citrus, peppers, and a little heat.
The second course was a salad of Siberian kale, Napa cabbage, celeriac, apples, pickled Brussel sprouts, walnuts, marble rye croutons, and smoked blue cheese in a creamy pickled pepper vinaigrette. It sounds complicated, right? But all of the elements worked together to create one of the best salads I’ve had in a long time. It came with Scalar Smoked Amber (all beers were roughly 4- to 6-ounce pours), the smokiness provided a contrast to the pickled flavors while invoking an autumnal feeling of sitting by a campfire. My wife is not a fan of smoked beers, but I wasn’t about to let a few ounces go to waste, gout be damned!
The meal proceeded at a leisurely pace so that we felt neither rushed to finish the dishes nor impatient for the next course. I took a moment to survey the brewpub, counting roughly 50 people at the tables and booths. Most of Function’s décor was handmade by the owners and their friends, including the tables, booths, and bar. The hanging lights above the bar are inside amber bomber bottles with the bottoms cut off, and the lights on the walls are shaded by 5-gallon corny kegs cut in half vertically.
Steve Llewellyn started homebrewing in 2006, and by 2009 he and Arlyn had purchased a brewhouse with the intent of opening their own place. While Steve honed his brewing skills, Arlyn worked around Bloomington as a professional cook and server/bartender. As is so often the case with breweries and brewpubs, the road to opening day was long and fraught with challenges and setbacks. Function officially opened on January 22, 2014, and from the start it has embodied the owners’ philosophy of making small batch, fun, and innovative beers served alongside food that is made from scratch and as locally sourced as possible, changing with the seasons and the whims of the owners.
The dessert course was a persimmon cake topped with orange-milk chocolate ganache and candied navel orange. Yes, it tasted as good as it sounds. Some of the syrup from the candied orange made its way onto the plate, just begging to be sopped up by the cake. I gladly obliged, and I wasn’t put out in the least when my wife confessed that she was too full to finish hers. If you’ve ever been to Function, you’ve probably guessed that this course was accompanied by the Coffee Milk Stout, a signature beer that I always order when it’s on tap. Somehow I managed to convince my wife that she was too full to finish her beer as well.
As I limped toward the exit, I stopped to sign up for Function’s mailing list to be notified about future events. Steve said that they’re making big plans for their second anniversary week in January and that they’re also planning more special dinners for the coming year. Function Brewing is located at 108 E Sixth Street in Bloomington and is on the Web a twww.functionbrewing.com.