Beer and food pairing – a new sensation

If you are the kind of person who pays attention to such things, you have likely noticed an increase in beer dinners and other beer and food events over the last couple years. It has become all the rage these days. For instance, this year during Seattle Beer Week (held annually in May) the most highly anticipated and best attended events were beer dinners. Not just pizza and beer at the local pub, but well thought-out, multi-course, beer and food extravaganzas at some of the area’s finest restaurants.

For those of us immersed in the world of craft beer it is not news that good beer and fine food exist on equal footing, but for many people the concept of food and beer pairing is foreign. Worse than that, some snobbish people scoff at the idea. They still believe that wine is the only libation to pair with food and think that the idea of pairing food with beer is just an excuse to drink beer with dinner. As if that’s a bad thing? Those people are missing the boat. They should come join the party and see what they’re missing.

Nothin’ Lowbrow ‘bout It

During Seattle Beer Week we attended a dinner at Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland (read about it). We were pleasantly surprised when we met Executive Chef Brian Scheehser and discovered that he was a certifiable beer geek.

When you walk into Trellis, you know you aren’t slummin’. The vibe is white table cloths, appropriate flatware, exemplary service, and amazing, farm-fresh gourmet cuisine. Oh yes, and they have eight beers on tap: good, thoughtfully selected, craft beer. This kind of highfalutin restaurant most often features no more than two draft beers: a typically insipid tap selection featuring the likes of Amstel Light and Stella Artois. Unlike many fine restaurants, Trellis elevates the beer selection to match the food.

The dinner at Trellis featured the beers of Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) paired with amazing dishes from Chef Brian’s kitchen. There was nothing lowbrow about it. The food was sublime and the pairings were magnificent.

There are many people who have yet to buy-in to the whole beer and food pairing concept. They have yet to accept the way that flavors, mouthfeel and the other characteristics of beer can elevate a dining experience. If that’s you, Chef Brian Scheehser will change your mind in a hurry. And he’s not alone.

Clear Your Calendar and Clean Your Plate

Chef Peter Birk at Ray’s Boathouse, Cafe and Catering is also a firm believer in the virtues of beer and food. For some time now the venerable Ray’s, one of Seattle’s most notable culinary landmarks, has hosted beer and food dinners on a semi-annual basis. Chef Peter’s dinners usually focus on introducing new craft breweries, pairing beers that many people have yet to drink with Ray’s outstanding food.

The beer and food events at Ray’s sell out instantaneously. We have been fortunate enough to attend only because we follow Ray’s on Twitter (@raysboathouse). When that tweet goes out, we make the call and later look at the calendar to see if there is a conflict. In other words, we cancel pretty much anything so that we can attend the beer dinner at Ray’s.

A Horse of a Different Color

And then there’s Tom Douglas’ Brave Horse Tavern. Tom Douglas is one of Seattle’s most successful and admired culinary minds. He is not only a brilliant entrepreneur, but he’s got serious chops when it comes to food. The Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, Etta’s, and Lola are successful businesses and they are also some of the finest restaurants in the city. Those are just four of his 12 Seattle restaurants.

When I attended a test kitchen event for the Brave Horse Tavern, Tom Douglas spoke to the crowd. In explaining the Brave Horse concept, he said that he believes in finding good people that he can trust and empowering them to do great things. One of the good people Tom Douglas trusts is Chef Warren Peterson. The great thing that Warren dreamed of doing was opening an upscale beer hall that featured two dozen beers on tap and pub grub that exceeded expectations.

For a few years now people have known Warren Peterson to be Tom Douglas’ beer czar, making important beer-related decisions across the family of Tom Douglas restaurants. A home brewer, a beer geek and a chef, Warren played a big role in conceptualizing and materializing the Brave Horse Tavern.

The Brave Horse proves that pub grub can be upscale. It also proves that great food can be paired with great beer. I really shouldn’t have to point out the significance of Tom Douglas’ Brave Horse Tavern. One of Seattle’s top chefs, recognized nationally as a brilliant culinary mind, decided to open a beer joint. Seriously folks, that is noteworthy.

A Brave American

Brewmaster Skip Madsen and Chef Warren Peterson.

The other day I spent some time with Chef Warren Peterson. I hooked up with him during a brew day at American Brewing Company in Edmonds, where brewmaster Skip Madsen and Chef Warren were brewing a Northwest Brown Ale: Brave American Brown Ale. The beer will be available at the Brave Horse Tavern and at American Brewing, but likely nowhere else.

The sun was shining, the soon-to-be beer was boiling, and it was time for lunch. We sat at a picnic table nibbling on Indian food from a nearby restaurant, sipping Pilsner and IPA, talking about beer and food.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think wine is great and I have experienced some amazing pairings,” Warren told me as he dipped a wedge of naan into an impossibly bright red dipping sauce that seemed to be a version of raita made with beets instead of carrots. “But I think beer pairs better with food.”

I’ve heard a number of chefs make this assertion. This time I actually had the opportunity to dig deeper and ask why.

“To begin with, wine is acidic. That’s not a bad thing, but it is acidic. That makes it impossible to pair some foods with wine. Beer is not acidic unless you get into sours and stuff like that. Generally you can pair anything with beer.”

Warren went on to tell me about the training program he’ll soon be instituting for the servers at the Brave Horse Tavern.

“I’m going to put together basic, straightforward samples of some base flavors—sweet, sour, acidic, bitter, salty—and then I’m going to show them how a particular beer style pairs with each of those flavors. Give them something salty, like bacon, and show them what it tastes like with IPA, with Porter, with Amber…”

Warren doesn’t want his servers to think of beer and food pairing as a simple science. His is not a simple white wine with fish, red wine with meat approach. He wants the servers to understand how the flavors work with each other and make recommendations based on something more meaningful than some tired axiom.

All of this beer and food talk leads to a simple conclusion: beer geeks and foodies have a lot more in common than either of them might think. We share the same sensibilities. We appreciate the same kinds of things, whether they be liquid things or solid things.

Introducing Two New Beer Events

A few months ago it occurred to the Washington Beer Blog that Seattle needs a new kind of beer event: a beer+food event. The Pacific Northwest is home to some of America’s best beer but it is also home to some of America’s best cuisine. That’s why the Washington Beer Blog is happy to announce two new events scheduled for this fall. Craft:Beer+Food is an event pairing the Seattle area’s finest beer and food. BitterSweet is an event pairing some of the Seattle area’s best brewing minds with the magic of Theo Chocolate.

For Craft:Beer+Food ten of the Seattle area’s finest restaurants will each be paired with one of ten local breweries. The chef will select a beer from the brewery’s lineup and design a dish to pair with that beer. Participating restaurants include Trellis, Ray’s Boathouse, Brave Horse Tavern, Matt’s in the Market, Quinn’s, TASTE, re:public, and Ravish on Eastlake. Participating breweries include Schooner Exact Brewing, Pike Brewing, Two Beers Brewing, Odin Brewing, and Port Townsend Brewing.

More restaurants and breweries will be added in the coming weeks. We are still looking to nail down our final two participants (looking for an upscale Asian restaurant, Italian restaurant or steakhouse in particular: contact [email protected] if interested).

Craft:Beer+Food attendees will sample ten beer+food pairings. Proceeds from the event benefit Seattle Tilth’s Just Garden Project. For more information and tickets, visit the official event website. Tickets will be available mid August.

BitterSweet pairs the great minds at Theo Chocolate with some of our great local brewers. The event will showcase how well beer pairs with chocolate. Beers with which you are already familiar will be paired with Theo’s amazing chocolates to elevate the flavors of both.

What’s more, BitterSweet serves as a platform for collaborative creativity between the world of chocolate and the world of beer. This event will introduce new beers, new processes, and new concepts in brewing. All of it revolving around chocolate. The initial meeting of the minds was amazing. We expect nothing short of pure magic. The conversations have begun. Details are forthcoming. Proceeds will benefit the Washington Trail Association.

Stay tuned.

Talking beer and chocolate with the experts at Theo Chocolate recently, just a few of the brewers involved in BitterSweet - left to right: Matt Lincecum (Fremont), Manny Chao (Georgetown), Joel VandenBrink (Two Beers), Dick Cantwell (Elysian).

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  1. I don’t believe any beverages are off limits when it comes to pairing with food.

    When I do multi-course dinners I always pair one or two courses with beer and always get a great response.

    My experience has shown that many non-beer drinkers can be converted by pairing with food. It’s usually the porter with cheesecake that gets ’em.

  2. When I heard about this, I was ecstatic. Now that I’m reading about it even more, I’m jumping up and down in my seat. Can’t wait – and GREAT idea to bring this to the PNW! It’s way overdue, and you guys are the perfect people to do it. Cheers!

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