By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Following a casual cocktail hour in Rainbow Ranch’s elegant, rustic lounge, 33 guests on Sept. 7 gathered family style in the dining room for the first of four microbrew dinners. This evening featured Grand Teton Brewing Company and a complementary menu conceived by the restaurant’s executive chef Hunter Durgan.

The first course, a shrimp corndog, elicited surprised murmurings around the dining room. Other than the stick and its cylindrical shape, this was not your typical corndog. Durgan achieved the light and fluffy interior and thin crust by steaming a shrimp and egg white purée and dredging it in a cornmeal-tempura batter before flash frying.

Grand Teton brewmaster Rob Mullin stood to talk about his Berliner Weisse called the Snarling Badger, a north German wheat beer with a bright, lemony tartness that is a natural accompaniment to seafood, and which cut through the richness of the “corndog” without overpowering its delicacy.

Executive Chef Hunter Durgan's novel take on the corndog paired perfectly with Grand Teton Brewing's Snarling Badger Berliner Weisse. PHOTO BY JAKE MARLINK

Executive Chef Hunter Durgan’s novel take on the corndog paired perfectly with Grand Teton Brewing’s Snarling Badger Berliner Weisse. PHOTO BY JAKE MARLINK

Mullin’s fascinating life story begins in Munich, Germany, and would entail a career as a campaign manager in Washington D.C. before moving to Victor, Idaho, to open a brewery. Throughout the evening, he regaled guests with the far-reaching historical implications of the beloved libation, including a dissertation on its entanglement with witch lore.

The courses and generous pours kept coming: peppery greens with candied pecans in a Flathead cherry vinaigrette topped with crispy duck confit was paired with Mullin’s Brett Saison, a barrel-aged sour beer; a tender, juicy chunk of pork tenderloin dressed in the earthy flavors of hazelnut, chanterelles and sage was partnered with Grand Teton’s malty flagship beer, Bitch Creek ESB; followed by their Cauldron Imperial Stout served with slices of espresso-rubbed venison drizzled in a huckleberry balsamic reduction.

“That one was a no brainer,” Durgan said. “We took one sip of the Cauldron and I knew where we were going with that course.”

Rather than the usual progression from lightest to heaviest beers, Durgan and his event cohorts—bar and restaurant managers Dale Roberts and Michael Duke— decided to turn the dessert pairing on its head, resulting in what was widely agreed to be the most memorable combination.

Both Durgan’s rustic apple tart, which incorporated house cured bacon and smoked cheddar Mornay sauce; and Mullin’s Farmhouse Ale, a traditional Belgian-style saison aged in red wine barrels, popped as a result of the pairing.

If you missed the second beer dinner featuring Big Sky’s Beehive Basin Brewery on Sept. 14, there are still two more to go— Bozeman Brewing Company on Wednesday, Sept. 21; and MAP Brewing Company, also from Bozeman, on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

“I’m very excited to be working with both of these breweries,” said Durgan, who knows the brewers personally from the five years he worked as a sous chef at Bozeman’s Montana Ale Works. “Bozeman Brewing is really the original in the area and now that they’re doing more barrel aging and sours, they’re pushing everything forward a bit. As far as MAP goes, they’re a hot new game. They’ve been open less than a year but everything [brewer] Doug Child makes is fantastic.”

Visit or call (406) 995-4132 for more information about the upcoming beer pairing dinners.