Everybody knows that beer has the power to make food better. When paired properly, beer can enhance or echo a dish’s flavors while adding contrasting ones. But as the world of craft beer grows, and chefs continue to embrace the synergy beer and food can have, it has become increasingly evident that food can also have the power to do the same for beer. Done correctly, the beer can actually add to the overall flavor profile of a dish, becoming something otherworldly.
The Farm to Table Pavilion at the Great American Beer Festival celebrates the collaboration of beer and food by pairing 14 highly respected breweries with 14 world-class chefs, making it one of the premier events of its kind in the country.
For this special event on the opening night of GABF last week, each brewery chose two (often rare) beers and each chef created two dishes meant to complement the beers. Although not every pairing succeeded in reaching beer-pairing nirvana, many of the dishes we sampled did just that.
Here are a few of my favorites.
No-Li Brewhouse + Sean Clark, El Moro, Durango, CO
A holiday sausage shoved all the flavors of Thanksgiving — sausage, stuffing, sage, pumpkin — into one tasty bite. While I’m not the biggest fan of pumpkin beers, the Krumpkin from No-Li brewery in Spokane, WA, was a perfect pairing.
Nebraska Brewing Company + Alex Figura, Lower48 Kitchen, Denver, CO
One standout was a Funyun. That’s right, a Funyn. The process takes a lot of time and effort, but the end result is a crispy, airy, crunchy complement to beer that makes you realize how shitty real Funyuns really are. This was paired with Wick For Brains Pumpkin Ale by the Nebraska Brewing Company. It was the second time in one night that I was blown away by a pumpkin beer pairing.
Real Ale Brewing Company + Mike Friedman, The Red Hen, Washington, D.C.
One of the more interesting beers was Scots Gone Wild by Real Ale Brewing in Blanco, TX. It’s a Scotch ale allowed to “go wild” in oak barrels, adding a slight fruity tartness. The malty richness and slight cherry tartness cut right through the fatty and creamy mousse in Chef Friedman’s pumpernickel bread, fig, and foie gras mousse tramezzino (fancy-talk for sandwich). The pairing did, indeed, help me reach Beer Nirvana.
New Holland Brewing Co. + William Werner, Craftsman & Wolves, San Francisco, CA
Of the few dessert pairings, my favorite was probably the El Mole Ocho beer from New Holland Brewing Co. served alongside bitter chocolate pudding, kettle corn, coffee-laced peanut, and milk jam. The mole flavors in the beer bounced off every flavor in harmonious ways. Reflexively and without thinking, I moaned, a la Homer Simpson with that one.
The list of food goes on and on — duck breast paired with fig and Belgian waffle crunch, pig’s head bruschette with fennel marmalade, three different porchettas including one made out of swordfish — and all with amazing pairings. The best food and the best beer in America all in one room. I can’t wait until next year.