Beer – it’s what’s for dinner. These days, more chefs want diners to pair pints with their food rather than a bottle of wine. But what brew goes best with what bite? In honor of American Craft Beer Week 2016, we sat down with four beer-loving toques to have them pair their favorite craft beers with their favorite dishes.
Peter Smith, The Sovereign, Washington, D.C.
“I like sour beers. The super hoppy stuff doesn’t do it for me. I love Cantillon’s Gueuze. The tartness and the lemon go well with our mussels, especially the ones I prepare with saffron, smoked sausage, roasted garlic, and fennel. The beer cuts right through the spice. Bitterballen are basically croquettes filled with shredded short rib and chicken liver, breaded with pumpernickel and sourdough crumbs, and fried. I like them with De Ranke’s XX Bitter. It has a toasty note that goes well with the fried dough, it pairs well with the beef, and adds a little funk to the liver. If I’m having the Liegeoise salad, I go with Blaugies’ Saison d’Epeautre. It’s a little on the bitter side, but it’s still yeasty and bright. It cuts through the fat of the poached egg yolk and cuts off the sharpness of the vinaigrette.” Make a reservation at The Sovereign.
John Critchley, Brine, Fairfax, Virginia
“My ideal meal is a burger, a dozen oysters, and a beer. When I was first talking to restaurateur Travis Croxton who owns Brine, I said, ‘We have to have a raw bar, a wood grill, and good beer.’ We have all three. I had never paid too much attention to Guinness or other nitro beers, but I love Flying Dog’s Bloodline, a blood orange IPA. I like the aroma and the creaminess that comes from the nitro. It goes down well with our house burger, which is dusted with vegetable ash, seared on the plancha, and then topped with sweet and vinegary red onion marmalade, Honeysuckle cheddar, and a lettuce slaw featuring a ‘Big Mac’ style sauce. Feed the Monkey, an orange hefeweizen from Jailbreak Brewing Company in Maryland, is another favorite. It’s a crisp, fruit forward wheat beer. I have that with our lambs and clams dish featuring merguez sausage, harissa, and crushed chilies. The beer cuts right through the spiciness. If I’m just having raw oysters, I have a Port City Optimal Wit. It’s clean and crisp with a lot of aromas of wheat and citrus. I could drink that beer anytime.” Make a reservation at Brine.
Kyle Bailey, Sixth Engine, Washington, D.C.
“I used to hate beer when I was in high school because we’d drink the worst beers. I’d wonder, ‘What’s the point of this?’ The first time I had Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery, that’s when I finally got beer. Now I love it. Ocelot Brewing Company out of Sterling, Virginia, has a great IPA called Vandals. It’s hoppy, grassy, and herbal. I pair it with our goat cheese tortellini with ramp pesto accompanied by carrots braised in orange juice and crispy housemade pancetta. These are big, bold, a touch heavy flavors but still springtime tastes. The beer’s hoppy, grassy notes go well with the black pepper rich ramp pesto and the goat cheese with its creamy tartness. DC Brau’s Zehn von Zehn, a collaboration with Port City Brewing, is malty and delicious. I drink it with our butter-poached shrimp featuring a Romesco sauce made with red pepper, tomato, almond, and bread. It comes with Israeli couscous, salt-roasted sunchokes, and seared spring onions. The brininess of the shrimp and the bread in the Romesco go well with the maltiness of the beer. Lastly, I love 3 Stars Brewing Company’s Peppercorn Saison. It has a little bit of spice, but it’s bright and clean. I pair that with our deviled eggs topped with fried oyster and smoked trout roe. The bright, clean effervescence of the saison cuts through the dish – especially the Old Bay seasoning the yolks.” Make a reservation at Sixth Engine.
David Wells, Evolution Public House, Salisbury, Maryland
“We’re the restaurant arm of a craft brewery, so we have great beers on hand. Our Lucky 7 Porter is my favorite. It’s got a smoky, malty vibe. For a dark beer, it’s very drinkable. It’s not one and done; you can enjoy a few. I have it with our pastrami Reuben. We make marble rye bread in-house with molasses and caraway seeds in it, and then we pack two slices with shaved pastrami, horseradish-spiked sauerkraut, melted Gruyere cheese, jicama apple slaw, and Thousand Island dressing. The beer helps bring out the smokiness in the meat. Our Lot No. 3 IPA is hoppy upfront and a little citrusy. I have that with our smoked tomato and paprika sautéed littleneck clams because it goes well with spicy foods. The beer complements the broth, which has a nice spice level that lingers with you – it doesn’t hit you up front or kill you at the end. My third choice is Exile Red Ale, which has a pretty balanced profile. I pair that with our burger featuring a topping of duck confit seasoned with rosemary, thyme, and sage. There’s also melted Gruyere, caramelized onion and balsamic jam, rosemary-Dijon aioli, and arugula. The ale keeps your palate fresh, so you’re not knocked down after the first bite.” Make a reservation at Evolution Public House.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Laura Hayes (Kyle Bailey); Marissa Bialecki (Peter Smith).