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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The marriage of beer and food

Food and beer together ... oh my! Notice the Oz-like averting of eyes from the beer bottle that has always been a guest at table - the dismissive "whatever". If it's not a wine bottle, well then ...

I hear this even from advocates for good beer. Fabled Buffalo Bill Owens, an early good beer maven, once growled at me his distaste for this.

Many of us in the craft beer business can point to moments when we felt our nascent movement had come of age. Even so, it today is a delicate movement, with too shaky an underpinning. But things are changing.

Growth has indeed been amazing. 3%, 7%, 9%, 11% successively in the last 4 years. In 2006, craft beer sales totaled 90,420,000 case equivalents. That's $4.2 billion dollars of sales of good beer! (A case equivalent is a commonly accepted manner of looking at all beer sales as if only cases were sold. It's 13.7 cases per 31 gallons - a barrel - of beer.) I've posted earlier about this surge of sustained growth.

And maybe, just maybe, yesterday's Washington Post could be considered another signpost in our march forward.

Greg Kitsock, the paper's bi-monthly beer columnist, had a front page story in his usual Food Section. Entitled Heady Complements, it discussed how more and more local restaurants and chefs are pairing beer and food to a greater extent than ever before. As Kitsock put it,

A new generation of chefs have grown up since the first microbreweries appeared in the late 1970s
There's also a feature piece about a new trend in DC towards more casual fare (read: less expensive). The piece deals specifically with Brasserie Beck, sister restaurant to the more upscale Marcel's. Chef/owner to both is Robert Wiedemeir.

In a sidebar, Beck's "beer specialist" Bill Catron is profiled.
He will be responsible for selecting labels and educating the staff and customers about the beverage that, in his opinion, suits Belgian flavors better than wine does. "The beer program at Beck's will be like the wine program at Marcel's," a formal restaurant in the West End, says Wiedemeir: serious, in other words.
When I worked for the beer importer and wholesaler, Legends, Ltd., I challenged several wine-savy restaurants to create beer lists better than quotidian fare. The reason (other than my increased sales!) was to have good beer available with good food in places where this often wasn't done. Why shouldn't my pasta dish be served with a good beer rather than Stella or Bud or wine? Sputnik Cafe, honorably mentioned in the Wine Spectator for its wine list, was one such place. (And still today it has a good beer - and wine - list).

So, that was an amazing thing yesterday in the Washington Post: to see all that mention of beer and food. And maybe, just maybe, it was a harbinger of better beer lists to come in many more restaurants in our area - not solely those which are beer friendly. Well-done Greg Kitsock (and Tom Sietsma and Walter Nicholls).

We could add many more restaurants to the list of beer and food pairing restaurants mentioned in the articles - Rustico, Birreria Paradiso, Brasserie Beck, Chadwick's. Doing so would, as a matter of course, omit worthy entrants. But be that as it may, here a few more:
  • RFD (cuisine a la biere described on its home page)
  • Brickskeller
  • Maxs
  • Tuscarora Mill
  • Magnolia Mill
  • Cafe Saint Ex
  • Sputnik Cafe
  • Evening Star
  • Old Stein Inn
  • and several area brewpubs (Brewers Art, Brewers Alley, Vintage 50, Rock Bottom, Gordon-Biersch)
Some recent beer dinners in which I've participated:It's pointless and silly to engage in sophomoric polemics about beer being better with food than wine or vice versa. Why limit yourself to just one beverage? But ... to paraphrase an advertising campaign for the state of New Jersey from a few years back:

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