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Beer-and-food pairings have come a long

way from burgers and wings. Diners now
can enjoy beer dinners with a different
brew for every course.

BEER Craft-made and European-inspired
brews elevate beer to fine-dining status

Hits the
and show great food-pairing potential


f you have any doubt about how far beer has traveled as have been exiled wrongly to the burger-and-pizza corner of
a fine-dining beverage in the last few years, drop by American cuisine. “We often forget, as the craft-beer
New York’s venerable Gramercy Tavern and take a peek segment expands, that what we have is a slow return to
at the beverage list. In addition to the 30 or so regular beers, normality,” says Oliver. “When you look at the U.S.
customers can choose from about two-dozen aged brews, historically, the period of the huge dominance of one kind
such as two vintages of Brooklyn Brewery’s Black of mass-market beer is relatively small.”
Chocolate Stout, a 10-year-old from Oregon’s Rogue Ales Major brewers also have increased their attention to
Brewery and an English ale aged in sherry casks. brewing a range of beer styles and even have focused on
Not convinced? Perhaps the next time you visit one of beer with food; the 304-page “Great Food, Great Beer:
Thomas Keller’s restaurants, like The French Laundry in The Anheuser-Busch Cookbook” is only part of that mega-
Yountville, Calif., or Per Se in New York City, you’ll find a brewer’s attention to more flavorful brews.
dish paired with Blue Apron, a bottle-fermented, Belgian,
double-style ale custom made by Brooklyn Brewery. Beverage MORE STYLES, LESS FIZZ
lists at Keller’s and other high-end restaurants reveal a serious George Reisch, an Anheuser-Busch brewmaster who works
effort to establish beer’s place of significance at the table. on the craft-oriented Michelob line, believes the golden
Or should that be “reestablish?” age of brewing is upon us.
“In the U.S. now,” he notes, “we have more beer styles for
THE FIRST FOOD-FRIENDLY BEVERAGE sale than anywhere in the world. We are living in beer nirvana
Beer is probably the original food-friendly alcoholic now.” He credits the microbrew boom for resuscitating now-
beverage, and with advocates like Brooklyn Brewery popular beer styles like imperial pale ale (IPA).
Brewmaster Garrett Oliver, author of “The Brewmaster’s Beer fits well with food, since that’s what it was designed
Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real for, Reisch says. “It was never meant to be an egocentric
Food,” preaching the gospel, more restaurants are beverage that gets in the way of food, and the flavor profiles
introducing quality beers, offering food-and-beer pairings of all the various styles of beer were developed to go with
and hosting brewmaster dinners. the local foods.”
Oliver is one of the most prominent of the many It was once normal for Americans to drink a range of
enthusiasts who have insisted for years that brewers’ wares locally made beers — porters, stouts, ales, lagers, pilsners and Winter 2009 FLAVOR & THE MENU 117

BEER at the Table
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 Garrett
Oliver. Brewers, unlike winemakers, can introduce other ingredients,
such as more highly roasted malt, smoked grains or fruits, to create
distinct flavor profiles.

SEEK HARMONY: Beer can harmonize with flavors that wine can only

contrast with, Oliver says, citing hearty red wines served with a charred
steak. “What you’re not doing [with wine] in any way is harmonizing
with the meat, which is about caramelization. Grabbing on to that
caramelization is unique to beer.”
Breweries like Iron Hill prove there’s a beer
style for every taste, from hop-heavy IPA to
BEYOND COLOR CODING: “Just serving a lighter brew with the first cask-aged brews with bourbon notes.
course, an amber with the main and then a dark with dessert is a little
passé,” says Charlie Devereux, secretary of the Oregon Brewers Guild
and co-owner of Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom, who sees the
the like — in different styles for different
bar being raised by beer dinners. “When people come to a beer dinner,
occasions and cuisines. And the flood of yellow,
they’re looking for something they might not find at every corner,” he
fizzy brews doesn’t adequately represent the
asserts. A recent dinner at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River,
incredible range of beer flavors.
Ore., included such dishes as house-made carpaccio, antelope stew and
Beer’s reputation as an unsuitable food
rabbit with wild mushrooms. “These probably worked better with beer
partner emerged as mass-market beers became
than they would have with wines,” Devereux observes.
single-note beverages, Oliver points out. Even
after American brewing returned to its roots
SMOOTH THE TRANSITION: When Greg Engert of Rustico in and expanded in the 1990s, the industry did a
Alexandria, Va., confronts skeptical wine lovers, he opts for what he calls poor job of promoting how well beer pairs with
“transitional beers,” or beers that are more acidic, perhaps produced in food, says Mark Edelson, director of brewing for
ways similar to winemaking, via aging or exposure to more the seven-unit Iron Hill Brewery and
natural yeast. Restaurant, based in Lancaster, Pa.
“The wine industry has done such an
BE GENTLE: “Exploring the world of beer does not involve incredible job over the last 25 to 30 years
the kick of a steel-toed boot. It is a series of gentle nudges,” pushing the wine and food connection, and we
says Dave Alexander of Washington, D.C.’s, Brickskeller and as an industry have got to get better in making
RFD Beer. “You don't create a fan of specialty beers by getting the case of food with beer.”
a Bud drinker to try a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine,” he
notes. This dense, fruity and malty brew might be too BREWPUB REDUX
intense a flavor leap for those used to the pale stuff. “You The brew-pub craze of the late 1990s didn’t
learn what the customer likes and introduce the next step help, with its abundance of batter-fried fish and
in the flavor profile along his guidelines,” suggests chips. And a shakeout among the craft brewers,
Alexander, pointing to craft-brewed American lager or who made good beer but bad business decisions,
German Pilsner as better bets. slowed things down.
“In the early ’90s, it was no longer good
ENJOY THE JOURNEY: “In any case, when the enough to be the local brewery, even if you
customer discovers a new taste, he is not going to stop offered a consistent and desirable product,
liking that taste,” says Alexander. “As the world of beer which many did not,” says Dave Alexander
moves into the kitchen, it brings those fans along with it.” who, with his wife and partner, Diane, runs

118 FLAVOR & THE MENU Winter 2009

The Brickskeller Dining House & Down Home along with ice creams made with stout and
Saloon and RFD (Regional Food and Drink) Belgian raspberry and fruity peach beers
Washington in Washington, D.C. inspired the Alexanders, as did the Belgian
“The segment went through a heavy cuisine de bière tradition.
weeding out. The smartest business people “Top chefs in Belgium had been cooking
survived, and the guys that had that ‘great India with beer for years,” observes Dave Anderson.
pale ale recipe’ were gone. The craft-beer “It was only natural that American chefs would
industry became more savvy.” sooner or later be drawn in.”
Craft beer is stronger than ever: In 2007, The food connection saved many of the
craft brewers increased the volume of beer they beer-centric restaurants in the late 1990s.
sold by 12 percent. There are now 1,420 craft “If you’re in the brewery-restaurant
brewers in the United States, including regional business, you have to operate as a restaurant
breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs, first,” says Edelson. “It’s what drives people in
according to the Brewers Association in and puts them in front of us so we can teach
Boulder, Colo. As fine-dining restaurants take them about beer.”
on more craft beers, the focus has grown on Craft brewers have stretched their recipes to
pairing food and beer. include more highly roasted malts as well as
At Rustico Restaurant and Bar in fruits and spices. Some brewers add ingredients
Alexandria, Va., the list of 300-plus beers is like cocoa nibs to boost the chocolaty quality of
built around the food menu, says Beer Director their stouts. In fact, the sky is the limit when it
Greg Engert. comes to flavor inspiration. Portland, Maine-
Dishes with spicy and herbal elements based Peak Organic Brewing Co. produces ales
require hop-assertive beers; hearty game or meat with far-flung ingredients like coriander, organic
dishes call for roasty, dark stouts and porters. pomegranate and acai and also uses local,
But that’s only the beginning. Engert looks for seasonal additions like Maine-grown organic
brews tweaked to match each dish’s specific oats from GrandyOats in Brownfield, Maine,
flavor profile; carrying a few Belgian-farmhouse and organic maple syrup from Vermont. Executive Chef Piet
saison-style beers, for instance, allows him to be Brewers also have been emulating Belgian Vanden Hogen of
more specific in his recommendations, producers, long cherished for the breadth and Pelican Pub & Brewery
in Pacific City, Ore.,
depending on a dish’s spiciness. depth of their styles, from frothy and aromatic
prepares clams in
wheat beers to intense and challenging lambics, Pelican’s Kiwanda Cream
ACQUIRING TASTES and elegant, Champagne-like gueuze. ale for a beer dinner.
As consumers mature in matters of taste, they
welcome the chance to try more assertive
flavors, says Charlie Devereux, secretary of the
Oregon Brewers Guild and co-owner of Double
Mountain Brewery & Taproom in Hood River,
Ore. “It took a little time for people to develop
their palates,” he says, “but we in Oregon, for
instance, are used to drinking very hoppy beers;
our typical recipes use twice as many hops.”
“Americans love hops, and America is
known worldwide for hoppy brews,” says Iron
Hill Brewery’s Edelson. Bitter double IPAs
have become the standard American version.

As brewers toyed with more intense flavors,
restaurants like RFD maintained that beer was

being ignored as an ingredient in food.
Whipping up dishes at home like chicken with
artichoke hearts and figs in Anchor Steam Beer, Winter 2009 FLAVOR & THE MENU 119

Deschutes Brewery and
Brew Pubs of Bend, Ore.,
have been educating
customers about craft
brews and beer-enhanced
cuisine for 20 years.

AGING AND ADDING The other frontier for today’s adventurous
More craft brewers are starting to age their beers brewers is yeast, as they tinker with wild
in new or used barrels, echoing the creativity of varieties that can add phenolic notes like clove
Scotch whisky makers who use casks from or fruit esters during fermentation.
cognac and bourbon distillers and wineries to As breweries develop a market for barrel-aged
finish their spirits. and higher-alcohol-content beers, they become
“Aging of beer using bourbon barrels is very even more experimental. Roots Organic Brewing
specialized, tough to do and a labor of love, but Co. in Portland, Ore., offers Epic Ale, which
there’s lots of customer demand,” says Edelson. comes in at 14 percent alcohol and is made with
In February 2009, all Iron Hill locations served malt smoked over cherrywood soaked in Scotch
barrel-aged beers on tap, many with bourbon whisky, cognac and cherries. Obviously, with
notes from the aging casks. (Iron Hill serves beers like this, the range of flavors widens, and
only beers it makes.) potential food matches increase.
With brewers innovating and chefs
responding to new pairing opportunities, one
trend seems to drive the other. It is now
TAK E -AWAY T I P S common to see chefs working to pair dishes
with intensely bitter ales or making desserts that
HOP ALONG: Americans love hops; offer refreshing, hop-heavy
beers to pair with spicy foods go with chocolaty stouts.
“The [brewing] industry has made great
TAKE A LOW RISK: Add a few unusual
strides in terms of quality, variety and
bottled beers as LTOs to bring new
attention, seasonality and flavor sophistication of product,” says Devereux. In
descriptors to your bar scene terms of flavor, “chefs” and specialization, the
TAP POTENTIAL: Sip-sized samples foodservice and brewing industries “have a lot
of beer on tap are an affordable way in common.” &
to introduce new choices and open a
dialogue between servers and guests
AGE WELL: Consider adding a cask- spirits, cocktails, wine, beer and food from

aged beer to the mix for flavor and Brooklyn, N.Y.; he can be e-mailed at
for a good story

120 FLAVOR & THE MENU Winter 2009