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Dave Quinn speaks at Jameson Irish Whiskey’s Love Thy Neighbor event in Brooklyn last October. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images, courtesy Jameson Irish Whiskey)
Last October, at Jameson Irish Whiskey’s Love Thy Neighbor festival, a small collection of brewers coalesced in the Duggal Greenhouse located on Brooklyn’s waterfront. Outside, Dave Quinn, the head of whiskey science at Jameson, guided patrons through the production (and thematic pairings) of the event’s focus—stout-barrel-aged Jameson Caskmates whiskey. Inside, brewers showcased specialty Jameson barrel-aged beers alongside standard offerings, as drifting patrons snacked on pretzel necklaces, bánh mì-inspired fried chicken sliders and lettuce wraps to the tune of live music and falling jumbo Jenga stacks.
“You’re either going to make some memories or lose some,” says one festival-goer.
As a prominent and popular debut for Jameson’s new Caskmates whiskey, the event spoke to an increasingly intimate relationship between spirits and beer. Coming on the heels of programs from Rogue Ales and Spirits, New Holland Brewing, Anchor Brewing Co., Deschutes Brewery and many others, Jameson’s move to tie its brand to the craft beer industry isn’t novel. It is, however, notable due to the distillery’s status as an international player.
(Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images, courtesy Jameson Irish Whiskey)
What Jameson’s Caskmates represents, instead, is how much consumer awareness and interest has expanded relating to the coming together of beer and whiskey—an expansion that can be seen, too, in the recent rollout of Goose Island’s collaboration “Bierschnaps” (aged in former Bourbon County Barrels) with Rhine Hall Distillery in Chicago, as well as in the unveiling of Two Lanterns Whiskey, which is distilled from Samuel Adams Boston Lager by Berkshire Mountain Distillers.
“Every whiskey, at its core, is basically distilled beer,” says Alan Dietrich, the chief executive officer of Bendistillery, which partners with Deschutes Brewery to make Black Butte Whiskey from the mash of the brewery’s signature porter. “Just like brandy is distilled wine, and vodka and gin are distilled grains, whiskey is a distilled malt beverage.”
Highlighting the Connection Between Beer and Spirits
New Holland Brewing and Artisan Spirits anticipated consumer interest when it first released its Beer Barrel Bourbon in 2012. Inspired by the flavor variations and nuance of Scotch aged in barrels that formerly held sherry, New Holland president Brett VanderKamp decided to age the distillery’s whiskeys in barrels that once held the brewery’s Dragon’s Milk stout.
“The brand [Beer Barrel Bourbon] came out in 2012,” wrote Layne Keuning, marketing coordinator for New Holland.
“The first year we sold about 500 nine-liter cases [of the Bourbon] and this year we will be closer to 7,500 nine-liter cases.” Next year, she adds, New Holland anticipates sales closer to 10,000 cases.
New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon is intimately related to its frothier brethren in multiple ways. The malt bill has an uncharacteristically high barley content, though it still meets the necessary grain requirements to be legally classified as a bourbon (which is to say corn constitutes at least 51 percent of the mash). And while not all Dragon’s Milk batches are aged in New Holland’s used whiskey barrels due to scale—there are five barrels in the Dragon’s Milk program for every one barrel in the Beer Barrel whiskey program—all Beer Barrel Bourbon is aged in barrels that housed Dragon’s Milk and then blended, like Dragon’s Milk, for consistency.
“It adds a layer of complexity, it adds more mouthfeel, and it kind of just smooths some of the rougher parts of the bourbon off,” explains VanderKamp. Joel Armato, retail beverage specialist at New Holland, adds that subtle notes of vanilla and cocoa and sweetness carry from the stout to the whiskey, too.
Dave Quinn, the head of whiskey science at Jameson, detailed similar effects of the beer barrel-aging process throughout his educational seminars at Love Thy Neighbor.
“The new whiskey combines the triple distilled smoothness of Jameson Original with the richness of stout beer, adding notes of coffee, cocoa and hops for a truly unique finish,” he wrote in an email following the event. Following last year’s stout-barrel-aged whiskey, Jameson also released a Caskmates whiskey aged in barrels that once held IPA.
To both capitalize upon and promote this heightened consumer engagement, New Holland offers and even encourages customers to try Dragon’s Milk and Beer Barrel whiskey side-by-side to discover the products’ singularities and similarities in its taprooms.
The distillery at New Holland Brewing and Artisan Spirits (Photo courtesy New Holland Brewing and Artisan Spirits)
At those taprooms, patrons can try the whiskey as samples or small pours alongside beers like Dragon’s Milk, or they can order the spirit on its own, as part of flights, and in cocktails such as The Dude, which combines the Beer Barrel Bourbon with a Dragon’s Milk reduction, chocolate bitters and cream, and the Beer Drinkers’ Old Fashioned, which substitutes that same beer reduction in place of simple syrup and uses chocolate bitters alongside more traditional orange ones.
“For us, it’s taken a minute to really find the ways to highlight the brands like Beer Barrel Bourbon and get them in front of people in a variety of ways that capture their attention,” says Armato. “We realized the value of a sample and how far a sample can go for someone.”
To many, the experience of beer and whiskey together—a shot and a beer, a boilermaker, or “hauf-an-hauf”—has long been associated with an efficient if perhaps lowbrow experience of alcohol delivery. But, similar to the theme of the Jameson event, New Holland’s idea of that experience is something slower, a moment of drawing connections in flavors and processes from one beverage to the next.
“There’s a little bit more thoughtfulness that comes with that order,” says Armato. “And that’s a big reason why it’s a bit of a slower, sip and enjoyment kind of thing, rather than crush a beer and throw the shot back.”
Following Armato’s instruction, I simulated the experience at home using a pour of Beer Barrel Bourbon and a six-ounce pour of Dragon’s Milk. Starting with the beer, then transitioning to sips of the whiskey, I could clearly follow notes of cocoa and vanilla from one beverage to the next, though the other flavors of nuts and dark fruit carried over in a more subtle presence, too, subdued beneath the boozy punch of the whiskey. Texturally, it felt like a layered coating of the tongue in a single palette of flavors that altered in volume and emphasis. And, perhaps dangerously, the alternation made my consumption of each far easier by creating balancing refuges of heat and sweet richness.
“Warming your palate up to all of the flavors that are in that beer are important, and finding all the nuances that are in that bourbon as well,” Armato adds.
The Rise of Beer-Barrel-Aged Whiskies
The economics of shared ingredients and processes fosters a natural relationship between beer and whiskey. It can make it easier to work with local breweries, as it has for Oliver Mulligan, founder of Great Wagon Road Distilling Co. in Charlotte, North Carolina. His neighbors at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery handle his mash production, which saved him from purchasing the necessary equipment. Instead, he lets the brewery handle the mash, which is then trucked just a few hundred feet over to Great Wagon Road to be distilled.
“We do all the mashes for Great Wagon Road, and then we pass them off to them and they ferment everything,” says Jocelyn Ruark, marketing manager for The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. “They put it into the barrels to age, and once that’s done aging, they give us the barrels back and we age our barrel-aged brews in those barrels.”
Mulligan’s Rua whiskey uses 100 percent malted barley—a principal ingredient in beer. Though it once used an identical mash bill to Olde Meck’s Fat Boy Baltic Porter, Mulligan has since adjusted his recipe to use only pilsner malt. Those early batches made with the Fat Boy mash, according to Ruark, were “deeper […] all the flavors times two.”
“When you taste the Rua you get to taste that beautiful char from the barrels, the caramel that comes out of the oak, that nice little barley note and a light chocolate finish,” Mulligan says. Darker specialty malts, he explains, overpowered those more subtle flavors.
Dietrich, of Bendistillery, sees that kind of evaluation as beside the point, however. When it comes to beer-barrel-aged whiskeys, he sees them rather as an entirely separate and new product, “a uniquely American malt whiskey” with its own characteristics distinct from standard ryes or bourbons.
“I’ll tell you, we did not have any preconceived notions about what we wanted the finished product to be, other than that we wanted it to taste great,” says Dietrich.
“We have numerous plans as the volumes grow to experiment with finishing the product in used barrels, letting the product age longer […] really it’s a making-it-up-as-we-go-situation,” he continues. “We are constantly tasting the product, and discussing with Deschutes what we want to do.”
(Photo courtesy Deschutes Brewery)
New Holland recently rolled out a Beer Barrel Rye to expand from its Beer Barrel Bourbon, and Mulligan is currently aging Rua on barrels that previously held barrel-aged Fat Boy. Though the casks were originally going to be converted into furniture, Mulligan says the barrels “smelled so good there was no way I wasn’t putting whiskey in them.”
Bendistillery and Deschutes, in the meanwhile, are aging a collaboration Abyss whiskey, though on a timeline beer drinkers probably aren’t accustomed to.
“I can confidently tell you the Abyss will come out within the next 2-10 years,” says Dietrich with a laugh. “We’re making whiskey man, you don’t know when you’re going to get something until you get it.”
Bo McMillan is the former editorial assistant for All About Beer Magazine, and is currently pursuing his PhD in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
It was a brilliant spring day in November when I arrived at Cervecería del Valle Sagrado, aka Sacred Valley Brewing Co. In South America, the seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere. The Sacred Valley of the Incas, within which the brewpub is located, cuts a deep swath high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The brewpub itself sits about 9,000 feet above sea level along the Urubamba River, which follows a sinuous path beneath the valley’s imposing rock walls. As far as brewpubs go, the location is as dramatic as it is unexpected.
Though remote, the Sacred Valley is hardly untrodden. Scores of Cuzco-based tourists make the 90-minute drive to tour the ancient Inca sites and shop for colorful crafts at the bustling markets scattered throughout the valley’s 60-mile length. The town of Ollantaytambo, originally an Inca settlement, is located just a few miles from the brewpub and is a major departure point for trains and trekking expeditions to Machu Picchu, one of the “new Seven Wonders of the World.”
Juan Mayorga (Photo by Dan Rabin)
Sacred Valley Brewing Co. evolved from a friendship between Peruvian Juan Mayorga and American Joe Giammatteo. The two met in high school after Mayorga’s family relocated to the United States during political unrest in Peru. After finishing college in the States with a marketing degree, Mayorga eventually returned to Peru. Meanwhile, Giammatteo studied at the American Brewers Guild, interned at Russian River Brewing Co. and held various positions at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon. In 2013, he and his wife, Louisa, arrived in Peru to join forces with Mayorga and a fourth partner to build a brewpub. Sacred Valley Brewing Co. opened in October 2014.
Those who make the trek to Sacred Valley Brewing Co. are well-rewarded for their efforts. The brewpub’s small taproom is conducive to befriending fellow travelers from around the world along with Sacred Valley locals. In the region’s mild climate, lawn games are a popular diversion in a grassy area beyond the tap room. The brewpub’s 8 p.m. closing time contributes to a safe, welcoming, family-friendly environment.
(Photo courtesy Sacred Valley Brewing Co.)
Visitors will find a well-rounded selection of nine clean, flavorful beers on tap along with a locally made soda. As one of Peru’s craft brewing pioneers, Sacred Valley has introduced local beer drinkers to styles such as saisons, Belgian wits, double IPAs and sour beers. Although all malts and hops are imported, the brewhouse makes prodigious use of local produce, including fruits, herbs, spices, coffee and cacao. The kitchen offers a mix of standard brewpub fare and typical Peruvian cuisine.
(Photo courtesy Sacred Valley Brewing Co.)
From the start, Sacred Valley Brewing Co. was about more than just beer. A progressive environmental ethic and a strong sense of social responsibility are part of the brewpub’s DNA. Since recycling isn’t widespread in Peru, the owners have chosen not to bottle or can their beer, opting for more environmentally friendly kegs. Lacking a sewer system, all wastewater is treated on-site. On the last Saturday of each month, the brewpub hosts a party in which 20 percent of the day’s proceeds goes to a nonprofit organization working locally to promote education, health or economic development.
Despite its small size, remote location and limited distribution, Sacred Valley Brewing Co. has established itself as a force in the fledgling Latin American craft beer scene. In its first three years, the brewpub has garnered an impressive 28 awards in international beer competitions. At the Copa Latinoamericana de Cervezas Artesanales, an annual competition featuring more than 100 South and Central American breweries, Sacred Valley was named Peru’s best craft brewery for the last two years and the competition’s best overall brewery in 2017. Sacred Valley Brewing Co. wasn’t my first reason to visit this extraordinary area, but it was certainly an unexpected treasure.
HANGAR 24 AVENTURA Hangar 24 Craft Brewing
4.6% | Mexican-Style Lager w/ Sea Salt & Limes
Used to be when you saw “Mexican lager” on a label, that meant the beer inside was likely fashioned after a Vienna lager, or a light lager brewed with corn. These days Mexican-style lagers are more popular than ever, though many brewers take liberty to include ingredients that also call to mind the culture or cuisine of Mexico. In the case of Hangar 24 Craft Brewing, that means salt from the Sea of Cortez and limes from San Diego. We’ve seen both salt and lime used in other examples of the style, and though they aren’t traditional (save for adding a lime to a bottle of Corona) they do seem to fit in with the feel of this admittedly broad and growing category of beers. Aventura is more in the pilsner vein, with a slightly sweet, biscuity malt character–no corn here. There is a light tartness on the palate from the limes and the salt comes through on the finish, but neither is so prominent that they take away from a very well-executed lager base.
PFRIEM KÖLSCH-STYLE ALE pFriem Family Brewers
Hood River, Oregon
4.8% | Kölsch-Style Ale
pFriem goes out of its way to let you know this is not a Kölsch, but rather a Kölsch-style ale. Some may dismiss this as merely semantics, but it’s a sign of respect for the style and its birthplace of Cologne, Germany (many brewers are currently trying to find the appropriate words for their Lambic-like beers, too). While the brewery notes that it was not brewed in Cologne, you might think otherwise were you to sample this blind from a thin-walled stange. On the surface, it seems such a simplistic beer: sweet pilsner malt and noble hops that contribute notes of white grape, lemon and green apple peel, with an effervescent, light body. But this is one of those beers for which words fail. The beer has a fresh, balanced quality that few American attempts can match. If you have access to pFriem’s beers, you owe it to yourself to try it.
HOP BUTCHER WEIRDSMOBILE Hop Butcher For The World w/ Cinderlands Beer Co.
Chicago, Illinois 6% | Saison-Style Ale w/ Southern Hemisphere Hops
This is a hazy saison dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Vic Secret hops, and yet it’s not as strange as that description or the name itself might suggest. The yeast-driven notes you’d expect in a saison are masked by the hops, which contribute juicy lemon, lime and white wine notes. With the beer’s hazy appearance and minimal farmhouse flavors, this puts us more in the mind of a Southern Hemisphere approach to a New England IPA. While Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo and other hops are popular for good reason, this was a really interesting collaboration that has us hoping for more such beers, no matter how “weird.”
ALVARADO STREET VENGEFUL BARBARIAN Alvarado Street Brewery
7.2% | New England-Style IPA
We sampled several hazy IPAs from Alvarado Street Brewery this week, and Vengeful Barbarian came out on top. There are the fruity notes you expect of the style, namely grapefruit and tangerines, but where some New England-style IPAs veer too heavily into sweet and juicy, this one maintains a firm bitterness to keep things in balance. Subtle notes of melon rind and mint, along with an exceptionally refreshing finish, distinguish this one.
First, a disclaimer. If you don’t enjoy Scotch–and in particular the peated varieties of Islay–then turn around right now. But if the mention of Band-Aids and ash and smoke don’t deter you, then you’re in for a treat. The beer offers up the unmistakable sweet and earthy scent of peat-smoked malt. Upon taking the first sip, you’d be inclined to think the whisky has overwhelmed the black barleywine. But let it warm and linger in your mouth a bit, and you’ll find piney hops and a nuttiness from the malt. Peated Scotch isn’t for everyone–but if it’s for you, then this beer is, too.
Forgive the pun, but it would have been easy for the brewery to go overboard here with the coconut and rum. But Avery, no stranger to big, barrel-aged beers, often finds its balance with ingredients like these simply by brewing an insurmountable monster of a beer. You get coconut on the aroma, but it’s behind a huge serving of rich fudge and pumpernickel. Coconut is on the palate as well, but not so much that it detracts from delectable notes of brownies, Tootsie Roll and, yes, rum. The barrel and the beer’s 16.2% ABV lend a touch of heat, as you’d expect, and Plank’d finishes creamy and viscous. Like other Avery beers, it’s remarkable how simultaneously bold and nuanced this beer is.
Words have consequences. Even if those words are as obtuse as “that’s not craft,” they can damage friendships, and that kind of thing is ripping up the American brewing industry. It’s time to consider the potential damage.
I remember a lot of nasty stuff being said about beer over my lifetime. In the early years of the 1980s, much of it centered on comparisons to some breed of animal piss and the inevitable question of, “How do you know what that tastes like?!”
Then small breweries started hitting the market, and mainstream beer drinkers taunted us for drinking “that microbrew shit” or “yuppie beer.” That was all just about being different from the herd, and the herd’s defensiveness. We were beer drinkers, but there was something not right about us.
But it was when the alternative beer market got big enough to divide against itself that things really got ugly. Contract brewing was the first big divide. If you weren’t making the beer yourself, it was no good. Brick-and-mortar brewers hung a lot out there, putting up the money and learning curve. But contract brewers jump-started the category, and they were helping to keep the older regional brewers open. I looked on that as an overall positive, but some folks loudly argued against them.
Closely related were the “fake beer companies.” That was originally leveled against the big brewers, who brewed beers “made” by new companies with different names. They were vilified as lying about their origins. The best-known survivor of that time: Blue Moon, a Coors product, but you’d never find “Coors” on the label at the time.
The practice trickled down to the newer brewers, and things got confused. In late 1994, Boston Beer developed a line called Oregon Ale & Beer, with a somewhat cloudy origin story, and the brewers of the Pacific Northwest were furious. This guy didn’t even have a brewery, and he was using their identity to sell his beer! The Oregon Brewers Guild and the Washington Small Brewers Association paid for an ad that proclaimed “Local Microbrewers Incensed at Imposter.” A lawsuit was brewing when more “pseudo-craft” beers released by Anheuser-Busch brought the small brewers to their senses. And no one seemed to recall that fanciful names like these had been a common practice in American brewing since before Prohibition.
When Blue Moon finally started selling big in the early 2000s, beer aficionados freaked out. They called it fake craft, “crafty” and worse. I just wanted them to try it in a blind tasting and see if they really hated it, or what it stood for. But argue the quality of the beer with a brewer, and it would inevitably come down to, “They’re taking the food out of my family’s mouths!” Really? More than other brewers, more than distillers?
Astonishingly, quality became divisive, notably at a 2014 speech delivered by Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “While the top end of quality continues to improve,” he said, “there are some cracks with new brewers.” That touched off an angry discussion of how sincere the BA was about supporting new, small brewers and whether this represented barrier-building on the part of established brewers.
Then there was the wave of buyouts in 2015-2017. Medium-sized, independent brewers across the country were bought by Anheuser-Busch InBev, by Constellation Brands, by Heineken. Consumers felt betrayed by formerly independent brewers and spurned the beers. Brewers boycotted events run by these brewers.
Was it related when the most ardent of consumers increasingly had no time for large, established alternative brewers? As I write this, Smuttynose is up for auction, Mendocino has closed its taproom, Speakeasy hangs on by a thread, and sales of Boston Beer are down, while there are lines at small breweries, where limited runs of beer sell out in a matter of hours. New breweries can do no wrong; old breweries are ignored.
I think it is related. People want to be different, just as we old-timers did when we stepped away from the Budweiser tap. People want new and fresh. But the market has become confusing. Breweries seem to open and close and change hands daily, ownership is nebulous, and the defense is hyperlocalism. When you walk in a small taproom tucked in the back of an industrial park, with rough furniture and a concrete floor, it’s a pretty sure thing you know who’s brewing the beer.
I’m not angry about that. I’m not actually angry about anything, for a change. I just want good beer, and honestly, I don’t care where it comes from. I like my small, local taproom. I like Sierra Nevada. I like beers from several of the “sellout” breweries.
What I don’t like is the nasty crap we’re slinging about brewers. Don’t like their beer? Then just say that and move on. Don’t insult them, and don’t insult me if we disagree. This is beer, not “death before dishonor”-level stuff. Have a couple, maybe try something old instead of something new. But leave the hate for politics.
Lew Bryson has been writing about beer for more than 25 years and is the author of Tasting Whiskey. On Twitter @LewBryson.
Shortly after he arrived on the Hyde Park, New York, campus of the Culinary Institute of America in 2004, Jared Rouben noticed something. Aside from a half-day during the esteemed trade school’s wine curriculum—and any beer-related publication that might be found at the library—students received no instruction in beer or the role it played in the culinary world.
The dearth gave Rouben, then 22, an idea.
“If this was the top culinary school in the country,” recalls Rouben, “then we needed a resource to learn about beer.”
So he started the Culinary Institute of America Brew Club, an informal conclave that endures to this day. The group tasted beers and hosted presentations from representatives of breweries such as Magic Hat, Dogfish Head and Boston Beer. Perhaps most importantly, club members used beers from these and other breweries to cook and to bake.
“What started out as a club of about 25 quickly grew into like 150 or 200,” says Rouben, now the brewmaster at Chicago’s Moody Tongue Brewing Co. and a faculty member at the Siebel Institute. “It’s inquisitive minds—I think that with cooks and chefs, they want to learn how to create with their hands. Whether it’s a foie gras or a beef tenderloin or an IPA, you’re still building with your hands and creating something that satisfies the palate.”
(Photo courtesy Moody Tongue Brewing Co.)
Rouben’s establishment of the Brew Club nearly 15 years ago would prove a prescient move. It was an early example of a gathering trend: The marriage of the culinary arts and fine dining with beer, including how to cook with it and to pair it with different dishes.
That trend can’t seem to shake a certain shadow, though, one that also looms from the culinary side: Some chefs and restaurateurs still see beer as an afterthought, meant more for the end of their shift than the front of the house.
“I would say that the angriest critiques I get from people about shows are when I’m drinking whatever convenient cold beer is available in a particular place, and not drinking the best beer out there,” Anthony Bourdain, the chef-turned-TV star, told an interviewer from the travel and entertainment newsletter Thrillist in 2016. “You know, I haven’t made the effort to walk down the street 10 blocks to the microbrewery where they’re making some fucking Mumford and Sons IPA.”
[Editor’s Note: Anthony Bourdain killed himself on June 8, 2018, while on location for his show in Strasbourg, France.]
Two years before, David Chang, best known for his Momofuku restaurants and award-winning but now defunct Lucky Peach magazine, wrote an essay for GQ in which he, like Bourdain, savaged not only beer beyond a certain species of light lager—Chang pronounced himself a Bud Light partisan—but fans of anything else.
“I have a tenuous relationship with the epicurean snob sets […] Beer snobs are the worst of the bunch.”
Such an animus is nothing new, but its persistence is surprising and maybe a little frustrating for the already converted.
(Photo courtesy the Chef and Brew Festival)
Michael Long, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, sommelier and restaurateur, cofounded Chef & Brew festival in 2012 in Denver. The seventh annual one is scheduled for late August 2018, and will pair 23 brewers and 23 chefs to concoct dishes and pairings, and to compete for prizes. The fest grew from an epiphany in 2011.
“At that time,” Long says, “even though Denver was ground zero along with perhaps Portland for the craft beer movement, the perception at that time—and it still holds to a large extent outside of metropolitan areas—was that beer is for bar food. It goes with pizza and brats and soft pretzels and shepherd’s pie.”
Beer Culture and Cachet
On the week before Thanksgiving 35 years ago, the English critic Michael Jackson lamented “a snobbism” toward beer “which is particularly American.” Jackson didn’t mean that Americans looked down on beer. They didn’t look up to it, either—there were few commercial options then beyond Bud Light and similar ilk.
Instead, he meant that whatever vestiges of a beer culture that remained in the United States 50 years after Prohibition had largely petered out. In northern Europe, the Dutch, the English and others preferred beer because the climate was more conducive to grain production, Jackson wrote; in southern Europe, it was wine because of the grapes.
In the U.S., any such nuance had been lost—the Yanks drank uniformly thinner beers chilled to “American popsicle level” wherever they lived in the empire. Meanwhile, wine in the U.S. around the same time was flowering in ways unforeseen a generation before.
Seismic events such as the so-called Judgment of Paris, a 1976 blind tasting that saw California wines best ones from traditional leader France, and the opening of the nation’s initial wine bars (the first was in San Francisco in 1974) as well as the launch of publications such as Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast and Food & Wine throughout the late 1970s helped wine ascend to a level of perceived sophistication few consumer products had ever enjoyed.
That perception seeped into the culinary arts. Julia Child sipped wine on national television while prepping French dishes. Ronald Reagan retained the services of his Sacramento wine merchant from his days as California governor while entertaining in the White House. The old Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan hosted a carefully catered dinner for the wine industry and its critics that would dictate many of the year’s trends.
There was nothing like this for beer, no scrupulous pairings at famous restaurants—never mind the White House—no presence on television beside serious cuisine. Beer—bereft of culture and, some would say, taste a generation ago—didn’t stand a chance against this assault of oenophilia.
“I think there’s an undeniable cachet about wine and its packaging and its presentation at the table,” says Lucy Saunders, a writer who has been covering the intersection of beer and food since the late 1980s.
To satisfy demand for this cachet, culinary schools developed curricula covering the nuances of wine. Wine critics and other writers lectured on pairing for hospitality professionals and ordering for consumers—and some made serious money doing so. Robert Parker, a lawyer turned critic, would sell his Wine Advocate, developed on a shoestring out of his suburban Baltimore living room, for $10 million.
If beer was included in this training for chefs and other food professionals, as in the case of the Culinary Institute of America, it was usually included as an afterthought—at least early on. That would change as the number of U.S. breweries ballooned in the 1990s and 2000s, and the variety of styles, and iterations of styles, blossomed.
Coverage of beer and food increased, too, and training programs for the hospitality industry in general launched, including Siebel’s Doemens (in 2004) and Cicerone (in 2007). Also in 2007, the Brewers Association launched its annual SAVOR beer-and-food-pairing festival.
“It’s risen with the craft beer movement,” says Kevin Appleton, food and beverage program director at Wisconsin’s Madison College. “It’s been going on gradually for the last 20 years.”
The Tipping Point
The tipping point for beer and food, according to Saunders, seemed to arrive as the nation recovered from the Great Recession in the late 2000s. By the time consumers had more money to spend, the table had been set for beer and food, food with beer, etc., through a vast array of brewery and beer options and a flowering of expertise. The public was ready by around 2010, or at least readier than before.
Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine. (Photo courtesy Big Tree Hospitality)
Arlin Smith is another early 2000s Culinary Institute of America graduate, who now co-owns Big Tree Hospitality, the company behind Portland, Maine, eateries such as Eventide Oyster Co. and Hugo’s. He has seen the changes firsthand in how the customers out front and the staff in back approach beer. It’s an afterthought no more.
“I feel like if someone’s going to spend $90 on a tasting menu,” says Smith, “they’re not going to feel that comfortable buying a $4 beer. They’re ready in that moment to experience something different that they didn’t just pick up at the gas station.”
And the holdouts, then? The Anthony Bourdains and the David Changs, who either don’t perceive the shift or do perceive it but don’t care?
“I don’t know, bad habits?” wonders Appleton.
That’s one theory: For some culinary maestros, beer might forever remain an icy-cold, only slightly bitter, invariably bland finish to a long shift in the kitchen.
Then there’s the generational theory. Beer in the U.S. was so long subject to what Michael Jackson described as that “snobbism which is particularly American” that those who grew up around that can’t see past it.
The key part of Chang’s 2014 GQ essay was probably when he wrote about “watching my grandfather mow the lawn on a 90-degree day in Virginia, and, as soon as he finished, he’d ask me to fetch him a can of ice-cold beer. He’d tell me, ‘One day, you’ll understand what it’s like to drink a really cold beer when you’ve earned it.’”
“You can’t undo those kinds of experiences,” says Saunders.
Finally, there is the infancy theory. If the tipping point was the end of the Great Recession a little under 10 years ago, then the prominence of beer in the culinary arts and in fine dining is still a relatively new phenomenon.
Various programs and places turned out sommeliers since at least the 1950s, well before the position gained new stature with the rise of American wine in the late 1970s. Smaller, more esoteric restaurants such as Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, had paired wine and food for years before Food & Wine magazine launched in 1978.
These things take time. Haters aside, beer’s place at the table looks only to grow more conspicuous.
“I think brewers and chefs are more similar than ever,” Rouben says, “and what’s wonderful now that I didn’t see back in 2004 is the communication—brewers working with chefs, and vice versa. I think that now more than ever we’ve broken down the wall between the kitchen and the brewery and just really started to focus more on the flavor, taste and aromatics.”
Tom Acitelli is the author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution and a longtime contributor to All About Beer Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whenever the name of a widely distributed American adjunct lager lingers pejoratively on the tongue, a prevailing wisdom tends to lay the blame of any perceived “cheap” or “poor” tastes on adjuncts like corn and rice. The Brewers Association, a trade association that works to define and advocate for craft beer, once excluded brewers who used them from its coterie.
That changed in 2014.
“As time went on, from the definition being in place, I think there came a heightened sensitivity to the fact that things aren’t so black and white,” says Julia Herz, the craft beer program director at the Brewers Association.
To define adjuncts: In all cases, they are unmalted sources of fermentable sugars and can include grains, honey, fruits, agave nectar and more. So, yes, barley can be an adjunct, while rye usually isn’t (it’s most frequently used in the form of rye malt).
Some of the ideas about them are true: Adjuncts can make beer cheaper to produce, and even the early brewers who embraced them drew a flavor line. But adjuncts have been a distinct characteristic of American beer since the industrial age because they made beer better.
“I think there’s a lot of name and quality and emotion wrapped up in the use of adjuncts,” says Aaron MacLeod, who has studied brewing grains as director of the Hartwick College Center for Craft Food and Beverage in Oneonta, New York. “I think that the U.S. has a long and proud history of adjunct brewing, especially with corn and rice.”
It’s a statement with which Herz agrees, and part of the reason adjuncts now comply with the “traditional” totem of the Brewers Association’s definition.
“Adjuncts played a huge role in the history of beer styles in the United States,” she says.
The following sections explain how some of the most common adjunct grains emerged and provide a little information as to what they add to—rather than detract from—beer.
“In North American brewing, if we look at the history up to craft brewing, the major adjuncts were corn and rice,” says Paul Schwarz, a professor at North Dakota State University who studies malt and cereal grains. In the Americas, corn’s ubiquity and high starch content made it an easy choice for brewers looking to lighten up lagers made with high-protein (and limited) barley. Even some Colonial brewers turned to corn to make beer, according to Schwarz.
Anton Schwarz, a Czech-born brewery consultant and manager (of no relation to the above-mentioned professor), began advocating for the use of corn in industrial brewing in the 1860s and was highly influential in its current relationship to brewing. In 1868 he immigrated to the United States, where he opened Schwarz Laboratories for research and training and edited The American Brewer.
Appropriately, it was Schwarz who recommended brewmaster J.F. Theurer to Pabst—Theurer was behind Pabst’s famous exposition-winning (and corn-including) beer in 1893.
“In theory, the starch in corn is similar to the starch in barley. So in theory you could make a beer with malt and corn that has a similar carbohydrate profile to a beer made with 100 percent malt,” says Schwarz, the North Dakota State professor.
Corn appears in classic American adjunct lagers such as Yuengling’s signature beer (now considered craft by the Brewers Association), as well as in newer-wave beers like Fullsteam Brewery’s El Toro cream ale and 3 Floyds Brewing Co.’s Corn King IPA. Corn lightens body and color while maintaining alcohol content and can be used in brewing in the form of grits, flakes or syrups.
Anthony Accardi, brewer at New York City’s Transmitter Brewing, uses corn for a cheeky twist on a farmhouse ale in his brewery’s F6.
“Basically [it’s] in some ways mimicking High Life as a reference point,” Accardi says. “We’re adding some Brettanomyces to it that would give it some funkiness or earthiness that would never be appropriate to an American light lager.”
As an adjunct, rice was used frequently among brewers in industrial America. Due to rice’s limited availability and its fussiness, however, corn overtook it in large measure toward the close of the 19th century.
Rice, like corn, is low in fats and protein and high in starch, making for beer that is lighter in color, flavor and body. But while most corn is fairly easily converted into fermentable product by the extra enzymatic activity of barley, rice needs a little something extra (higher cooking temperatures, extra bacterial enzymes) to be added into beer.
For one of the most classic beers made with rice, look no further than Anheuser-Busch InBev’s famed Budweiser. Like corn, rice’s utility is also being rediscovered among smaller producers. For instance, Melvin Brewing Co. and Monkey Paw Brewing Co. partnered for a double IPA called “This One Goes to 11,” brewed with sticky rice and Minute Rice, as a gibe at big beer.
At Transmitter, Accardi works with rice as part of a wider effort “to use all the colors on the palette” when it comes to brewing with grain. “To me there aren’t rules to what a beer should be or shouldn’t be,” he says.
Transmitter’s S8 saison uses rice to keep the beer’s body and color light and refreshing, with the rice providing a gentle canvas for the spicy saison strain and German aromatic hops in the ale.
“Some people feel like they taste a little bit of sake-ness to it. … I’m not sure that I ever perceived that,” says Accardi.
Stillwater Artisanal has also used rice to make its Extra Dry saison (though that brewery’s beer is meant to call to mind sake), and Bayou Teche Brewery uses rice to keep its snappy Ragin’ Cajuns Kölsch light and fluffy.
Wheat’s high protein content—and also the soluble nitrogen found in wheat flour—has made it a go-to choice for brewers looking for greater head retention. Unmalted wheat helps constitute lambics and witbiers, and provides a more pronounced cloudiness and raw, grainy taste over malted wheat. That cloudiness is one reason flour has occasionally been used in making New England-style IPAs like Tired Hands Brewing Co.’s Milkshake., a collaboration with Omnipollo.
Wheat didn’t initially take off in American brewing, professor Schwarz says, because it was too valuable of a food crop to justify turning it into beer. Now, though, brewers are going beyond standard wheat to heirloom varieties like spelt to add a new level of rusticity and complexity to their beverages.
Let’s be clear: German hefeweizen and Berliner weisse beers predominantly use malted wheat, not adjuncts. But in the cases of beers like Blue Moon or Lindemans Cuveé René, unmalted wheat helps produce the fluffy head and bready taste.
Some papers suggest the use of oats in European brewing was fairly present until the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law). It would make sense given the context of how other adjuncts emerged: Oats are a hardy crop that grow well in the cold and wet climes of countries like Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The most common style of beer to which Schwarz has traced the use of oats would be the British oatmeal stout, where he has found references dating back to the 1800s. A distinctly smooth and creamy style, the beer has a distinguished mouthfeel that comes from oats’ high levels of a non-fermentable fiber called beta-glucan, Schwarz says. Beta-glucan not only produces viscosity in beer, it also happens to be the thing that Cheerios advertises as heart-healthy.
The oats in Terrapin Beer Co.’s Rise-n-Shine coffee oatmeal stout, which is aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels, serves as an example of how oats can give what might otherwise be a syrupy beer a lighter texture similar to aerated cream. Oats also serve as a base to the beer’s intense nose and flavor profile, laying down an oatmeal-like canvas to bind together notes of bittersweet chocolate, dark fruit and warming booze.
Recommended usage levels of oats are low in beer. One 1943 research paper argues that around 10 percent in the mash is adequate, and only with “good malt.” And Randy Mosher, a columnist for this magazine and author of books such as The Brewer’s Companion and Radical Brewing, has suggested in his writing oat usage of somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.
Accardi says he adds oats to beers like his G2 Belgian pale ale if “we want to give it a little extra something in terms of how it feels.”
“We try to consider all the aesthetic angles,” he continues. “We’re still using mostly barley, ’cause that’s what
Buckwheat, The Pseudo-Grain
Though occasionally mentioned in the same breath as spelt, emmer and durum, one ingredient showing up in beer recently, buckwheat , isn’t actually a grain at all.
“It could be considered a pseudocereal,” said Prof. Paul Schwarz of North Dakota State University. Cereal grains come from grasses; buckwheat does not. However, buckwheat does call to mind a profile similar to rustic wheat in beer, and can be malted or used as an adjunct.
“Buckwheat is really beautiful […] with an earthiness and nuttiness that are not really found in the same way in much else,” said Brian Buckman, co-founder and head brewer of Illuminated Brew Works in Chicago, Illinois, whose 2016 Pareidolia Belgian Pale Ale incorporates unmalted buckwheat, Asian pears and amchur (dried mango powder).
Buckman described buckwheat as “a very big, bold flavor,” and bold it is indeed (it’s also the reason Buckman uses pears in Pareidolia as a balance). Close your eyes while drinking Pareidolia, and it’s easy to imagine a freshly cut hunk of whole-grain levain bread in place of your beer glass.
What About Rye?
Rye use dates roughly back to medieval times, appearing in German roggenbiers and assorted Scandinavian fermented beverages. But given that most rye used in beer is malted, rye is not usually an adjunct.
The usage of rye in Europe fell out of favor around the start of the 20th century, said Paul Schwarz, because rye is notoriously difficult to work with. It has a similar high protein content to wheat, which increases the difficulty of sparging, and also contains high levels of pentosan, a complex carbohydrate that makes rye wort “thick and sticky.”
U.S. brewers are re-embracing the grain for its distinct spiciness, adding it to beers from stouts to saisons and IPAs for balance and complexity.
Anthony Accardi, of New York’s Transmitter Brewing, adds rye to his NY1 Danko Rye saison for “a little edge.”
“In terms of layering the spice from the grain and the yeast choice, and then maybe picking a hop that has a peppery finish to it […] you’re blending distinct but various layers of a certain flavor,” he says.
Bo McMillan is the former editorial assistant for All About Beer Magazine, and is currently pursuing his PhD in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
While nothing we’ve covered in this Trending column to date can quite match the degree to which hazy IPA has taken off, we are quickly approaching peak berry beer.
The larger recent rosé trends in the beverage industry—rosé cider, rosé vodka, rosé gin, rosé hard seltzer, rosé pretty much everything—are ramping up to a fever pitch. Nielsen reported a 53% year-to-year increase in U.S. rosé sales near mid-2017, while a January 2018 trend report included the section “Rosé All Day,” noting: “While consumers purchase this varietal throughout the year, sales in U.S. off-premise channels highly skew to summer months and peaked during the week of Independence Day in 2017.”
The rosé trend, of course, accounts only for an unknowable portion of these new berry-beer launches, and the overall rise in kettle-souring techniques for making sour beer more quickly certainly figures in as well (berry additions being a good way of tempering the lactic tartness). But, should you happen to see a rosé reference on that new berry beer, don’t be surprised.
A few of these examples seemed to go very purposefully for a rosé-like profile, offering that refreshing combo of berries and subtle tannins, while others tended to go one of two hugely divergent directions: toward basic reassuring fruity sweetness or enamel-ending lactic acidity. I’m iffy on sweet beers, but these days I’ll take them over door #2. The mixed-fermentation examples tend to offer a more immersive experience, as do the examples that employ whole fruit. Expect price points to go up for both. Maybe sample them with a rosé-flavored rosé?
More Noteworthy Choices: Dogfish Head’s recent berried releases include their survivalist-minded It’s The End of the Wort As We Know It (adding blueberries, acai and goji berries) along with their Flaming Lips collab Dragons & YumYums (featuring yumberries). Creature Comforts Brewing Co. re-released Athena Paradiso with raspberries and cranberries. Magic Hat Brewing Co. brought back Elder Betty, a wheat ale with elderberries plus Apollo hops, which will be available through August. And Pelican Brewing Co. announced Berried at Sea – Tsunami Stout, with currants and blackberries: its first release in a new line of fruit beers.
ALMANAC FOUDRE PUNCH
Almanac Beer Co.
San Jose, California
7.2% | Oak-Foudre-Aged Sour Blonde Ale w/ Raspberries, Blueberries & Cherries
For rosé replacements, this new release from Almanac nails the core profile, with its sour elements adding on a bright lemony edge. Light oak tannins with mixed berries. A vibrant core effervescence. While there’s a bit of extra heft in the mouthfeel from the 7.2% ABV, this stays nimble, refreshing. ‘Punch’-wise, this seems primed for a larger-format package.
Los Angeles, California
7.4% | Blended Wild Ale w/ Raspberries
Cellador opened in southern California a few years ago, focused on fermenting in oak. This release of Vermillion is a blend of saisons aged on whole raspberries, and its complex berry profile pushes this beer into superlative turf. A fruit intensity like New Glarus’ best, but with nuanced, serious acidity and lambic-like tendencies courtesy of those well-aged saisons.
CROOKED STAVE SOUR ROSÉ
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
4.5% | Oak-Foeder-Aged Sour Ale w/ Second-Use Raspberries & Blueberries
Crooked Stave’s fermentation characteristics, particularly the Brett aspects, tend to be a bit funky for me, and there’s definitely some sulfur and a hint of pencil rubber here. But those are tertiary notes in an otherwise engaging, complex tart-rosé take. Like the Almanac, there are welcome tannins adding to the wine feel.
The Upland sours I’ve tried recently tend to be generous in their fruit character and special additions, if a bit overly puckering. Here, a particularly immaculate show of raspberry builds beside vibrant tart lemons impatient to take over. Great ruby color.
Where Upland’s Raspberry was berry-centric without a doubt, Trio emphasizes its lambic-style base (a beer called Basis), while its combo of special ingredients seem like tart guava. The strawberry addition is well presented, the honey landing on the floral side.
I like this twist on Weyerbacher’s core Merry Monks more than I recall enjoying the original, though I’d be curious to try them side by side. The cranberry addition is quiet and integrated well, contributing a bit of lift, and the serious tripel components never get overshadowed.
TWO BROTHERS IN THE DARK
Two Brothers Brewing Co.
4.2% | Dark Sour Ale w/ Blackberries
Nicely rendered roast and milk chocolate, but it’s hard to get past the sharp sourness here.
As I stood atop Peters Mountain along the Appalachian Trail taking in views of the Susquehanna River, I felt more alive than I had in a long time. I may say that I work for my beer and have grand visions of weekends spent exploring the great outdoors with a stop at a local brewery after to hoist pints and compare stories of adventure. But, if I’m being honest, most weekends are spent tossing bags with one hand and downing a well-loved IPA or three from my neighborhood brewery with the other.
Which was what led me to spend the morning hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail: to experience something new, adventurous, and, most importantly, authentic, with the journey eventually culminating at Tröegs Independent Brewing–a brewery I’ve long admired for the rebellious nature with which they brew cult classics like Mad Elf, Troegenator, and Nimble Giant. If beers this audacious are readily available throughout their distribution footprint, I couldn’t wait to try offerings held closer to home like the sour and wood-aged beers from the brewery’s Splinter Cellar series.
But Tröegs would have to wait. First, there was plenty to explore in Hershey.
A Taste of Downtown Harrisburg
I worked up quite an appetite from my hike, so I headed to the Broad Street Market in nearby downtown Harrisburg. The sheer volume of vendors hawking everything from fresh produce and grass-fed beef to prepared foods is unlike any market I’ve experienced in much larger cities, but I have to remind myself that Hershey and Harrisburg are unlike any place I’ve been before. Locals pride themselves in the entrepreneurial spirit that has lived for generations on family farms and within Mennonite and Amish communities. This same spirit influenced John and Chris Trogner to open Tröegs in 1996.
I ordered an ice cream cone–717 Cherry made with antibiotic free dairy from a local farm and churned in small batches–from Urban Churn and began to peruse the food stalls for lunch. The variety spanned everything from Puerto Rican to Korean and Pennsylvania Dutch. I couldn’t decide, so I ordered an international buffet for one–West African okra soup from Tasty Dishes, bacon-fried cabbage pierogies from Pikowski’s Pierogi Place, and Jamaican oxtail from Porter House–and watched as families enjoyed lunch together and business men popped in for a boxed lunch to bring back to their desks.
A few blocks down the road from the Broad Street Market is the Pennsylvania State Capitol. I’m not typically one to tour state capitol buildings, but enough locals urged me to give it a shot. “It’s the most beautiful in the country,” said the passenger next to me on the plane. She was right. From the rotunda inspired by Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s Basilica to the ornately decorated Senate, Congress, and Supreme Court chambers, the building is truly the palace of art that architect Joseph Huston intended, with lifesize murals depicting Pennsylvania history and messages of just governance flanking the walls.
Pennsylvania State Capitol (Photo courtesy Bryan Richards)
I next turned my direction from the area’s past to its future at Millworks, located adjacent to the Broad Street Market. Among the rafters and creaky floors of the old mill’s second floor are a patchwork of working artist studios, where artists like weaver Jenna Carls, potter Erin Dean, and filmmaker/photographer Caleb Smith make their living.
Back downstairs in Millworks’ restaurant, I feasted on a dinner of creative ways to infuse local ingredients into modern dishes–a starter of macaroni and cheese made with local cheeses from the Lykens Valley Creamery and a main of wood-grilled trout with seasonal vegetables and a chimichurri vinaigrette–all washed down with local brews. My night is almost complete. Almost. I wrapped up the evening across the river at Grotto Pub, a hearty Midwestern dive bar where I’m greeted by friendly locals and my first taste of Tröegs on draft.
A Day at the Museum
My plan to kayak Swatara Creek was thwarted by thunderstorms. A warm cup of coffee in front of the fireplace at Cocoa Beanery and a conversation with the barista sent me museum hopping instead, starting with the National Civil War Museum.
(Photo courtesy the National Civil War Museum)
I spent a few hours contemplating the battlefields and stories of our country’s darkest days. The experience is narrated by 10 voices. Each tells a unique story from the war–a freed slave, a southern farmer, three brothers torn by the conflict, etc. I’m still chilled by the voice of the eldest brother, a soldier for the Union army, narrating a letter to his wife about how disappointed his father would be to know one of his sons cowardly fled to the West and the other was fighting in the rebellion against the federal union. The displays covered more than the strategies and battles that decided our country’s fate and the why’s from both the Confederate and Union sides; they were about people, tragedy, rebuilding, and healing.
(Photo courtesy the AACA Museum)
As awe-inspiring as the National Civil War Museum was, I needed something to lift my spirits back up and headed over to the AACA Museum in Hershey for a walk down another history lane. This one is filled with big-block engines, mag wheels, and the bus from the movie Speed. Yes, the kid in me came to life as I stared upon a 1966 Shelby GT350, like the one my dad used to own. I began to relive my own fast and furious days of souped-up Mustangs and a need for speed–you know, the days before minivans and soccer practice.
Jacked up on adolescent adrenaline, I pointed my rented Kia Soul toward Tröegs–the reason for my trip to Hershey.
The Tröegs Experience
I was greeted at Tröegs Independent Brewing with a break in the clouds. The patio and beer garden were filling up with craft beer faithful looking to soak up some rays. Already, I was thinking of joining them with a citrusy and piney Perpetual Imperial Pale Ale (the ultimate pairing for the now steamy weather), but my attention was diverted towards three towering foeders highlighted by floor to ceiling windows in the front corner of the building. I wanted to not only know what’s aging away, but to also try what they’re producing.
(Photo courtesy Tröegs Independent Brewing)
As I stared up at the signs identifying what each foeder housed–a Wild Elf brewed in September 2016, another from July 2017, and a soured Belgian dubbel called Splinter Bronze–I felt a little tingle down my spine thinking about what’s happening inside those 21-foot-tall oak monoliths. My daydream was interrupted by one of the tour guides, Christie, who offered a tour. While I’m not one to go on brewery tours–once you’ve seen one, you get the premise–Christie reminded me that Tröegs’ brewery tour is one of the most highly rated in the country. Plus, it starts with a welcome beer. On this particular day, that beer was a pour of the aforementioned Wild Elf, a wild cherry ale aged to perfection on oak. Sold.
(Photo courtesy Tröegs Independent Brewing)
Beer in hand, we headed up to the Art of Tröegs Gallery, where Christie gave a summary of the brewery’s history. We were given a few moments to peruse the gallery, where fan favorites and winners from the brewery’s annual Art of Tröegs contest are displayed. An eclectic mix of art dot the walls, like a whimsical “Renaissance” style portrait of co-founders Chris and John Trogner, a pair of Nike Dunks with a tailored upper made out of Tröegs’ beer labels, and a 3-liter bottle that’s cut to look like it’s being zipped open.
The tour continued into the brewhouse with a bit more on the brewing process than most include. Just when the talk was about to get, well, boring, Christie delivered a humorous aside about the first time the Trogners brewed Mad Elf. John arrived at the brewery on a Saturday morning to lead a tour, only to find the entire place soaked in cherry juice. The beer was rather innovative for its time, and the brothers failed to account for how rapidly the juice would ferment. Stories like this raise my respect for Tröegs. They don’t brew normal beers, but instead push the boundaries and are rewarded for their efforts with a rabid fan base.
Another highlight of the tour was the green beer sample. I beer geeked out over a pour of the First Cut Mango IPA. The hops were grassier and more abrasive than the final packaged product where the Comet and Simcoe hops complement the exotic mango notes with a bitter citrus pop.
(Photo courtesy Tröegs Independent Brewing)
After the tour, I perused the beer menu above the bar in the taproom. I wanted to order what I came here to try–Troegenator from the source. But, I also felt compelled to try something different, something I haven’t tried before. I chose a beer from Tröegs’ Scratch Beer Series–where the brew team experiments with new ideas, recipes and brewing processes. I opted for the Perpetual Darkness–a dirty blond barleywine meets double IPA–and paired the refined toffee and sticky citrus notes with a starter of poutine fries with bone gravy and cheese curds and a main of duck confit with fried gnocchi.
As I sopped up the remaining bone gravy with my last fry, I contemplated another round. I wanted to see how else Tröegs pushes the brewing envelope and ordered a bottle of Dear Peter from the brewery’s Splinter Series. The tantalizing sour is brewed with nectarines from a nearby farm bruised during a hailstorm and aged on oak. As Tröegs proves, what’s too ugly for a roadside farmstand still works perfect for beer.
The beer itself was deceiving. The aroma delivered a bouquet of ripe, juicy nectarines with hints of oaky vanilla and a slight funk. On the tongue, the beer presented a nuanced battle of funk and ripe fruit that seemed to sum up my trip to Hershey and Tröegs.
Tröegs isn’t your typical brewery experience. Like so many other establishments in Hershey, it’s authentic and shaped by makers who truly care for their craft.
Learning about beer and food can be a ton of fun. Any beer pairing dinner will feature lively interactions carefully put together to show off the best in the beer, and if you’re paying attention, you may pick up on a few general principles and a few hints and tips.
But what if you want to make a serious study of it? Most dishes have several ingredients working together in particular ways. It’s a little overwhelming trying to untangle it all in the context of a beer and derive some general principles from it. That’s why I suggest you start with cheese.
Cheese is profoundly complex, but when it’s in front of you, it’s just one thing. It’s much less bewildering than a main dish, or appetizer. Cheese shows clearly how beer and food can interact, and it’s easy because every beer and cheese has a multitude of perfect pairing partners.
So what are the goals for a great beer and food pair? First, I guess you’d say, “Do no harm,” which means both partners should play nicely and not stomp all over the other one. This is usually stated as trying to match intensities, or at least avoid a collision of one big, bold partner with a much more delicate one. It’s pretty basic. You just have to consider everything in the beer from the alcohol and the bubbles to potentially intense elements like bitter hops and roasted malt. The same summation needs to be made of the food elements. In cheese, we’re talking about things like fattiness, salt and pungency.
The real goal is to achieve what the Brazilians call harmonizacão, or harmonization, meaning a real relationship where each partner changes in interesting ways and often creates a third set of sensations springing synergistically from the food and the beer. Aroma sets the stage. Similar aromas, when they can be found, tie the pair together. Beer often has caramelly notes. Cheese, especially aged varieties (think 18-month gouda), also can be a bit caramelly, so there’s a link. Hops have herbaceous aromas that can resonate with the herbal notes in blue cheese. And of course we can look to cuisine for things that are harmonious without being similar: roast and meat; bread and butter; fruit and cream; and so on. Once you start paying attention to these, you’ll find plenty to work with.
Finally, there are the tastes on the tongue as well as mouthfeel. There are fewer tastes than aromas, but they need to be balanced carefully. Cheese has some acidity and umami, varying degrees of saltiness and usually plenty of fat. We’re fortunate to be working with beer, as it has qualities that are ideal for dealing with those rich, palate-clinging tastes. First, carbonation physically scrubs all that stuff out of your mouth, leaving you ready for more. Bitterness cuts through fat, so it can be helpful with rich cheeses, especially when they’re robust enough to tolerate the intensity of hops. Alcohol is a pretty good fat solvent, and so a high-alcohol beer can work great with a high-fat cheese like triple-crème. Beer is acidic, sometimes intensely so, and that can also help cut through fat. The rich proteiny taste of umami is something people just want to linger on and savor. It turns out that amber and brown beers, if they’re not too roasty, enhance the experience of umami, which is one reason brown beers are generally pretty good food beers. Salt can be a wild card. It’s very friendly to toasty and roasty and can minimize bitterness, but sometimes can be one flavor too many, especially when sweetness and bitterness are already in the pairing.
Usually if you find one combination that works, you can scale it up and down and find that the core concept holds together. If blue cheese and IPA works, then stilton (a very strong aged blue) and barley wine will also, and on the other end of the scale, so should blue brie with a hoppy pils.
People always ask: “Should I eat the cheese first or drink the beer?” After the first taste, it obviously doesn’t matter. I’m a beer guy, so I say taste the beer, but I probably would feel differently if I were a cheese maker.
Cheese varies widely in its character and depth of flavor, and actually parallels craft beer in terms of its artfulness. A regular grocery might have little in the way of artisan cheese, so you are better off shopping at a specialty shop or gourmet market that has people behind the cheese counter. In my experience these folks really enjoy beer and have great suggestions and insights. I rely on them frequently.
It’s also helpful to learn your way around the cheese landscape. Cows, sheep and goats each make very different milks, and each impacts the cheese in different ways. In production, cultures, natural or otherwise, may ferment the milk, changing and adding flavor. The middle of the process is all about water removal, which obviously affects the texture, but also how hard the cheese will be, how long it will age and how intense its flavors are. Different aging techniques affect the final cheese, as do secondary treatments like the injection of penicillium fungus that adds its delicious moldiness to blue cheese.
Putting together a small-scale cheese and beer tasting is among the simplest gourmet adventures you can have. Pick half a dozen cheeses, trying to mix things up: get at least one goat and one sheep; try to have some soft and some hard, one blue, one washed rind (the stinky type that comes in many degrees of stinkiness), one aged. Now that you have cheese in your basket, try to visualize the flavors and imagine which beers might pair well with them. Medium-intensity beers are usually good bets with cheese. As I mentioned, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the folks at the cheese counter. And just below, I’ll detail a few pairings I think generally work.
Harder cheeses are best pre-cut. I like to cut each cheese differently to make them easy to tell apart. Harder cheeses need smaller pieces as they’re more intense, but I like these to have a lot of surface area, so very thin tapered slices or irregular matchsticks; some softer cheeses can be just served with a knife or spreader as they glue themselves back together after cutting. For just a little taste, 1/4 ounce (7 grams) is adequate; half ounce per cheese is fine. If people are really eating, a little more. Bread is optional. For educational purposes I find it gets in the way, but for more casual tastings, it makes the whole thing feel more like food.
So here are a few pairings I always have a great time with:
1. Hefeweizen with fresh mozzarella. It seems strange until it’s in your mouth, where the milky creaminess of the cheese encounters the fruity, almost peachy aromatics imparted by the yeast, plus a twist of spice on top. Really makes you think of peach ice cream.
2. Amber to brown ale or lager with a washed-rind cheese. Recognizable by their orangish rind and gooey interior, these cheeses also offer varying degrees of cheesy funk. Despite their aromatic intensity, the inside of the cheese (experts call it “paste”) is very mild, so the beer can’t be too bitter or roasty. Done right, you get a “liquid-grilled-cheese-sandwich-in-your-mouth” effect. If you’re frightened by funk, ask your cheese merchant for a milder one.
3. Blue cheese and IPA. We normally don’t think about the mold of blue cheese having an herby quality, but when you put it with hops, it just explodes. Also, the cheese is pretty fatty, and the bitterness just blasts it away, while at the same time the cheese reduces the perception of bitterness.
4. Triple-crème bloomy-rind with doppelbock or Scotch ale. Played against this rich, salty-buttery cheese, the dark malts and beer’s sweetness creates a sort of chocolatey/caramelly cheesecake effect. If you want an alternative for a very different kind of pairing, a Belgian strong golden or tripel works great.
5. Three-year gouda with imperial stout. This super-aged cheese is caramel in color as well as flavor, with a lot of meaty and buttery notes. Pair it with a big, dark beer and you put meaty, roasty, caramelly and salty together. If you think about a cheeseburger, it’s all there but the pickles.
Getting to know beer and cheese is an ongoing process, but a very fun, rewarding and social one. In addition, it will help you grasp the basics so you can move on to more complex dishes. I urge you to get out there and explore this fascinating combination, slice by slice.
Randy Mosher is the author of Tasting Beer and is a senior instructor at the Siebel Institute.
While I’ll travel something fierce to experience the best or most beautiful, most remote or most weird breweries, it’s less reported that I’m also a sucker for doughnuts. I profiled a veteran doughnut baker before I ever interviewed a brewer. I just produced the fourth Baker’s Dozen Festival in Portland, Oregon, which juxtaposed coffee-infused beers from 13 breweries with gluttonous bites from 13 of the area’s best doughnut shops.
So when I found out that Ohio is home to a bona fide Donut Trail (I only use that truncated spelling when it’s in a proper name)—and not in one its metropolises like Cleveland, Columbus, or Toledo, but sandwiched in Butler County between Cincinnati and Dayton—I had to tackle it.
Drinking on Ohio’s Butler County Donut Trail
Conceived of by the Butler County Visitors Bureau as a tourism draw to an area road-trippers might otherwise circumvent via I-75, said bureau sponsored my conquering of the 11-shop Donut Trail from my nightly pillows to pillowy balls of dough.
I allotted two mornings to inhale all those frosted, filled and fried morsels, then two afternoons all aglazed visiting Butler County breweries.
The symbiotic relationship between beer and doughnuts is found throughout Ohio. At Municipal Brew Works (20 High St.) in Hamilton—conveniently located across the street from my accommodations at the Courtyard Hamilton Hotel—The Dapper Doughnut is just one of many food trucks often parked outside. Because the brewery’s home is a 1935 municipal building that previously housed the fire and police stations (replete with a county jail that’d make for a unique tasting bar), vending fresh, hot mini doughnuts is a natural. While True West Coffee Porter is the natural complementary beer, I found that mixing it with the Orange Agave Blonde Ale nicely mimics the flavors of a café Borgia (think mocha with orange zest).
(Photo by Brian Yaeger)
Not all of the breweries correlate to doughnuts. At FigLeaf Brewing Co. (3387 Cincinnati Dayton Road) in Middletown, the four-vessel brewery with a taproom off the interstate between Dayton and Cincy offers light-bodied quaffables such as Basmati Cream Ale with a pleasant floral aroma and dual 7.2% IPAs (ISO-Trope and ISO-Hazy) for those who prefer their IPAs new-school cloudy or old-school clear.
Four miles away, Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House (6550 Hamilton Lebanon Road) is a larger production brewery distributing to seven states—but the on-premise brewpub is a destination for serious drinkers and fun-loving families with arcade games strewn about. The food menu is heavy on smoked meats (even the deviled eggs are brilliantly topped with Russian imperial stout-infused burnt ends) while the beer list ranges from plenty of lighter options (3984 Lager and Divergent Berliner Weisse) to West Coast and New England IPAs to some culinary experiments like a black gose brewed with black sea salt, black malts, and blackberries. Meanwhile, a 15-minute drive south into West Chester, DogBerry Brewing (9964 Crescent Park Drive) brews on a one-barrel system to keep the tap list long and diverse. The English-inspired Hook’ed Leg ESB is not cask conditioned but is served on nitro for a tasty and smooth pint, the Czech Pilsner is exceptionally clean, and there’s a place for smoked malts, hibiscus flowers and more among the 19 taps.
Meanwhile, last year in Cleveland a spot called Brewnuts (6501 Detroit Ave.) opened up. The whole concept here is chowing down on doughnuts—all made in house using local craft beer—and sipping locavore beers. The maple bacon doughnut with North High Brewing’s Tree Tapper maple brown ale from Columbus is a natural. Incidentally, Cleveland’s also home to one of three markets to host a new annual event called DonutFest (and I love that one of the participating Ohio bakeries is called Holey Toledough).
Eating on Ohio’s Butler County Donut Trail
Inevitably, once you’ve successfully had your Donut Trail passport completely stamped, someone asks, “What’s your favorite?” Forced to pick, it’s Holtman’s Donuts (9558 Civic Centre Blvd., West Chester). The shop is now run by founder Charles Holtman’s grandson Dan, and has three other locations in Southwest Ohio. I didn’t get to try the “beer doughnut” they collaborated on with Cincy’s Fifty West Brewing Co. but among their 30 daily varieties (sometimes twice as many on weekends), the maple bacon rounds are better than your prior favorite of this sort. Yet the Buckeye, three inches tall and chocolate glazed with a decadent peanut butter mousse center, is the way to go.
Holtman’s Donuts (Photo by Brian Yaeger)
Stan the Donut Man (7967 Cincinnati Dayton Road) is the West Chester strip-mall based bakery offering a long display case of glazed treats. Some are colorful, some are chocolaty—but all are priced around a buck each. I opted for the cinnamon bowtie with a thin ribbon of sugary spice inside the fluffy yeast doughnut. At The Donut House (8268 Princeton Glendale Road), a new shop tauntingly located across the road from a Dunkin Donuts, the stars here are the ones you “fill” yourself: choose classic glazed or chocolate- or maple-glazed long johns and select from several fruit or cream fillings. I went crazy and got blueberry and vanilla cream for the win. At the 40-year-old Donut Spot (5148 Pleasant Ave. in Fairfield), where doughnut-themed art hangs on the walls, the Homer Simpson-style pink, sprinkled doughnuts are a customer fave. My final stop on the first day was Jupiter Coffee & Donuts (5353 Dixie Hwy # 5, Fairfield) which nails the arty coffee house vibe. The “Red Storm” is a strawberry glaze swirled cinnamon roll, itself a big leap from the strawberry shortcake doughnut with a pompadour of strawberry fluff.
(Photo by Brian Yaeger)
Early the next morning, I walked into Mimi’s Donuts & Bakery (2267 Millville Ave., Hamilton) and sunk my teeth into the Reese’s, which, mercifully, is available as a mini since the peanut butter custard filling goes a long way. At Kelly’s Bakery (1335 Main St., Hamilton), the Kellybread—it and the bakery named after the founder’s daughter—is designed like a pull-apart in bar form. The cinnamon drizzle seals the deal. There’s no Ross at Ross Bakery (4421 Hamilton Cleves Road, Hamilton), so named because it was originally located in the town of Ross 10 miles south as the cronut flies. The old world klunker could be an antecedent to a buttermilk bar in its more amorphous embodiment. Nor is there a Martin at Martin’s Donuts (4 W. State St.), but the new owner kept the name and most of the offerings. There’s a banana-cream-filled doughnut with crushed vanilla wafers, but you have to get there earlier than I did because it was sold out. The cream-filled and crushed-Oreo-topped one floated my boat, er, sprinkled my doughnut. Central Pastry (1518 Central Ave., Middletown) is a full-service bakery. I fortuitously arrived at the end of pączki season (which is to say Lent). These Polish pockets (pronounced like poonch-key) are more or less jelly doughnuts. Before leaving Middletown, I closed out the trail at Milton’s Donuts, an institution that has used the same recipe and equipment since opening in 1960.
With my final passport punch, I felt a joyous sense of completion and camaraderie with my fellow doughnut travelers. I did not do this for the T-shirt that finishers can collect with a fully-stamped passport. I did it for the glory.
Additional Beer and Doughnut Destinations
The Second City is also the second market to host DonutFest, proving it’s serious about doughnuts. With more than 70 breweries in city limits, it’s also a serious beer town. Thanks to its Polish heritage, when Timeout Chicago listed hot spots to find the best pączki (basically Polish jelly doughnuts) on Fat Tuesday, they came up with a full baker’s dozen. Among them is the South Side institution Bridgeport Bakery (2907 S. Archer Ave.) whose stuffed delicacies total 19 flavors. But it’s the chocolate pudding one that inspired the Pączki Stout from Marz Community Brewing Co. (3630 S. Iron St.), thereby one-upping quotidian pastry stouts. The double milk stout is brewed with Peruvian cocoa nibs, and at 7% a pint and a pączki is probably enough to get anyone through Lent.
Nomad Donuts in San Diego. (Photo by Amanda Hickethier)
This SoCal bastion of beer culture supports 70 breweries (the 150-plus count that gets used is for the entire county). Nomad Donuts (nomaddonuts.com; 3102 University Ave.) has collaborated with about 25 of those breweries, including several in its North Park neighborhood such as Fall Brewing Co. (4542 30th St.), Eppig Brewing (3052 El Cajon Blvd Suite C), and North Park Beer Co. (3038 University Ave.). So popular are these Nomad collabs that Kristianna Zabala, the shop’s executive pastry chef, undertakes at least one monthly (and daily during San Diego Beer Week). One brewery that partners with Zabala beyond sugary doughnuts is Council Brewing (7705 Convoy Ct.), with its Magic Factory sour sideshow. One dinner course featured a Scotch quail egg savory doughnut glazed with chamomile and paired with Council’s Separate Haze IPA.
Do you sense a pattern emerging? Beer meccas are becoming doughnut paradises. Denver’s River North neighborhood supports a baker’s dozen breweries. One such brewer, Ratio Beerworks (2920 Larimer St.), organizes the Cool Beans event featuring its own beers infused with coffee, including Domestica blonde ale and an Irish-coffee-flavored version of Nobody’s Darlin’ strong ale. Logically, Denver doughnut legends Glazed and Confuzed (2501 Dallas St.) were on hand doling out donut holes. Over in the Highland neighborhood, Habit Doughnut Dispensary (1553 Platte St.) takes the Mile High’s affinity for hip doughnuteries and prescribes the cure—like the “Blazed” (brûléed) glazed. A block away at Denver Beer Co. (1695 Platte St.), you can enjoy Princess Yum Yum Raspberry Kolsch with the tart strawberry lemonade doughnut. Some of Habit’s creations are even served with a shot tucked inside, giving the boilermaker its much-needed 21st century makeover.
Asheville’s downtown boasts a cluster of breweries, several of which—including Twin Leaf Brewery (144 Coxe Ave.), Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium (147 Coxe Ave.), Green Man Brewery (27 Buxton Ave.) or Burial Beer Co. (40 Collier Ave.)—are walkable from Vortex Doughnuts (32 Banks Ave.). Vortex capitalizes on the city’s many beer tourists, and caters to both vegans and bacon-lovers alike. For Burial’s part, its winter seasonal Skillet Donut Stout (an oatmeal stout made with molasses and coffee, no doughnuts) offers everything doughnut lovers love except the chew. In Boone, the Appalachian Mountain Brewery (163 Boone Creek Drive) also makes a doughnut beer, made with the spudnuts (potato doughnuts) from its neighbors at Local Lion (791 Blowing Rock Road), a gourmet coffee and from-scratch doughnut shop. Wu-Tang fans will appreciate the brewery’s C.R.E.A.M. (Cappuccino Rules Everything Around Me).
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey and Oregon Breweries.