Homebrewing became legal in 1979; Sierra Nevada opened in 1981. So it's been 26 years, a true coming of age for the industry and for its adherents.
I'm part of the generation that experienced this rebirth of good beer in the mid to late 1980s. Now, there is a newer generation that has never NOT known good beer.
Thus this good-beer-gen is different than its predecessor in an essential way. It enjoys beers for being good beers alone; whereas its elders hold tight onto their beers remembering what it had been like without flavorful brews. Both are valid viewpoints.
In D.C., you'll find the good-beer-gen flocking to Birreria Paradiso, a cozy beer grotto beneath pizza parlor Pizzeria Paradiso in Georgetown.
And this past Monday, chef/owner Ruth Gresser and Manager Greg Jasgur invited me there to co-host a Clipper City Beer Dinner. As you can see from the menu, "pizza parlor" is decidedly deficient when describing Pizzaria/Birreria Paradiso!
Paradiso Mushroom Cap
Crimini Mushroom - Pecorino - Spinach
served with Small Craft Warning Uber Pils (draft)
Sea Scallops - Whole Wheat Bread - Lemon Zest - Parsley
served with Winter Storm Imperial ESB (draft)
Margherita di Bufala
Roasted Tomato - Basil - Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella
served with Peg Leg Imperial Stout (draft)
Orange - Grapefruit - Onion - Picholine Olives - Alici - Oxford Raspberry Wheat Ale Dressing
served with Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale (cask)
Strawberry Goat Cheese Tiramisu
Fresh Strawberries - Goat Cheese - Lady Fingers
served with Red Sky at Night Saison (draft)
Cherry - Almond - Chocolate
served with Below Decks Barley Wine 2006 (draft)
Chef Gresser prepared several of the items with beer including the Mushroom Cap with the Uber Pils and the Salad Dressing with Oxford Raspberry Wheat.
A key to cuisine de la bière is not to have food taste like beer but to use inherent qualities of the beer to enhance a dish. Thus the Small Craft Warning Uber Pils contributed a subtle spicy grassiness - a good foil for the salty Pecorino cheese in the mushroom cap.
The Raspberry Wheat added a fruitiness to the salad dressing, similar to Balsamic vinegar, but without its bigger impact.
Pairing a fruit beer with a salad prepared with the beer, however, is a common mistake. The taste of the beer in the glass disappears when confronted with the vinegar in the salad. Not committing this flavor faux pas, Gresser and Jasgur instead paired the citrus salad with the Hop3 Ale - a citrusy herbal I.P.A. The salad was tossed with olives and Mediterranean anchovies. With the beer, it was a surprising bit of gastronimical thaumaturgy.
My beer dinner 3 days earlier at Easton, PA had featured every Heavy Seas beer, if from bottles. While not quite matching that inclusiveness, the dinner here at Birreria Paradiso featured several Heavy Seas beers on draft, and the Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale tapped from a cask.
The Winter Storm, kegged in January, seemed now even hop-earthier and caramel-maltier than then. The English hops -- E.K. Goldings and Fuggles -- have an earthy character and even a hint of buttery oakiness not found in more aggressively resiny and piney US hops.
Greg served the Peg Leg Imperial Stout with what is commonly referred to as Guinness Gas: 65% Nitrogen, 35% carbon dioxide.
Originally developed by Guinness to imitate the natural cascading bubbles of cask ale, this mixture is now considered by many to be di riguer for dispensing stouts. Nitrogen is artificial to the brewing process but it was fun at the dinner, and the crowd liked it.
The fruit, spice, and earthiness of Red Sky at Night Saison lent itself deliciously to Chef Gresser's dessert course of tiramisu of strawberry and goat cheese.
Most beers should be consumed fresh. Like fine meals in a restaurant, they should be experienced just after they have been created.
But there are some beers, such as barleywines, that can be cellared; they will change and develop over several years. Below Decks Barleywine was brewed mid-November 2006. At the dinner - 7 months old and tinged with a bit of cherry - it was a delicious mate for the fruity/chocolatey Biscotti.
Afterwards, I sat with a veteran recently returned from Iraq. He was ebullient at being able to have good beer again. Talking with him reinvigorated me for what I merely do - sell beer.