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Flavor and the Menu Beer

Flavor and the Menu Beer

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Published by applejak
American craft brewers have raised the bar, and now quality brews are returning to their rightful place at fine dining tables.
American craft brewers have raised the bar, and now quality brews are returning to their rightful place at fine dining tables.

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Published by: applejak on Mar 17, 2009
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Beer-and-food pairings have come a long way from burgers and wings. Diners nowcan enjoy beer dinners with a differentbrew for every course.
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Winter 2009
f you have any doubt about how far beer has traveled asa fine-dining beverage in the last few years, drop by New York’s venerable Gramercy Tavern and take a peekat the beverage list. In addition to the 30 or so regular beers,customers can choose from about two-dozen aged brews,such as two vintages of Brooklyn Brewery’s BlackChocolate Stout, a 10-year-old from Oregon’s Rogue AlesBrewery and an English ale aged in sherry casks. Not convinced? Perhaps the next time you visit one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, like The French Laundry inYountville, Calif., or Per Se in New York City, you’ll find adish paired with Blue Apron, a bottle-fermented, Belgian,double-style ale custom made by Brooklyn Brewery. BeveragelistsatKeller’sandotherhigh-endrestaurantsrevealaseriouseffort to establish beer’s place of significance at the table.Or should that be “reestablish?”
Beer is probably the original food-friendly alcoholicbeverage, and with advocates like Brooklyn BreweryBrewmaster Garrett Oliver, author of “The Brewmaster’sTable: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with RealFood,preaching the gospel, more restaurants areintroducing quality beers, offering food-and-beer pairingsand hosting brewmaster dinners.Oliver is one of the most prominent of the manyenthusiasts who have insisted for years that brewers’ wareshave been exiled wrongly to the burger-and-pizza corner of American cuisine. “We often forget, as the craft-beersegment expands, that what we have is a slow return tonormality,” says Oliver. “When you look at the U.S.historically, the period of the huge dominance of one kindof mass-market beer is relatively small.”Major brewers also have increased their attention tobrewing a range of beer styles and even have focused onbeer with food; the 304-page “Great Food, Great Beer:The Anheuser-Busch Cookbook” is only part of that mega-brewer’s attention to more flavorful brews.
George Reisch, an Anheuser-Busch brewmaster who workson the craft-oriented Michelob line, believes the goldenage of brewing is upon us.“In the U.S. now,” he notes, “we have more beer styles forsalethananywhereintheworld.Wearelivinginbeernirvananow.” He credits the microbrew boom for resuscitating now-popular beer styles like imperial pale ale (IPA).Beer fits well with food, since that’s what it was designedfor, Reisch says. “It was never meant to be an egocentricbeverage that gets in the way of food, and the flavor profilesof all the various styles of beer were developed to go withthe local foods.”It was once normal for Americans to drink a range of locally made beers — porters, stouts, ales, lagers, pilsners and
Craft-made and European-inspiredbrews elevate beer to fine-dining statusand show great food-pairing potential
the like in different styles for differentoccasions and cuisines. And the flood of yellow,fizzy brews doesn’t adequately represent theincredible range of beer flavors.Beer’s reputation as an unsuitable foodpartner emerged as mass-market beers becamesingle-note beverages, Oliver points out. Evenafter American brewing returned to its rootsand expanded in the 1990s, the industry did apoor job of promoting how well beer pairs withfood, says Mark Edelson, director of brewing forthe seven-unit Iron Hill Brewery andRestaurant, based in Lancaster, Pa.“The wine industry has done such anincredible job over the last 25 to 30 yearspushing the wine and food connection, and weas an industry have got to get better in makingthe case of food with beer.”
The brew-pub craze of the late 1990s didn’thelp, with its abundance of batter-fried fish andchips. And a shakeout among the craft brewers,who made good beer but bad business decisions,slowed things down.“In the early ’90s, it was no longer goodenough to be the local brewery, even if youoffered a consistent and desirable product,which many did not,” says Dave Alexanderwho, with his wife and partner, Diane, runs
at the
Beer’s wide range of flavors allows for sophisticated food pairings,but first you need to know your brews AT HOME WITH THE RANGE:
“Beer has a much wider range of  flavor than wine does,” says Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster GarrettOliver. Brewers, unlike winemakers, can introduce other ingredients,such as more highly roasted malt, smoked grains or fruits, to createdistinct flavor profiles.
Beer can harmonize with flavors that wine can onlycontrast with, Oliver says, citing hearty red wines served with a charredsteak. “What you’re not doing [with wine] in any way is harmonizing with the meat, which is about caramelization. Grabbing on to thatcaramelization is unique to beer.”
“Just serving a lighter brew with the firstcourse, an amber with the main and then a dark with dessert is a littlepassé,” says Charlie Devereux, secretary of the Oregon Brewers Guildand co-owner of Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom, who sees thebar being raised by beer dinners. “When people come to a beer dinner, they’re looking for something they might not find at every corner,” heasserts. A recent dinner at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River,Ore., included such dishes as house-made carpaccio, antelope stew andrabbit with wild mushrooms. “These probably worked better with beer  than they would have with wines,” Devereux observes.
When Greg Engert of Rustico in Alexandria, Va., confronts skeptical wine lovers, he opts for what he calls“transitional beers,” or beers that are more acidic, perhaps produced in ways similar to winemaking, via aging or exposure to morenatural yeast.
“Exploring the world of beer does not involve the kick of a steel-toed boot. It is a series of gentle nudges,”says Dave Alexander of Washington, D.C.’s, Brickskeller andRFD Beer. “You don't create a fan of specialty beers by gettinga Bud drinker to try a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine,” henotes. This dense, fruity and malty brew might be toointense a flavor leap for those used to the pale stuff. “Youlearn what the customer likes and introduce the next stepin the flavor profile along his guidelines,” suggests Alexander, pointing to craft-brewed American lager or German Pilsner as better bets.
“In any case, when thecustomer discovers a new taste, he is not going to stopliking that taste,” says Alexander. “As the world of beer moves into the kitchen, it brings those fans along with it.”
Breweries like Iron Hill prove there’s a beer style for every taste, from hop-heavy IPA tocask-aged brews with bourbon notes.
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Winter 2009

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