By Krista Simmons
4:00 PM PDT, May 26, 2012
Within moments of stepping into Gevork Kazanchyan's Eagle Rock home, his mother Mary has placed a copper-colored jazzve of Armenian coffee on the stove. “How sweet would you like it?” she asks with a smile. A demitasse of the ultra-potent brew later, the conversation shifts to Armenian spirits. Bottles of Ijevan mulberry brandy are brought out. It's time for a tour of Gevork's pride and joy: the beer cellar.
Though Kazanchyan works in risk management by day, he is 100% beer geek by night, as evidenced by his fully stocked, custom-climatized fridge packed to the gills with global craft brews.
Thankfully that passion isn't lost on the populace: Since 2008, he has engineered a series of events titled Dionicess, which unites craft brewers, celebrated chefs and artisanal purveyors for an evening of gustatory delight. The series is toasting its 10th installation in June, and in honor of the occasion, Kazanchyan has tapped some of his brewing buddies to collaborate on a very personal project — a commemorative beer called System of a Stout.
The name is a play on the L.A.-based Armenian rock group System of a Down. The beer will include several quintessentially Armenian ingredients, including cardamom, Armenian cognac and, of course, coffee.
The idea for this regionally inspired beer was hatched at one of Kazanchyan's “inventory reduction parties,” where he and Portola Coffee Lab owner Jeff Duggan chatted over cellared beers about how they might collaborate. Duggan's coffee cred paired with his background in chemistry made him the perfect fit for a roaster. Then came the tough bit: finding a brewer. On a long shot, Kazanchyan rang up Julian Shrago, of the award-winning Beachwood BBQ & Brewing. Shrago agreed, and the rest is history in the making.
Dionicess has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2008, where when Kazanchyan paired Glendale's Mignon chocolates with boutique wines for the inaugural event. His gatherings have since evolved to focus on matching craft beer with food in a unique, unexpected way.
“I look back at the time that I used to sit and taste everything with one other guy, and now I've got an Iron Chef winner [chef Eric Greenspan, Dionicess VII], an amazing world-class mixologist [Matthew Biancaniello, Dionicess IX], and a top brewer [Shrago] who want to collaborate,” says Kazanchyan, who grew up on the fringes of Thai Town and Little Armenia. “It's pretty amazing.”
Dionicess X's theme is appropriately named Coming of Age, and will showcase five courses (plus a few bonus rounds) of aged beers paired with dishes that feature pickled and fermented foods from around the world. Guests will get to take home commemorative bottles of the beer, as well as some of Beachwood's house-made, barrel-aged hot sauce. Of course, System of a Stout will play a central role in the meal.
“I've brewed a lot of imperial stouts, but this one is 100% distinct,” says Shrago. “It was inherently wasteful to brew, but it's got a great nose, and it's immediately identifiable as being Armenian coffee.”
The process of making the beer itself is unique. First comes the mash, where crushed grains of barley get mixed with hot water, similar to oatmeal. That sweet liquid is then drained into a boil kettle. That's when the blackstrap molasses, hops, cardamom and Duggan's Armenian roast come in.
“We can't simulate the body produced by suspending coffee grounds in the beer because doing so would cause issues with brewing and serving the beer. What we shot for was the flavor essence of [unfiltered] Armenian coffee without the gritty mouthfeel,” Duggan says. “This objective led me to the selection of the two [direct trade Brazilian] coffees I chose to custom roast specifically for this beer.”
To impart the coffee flavors into the beer, the beans were ground to a coarseness similar to that of a French press grind, and then steeped like tea into the boil. The beer was then fermented, finished and conditioned. Conditioning is where the coffee steeper is removed and swapped for Armenian-brandy-soaked oak chips. System of a Stout is currently in its last stages of brewing, and will be ready just in time for the 10th installation of Dionicess, which will take place at Beachwood on June 10 in Long Beach.
Long Beach is a haul from L.A., but thankfully the 10 remaining kegs of System of a Stout will be sold at a small selection of craft beer bars in Southern California, one of which is Burbank's Tony's Darts Away. Two dollars from each pint sale will go to the Real Medicine Foundation in Armenia.
When asked to speak about the success and growth of the event, Kazanchyan replies in a way that would make his mother proud. “It's very humbling and surreal that we've pulled off nine events, and each time they've kind of outdone themselves. We've really made the best of our resources and what's available. And Armenians take pride in being very resourceful, practical and innovative. We've had to be out of necessity.”
WHERE: Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach
WHEN: June 10, 5 p.m.
PRICE: $80, proceeds go to the Real Medicine Foundation
DETAILS: Ticketing info online