How the BEER BITES Cookbook Was Born

Beer, by itself, is a great thing, right? But recently the art of pairing beer and food has seized the kitchen and, working with a friend, I recently set out to write a book about it. Our premise: No longer is wine the sole companion of good food. Beer must have a seat at the table. Why? How does it work? For starters, beer’s ingredients make it super versatile. Barley malt, roasted from Beer Bites COVpale gold to pitch black, can lend fruitiness, sweetness, bready flavors, even notes of coffee, chocolate, and soy-like umami. Hops provide bitterness and aromas (from pine tree to orange peel) that are a major part of the beer’s overall flavor. Yeasts add spice, aromas, aftertastes, acids, and of course help create the alcohol left behind during fermentation. Carbonation and grain tannins help “scrub” the palate. Take almost any food, and there’s a beer style that can match it. Baby back ribs with burnt orange glaze, anyone? How about buttermilk-fried oysters and kriek-braised pork sliders?

Both of those delicious recipes came out of our project. It goes back a bit. True story: in 2013 I got invited to attend IACP for the first time, a culinary festival food & drink journalists around the world attend with all the enthusiasm of Big Ten tailgaters. That year, at the behest of Portland buddy and renowned cheese expert Steve Jones, I was appearing in a truly ridiculous beer-vs-wine-with-cheese smackdown against the wily David Lynch, the famed former Babbo sommelier who now runs St. Vincent, a no-good, run-down, two-bit, flea-bitten flophouse in SF.

Let’s get ready to RUMBLE! David “The Destemmer” Lynch, Steve “The Big Cheese” Jones, and me

I’m kidding, of course. St. Vincent is amazing. It’s a world-class wine bar/gastropub/beer bar and he runs it with utter class, no surprise from the James Beard-winning author of Vino Italiano. Anyway, the three of us, who had never met up as a group, decided Jones would “referee” as Lynch and I debated wearing Mexican lucha libre wrestling masks, because it would A) be stupid, silly fun B) confound/amuse the august international food and wine critics and C) see reasons A) and B). Why not?

During the event, before the packed hotel ballroom, I had Lynch on the ropes early on with some world-class saison and IPA, but as is his way, he slowly warmed up with a feint and dodge and bob and weave—and damn it! really great wines!—until they were becoming putty in his hands. Not even my final pairing of a massive creamy bleu cheese with Firestone Walker’s amazing, bourbon barrel-aged Sucaba, a haymaker if there ever was one, could save me. When I uttered what some in the increasingly tipsy crowd perceived as a Mad Men spoiler (that a recent episode, which had not yet run Down Under, took place in Hawaii) I was donezo. Kaput. Crawl back to Oregon, you hayseed!

All in good fun. I lost by two crummy votes, with a final score of like 252 to 248, a five round smackdown. Jones, wearing his ringmaster bowtie, raised Lynch’s wimpy wine pairing arm aloft… and the crowd roared. Well, they laughed and clapped for a while. We had managed not to embarrass ourselves too completely.

All’s fair in love and wine-versus-beer-pairing, and we’re all still good friends. More importantly, there were two important people in the audience that day: Bill LeBlond, the esteemed cookbooks editor of Chronicle Books in SF, and Andrea Slonecker, an up-and-c0ming, Portland-based, super-talented cookbook author. I’d met Andrea a couple of times at food events in PDX; she approached after the final bell and introduced me to Bill. Still wearing my ridiculous white satin robe with the word BEER in faux-gangsta gothic font on the back I composed myself and chatted with the two of them. “That was great… What about a book with you two?” LeBlond wondered aloud after a few minutes of small talk. Andrea and I glanced at each other, our eyes wide and saying, silently, Holy cow, yes!

“He never goes to anything,” Slonecker later told me, referring to LeBlond’s high stature in the food world. What luck!

That day, the seed for Beer Bites was well planted, and after we put together a hefty proposal and shopped the book back to LeBlond and Chronicle, we had a ourselves a book deal. We would write a cookbook about beer pairing together, with Andrea doing her delicious food, and me trying to impress her picky palate—and complement her delicious food—with beers from around the world she’d mostly never tried. We scored a test kitchen in the form of a friend’s condo in Portland and spent weeks and weeks cooking and tasting beer and taking notes morning ’til night. Let me tell you this: Andrea is a terrific cook and her recipes rock. And best of all, early on, she set me up on a group date with her roommate at the time, who is now my fiancé, Lila. Meant to be, you might say!

Two years later, that cook book is now on shelves. On 10/13/15, Chronicle released BEER BITES: Tasty Recipes and Perfect Pairings for Beer Lovers, with a foreword by Eric Asimov, chief wine critic of the New York Times (and a heartfelt thanks to Lila, who was a huge help for both of us). 

We are really proud of this book and hope you’ll check it out if you love beer, cooking and entertaining, or, barring those, lucha libre and true love. We have some signings and other events coming up as well: a reading at Powell’s Books on Burnside, in downtown Portland, on Monday, November 9th at 7:30PM, as well as some events to-be-announced at McMinnville’s 3rd Street Books, The Commons Brewery, Baerlic Brewing, and others TBA. Check out our Beer Bites Facebook page, and pick up the book from your favorite independent bookstore, Chronicle BooksPowell’s, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Cheers!

Will You Help Me Update The Ale Trail?

My first book, The Great American Ale Trail, was a curated list of 425 destinations with an emphasis on great places to pack up and visit (so amazing breweries without tasting rooms of any kind were omitted). The timing was good, perhaps too good. Since the book came out in late 2011, the size of the U.S. industry has more than *doubled* and I can’t keep up anymore (who can?). As I prepare a new version for 2016, I have the unenviable task of sifting through what is quite literally a mountain of new options nationwide—breweries, beer bars, bottle shops, huge festivals I’ve never even heard of. I’m humbly looking for some help in defining the best beer spots, especially opened since 2011 (and not in the original book) that truly define craft beer now and where it’s headed. What would you add? What would you cut? I have about 100 new slots (and must cut 25-50). Let me know! Here’s the 2011 index, click “read more”. If you have suggestions, bring ’em on. I’ll be forever grateful!

Continue reading “Will You Help Me Update The Ale Trail?”


Barn Raising & Cellar Gazing

What am I grateful for on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2014? For my family, friends, and that I’ve been able to pursue my passion for beer and brewing in so many ways. What an incredible transformation we’ve seen in recent years! Since my first book came out, more than 1,000 breweries have opened in the United States. I’m often asked, will I update The Great American Ale Trail, maybe write a sequel? I think so, but not this year, because I’m currently doing something I’ve wanted to tackle since my first batch of homebrew: opening my own brewery.

Wolves & People, named for a game we played on our family farm as kids, is that dream, that brewery… a meeting of wood barn and wild yeast, entropy and industry, passionate study and blind chance. A farmhouse brewery using well water, wild airborne microflora, farm fruits and produce, Wolves & People is the culmination of everything I’ve worked for since my first article ever published, on Orval, in 1998. Paying my first down payment with a bag of filberts (seriously), I managed to get a hold of the old copper clad brewhouse from Heater Allen, which is now installed in our 1912 barn. We plan to focus on saisons, wild ales, and all manner of sour beers aged in wood barrels formerly used in area wineries. My inspiration: the amazing Cantillon, of Brussels, Belgium, which I first visited in 1997, mainly. But many breweries I’ve toured and written about since then have filled my head and heart with the goal of creating my own place.

For the past seven months I’ve been working every spare minute to get this project underway, and it’s been among the most challenging efforts I’ve ever undertaken. In fact, it was far more than I could handle alone. Thankfully, I’ve teamed up with Jordan Keeper, former head brewer of Jester King in Austin Texas, who moved up here October to help me realize this dream. Both of us have spent the past two months cutting and hauling, all the while dreaming of beers we’ll create here on the farm. Fun? Sometimes. Hard work? Words can’t suffice. It has been grueling. But we’re getting there.

The barn restoration is underway. We’ve poured concrete, tested new drains, ordered a hefty glycol chiller. We even homebrewed a pilot batch yesterday. Locals are getting pretty excited about us opening up (Spring 2015, by the way).

But we also learned we need a whole new roof on much of the barn, which will cost a LOT.

You’ve heard of Kickstarter. Enter Crowdbrewed, which is like Kickstarter for the beer industry. And there are only 4 days left in our Crowdbrewed campaign, which is now almost 2/3 funded. We’re so grateful for the support we’ve received, but we need more help to get up and running. Please consider a donation of $5, $25, $50… whatever you can manage. We also have very some juicy rewards at the $500 and $750 level remaining. To help us reach our goal, and due to unforeseen demand, we plan to release 25 (more) Cellar Society memberships to help us reach our $60,000 goal (a mere fraction of our opening costs, by the way). Those will go live on Thanksgiving, Thursday the 27th, at 12 NOON Pacific Standard Time. There are also other beer-in-reserve options remaining. Thanks for your support, and keep checking our campaign page for news and updates. Cheers and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Climbing The Walls


As the world mourns Everest’s deadly toll, why isn’t any one asking about the chances for a good life for the Sherpas completely outside of climbing?

By now the grim tale has traveled from a few thousand feet below the rime iced summit of Mount Everest to middle AmericaNational public radio, and just about everywhere in between. Days ago, an horrific avalanche claimed the lives of 16 local guides, mostly ethnic Sherpa, fixing ropes for the upcoming weather window of May, when most attempts transpire. Amid the horror, the entire climbing season hangs in limbo. Sixty years ago, when two men stood together on the summit of Mount Everest, the entire world shone brightly beneath their feet. After their achievement both became household names, one knighted and immortalized on his nation’s currency (among other accolades); the other worshipped as a living deity, himself festooned with medals, including the lofty George, from Queen Elizabeth II.

Know which was the humble son of a Himalayan yak herder? The latter, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, 11th of 13 children, made it to that crystalline viewpoint through pure grit, big-hearted valor, and a bit of luck, having made it within 750 feet of the summit once before, and having helped “Ed”, as he was called, out of a crevasse in the days before their ascent, cementing his already deserved spot on the summit bid. His joyous achievement was famously photographed by Hillary and, maddeningly, picked over by nationalistic fussers for years as to which man was “first”.

What did a meter or two ahead of the other matter after their slow motion ascent to the top of the world? The distinction is more or less meaningless—neither could have made it alone, and the two had a gentleman’s agreement to hide the order in which they stepped through the snow along the summit ridge. Hillary, a gentleman of uncommon class, declined to identify who was “first” until after Norgay passed away, maintaining its irrelevance. Along the way, the Sherpa people, illuminated by Norgay’s ‘Tiger of the Snows’ triumph, became a potent symbol.

Trouble is, that symbolism still obscures true summits of Sherpa culture.

While it is undoubtedly true that Norgay’s climb in the -50C wind-chill propelled his people widen their deserved reputation as trusty, selfless, incredibly talented climbers, it also locked the word Sherpa into a kind of anthropological cul-de-sac, where altitude, avalanche, and death-defying rescues are all there is. But thanks to the inspiration of Norgay’s inspiring feat, there are also Sherpas who get to high altitude by piloting 767s and who live in cul-de-sacs, chasing another goal: The American Dream. There is life beyond Mount Everest, and some Sherpa have been pursuing it in ways that those who would prefer to think of Sherpas as brave mountain servants might find shocking.

One night almost exactly ten years ago, as a relative newcomer to New York, I was with a former colleague from National Geographic Adventure magazine standing in Lahore, a SoHo takeout restaurant popular with cabbies, waiting for hot, sweet chai tea. We were talking about mountains we hoped to visit in person someday, including Mount Everest and K2, when a small voice behind us spoke up.

“You guys climbers?” asked a compact man with slightly wary eyes.

We weren’t, at least not seriously, but he certainly was. The story of what happened next became my personal mountain climb, a years-long reporting project resulting in a short item in The New York Times metro section, and, later, a substantial feature in Outside. It turned out that Tsering was, like everyone else in Lahore that day, an immigrant from the Himalaya, and, improbably, a NYC cabbie. But unlike the others, he was also a grand-nephew of Tenzing Norgay, grew up in Darjeeling in the famous Norgay home, Gang-La, had two degrees, a loving wife, and two beautiful children. His home was filled with mementos—given to him by Tenzing himself—of the glory years of Everest exploration. He was practically Himalayan royalty. But he had left it all behind to try his luck in America, and, like many Sherpa, was soon guiding Gothamites around the steel peaks of Manhattan. What I learned from Tsering, his fellow Sherpa cab driver- and odd-job buddies, and the many climbers I spoke to, is the true meaning of Sherpa pride, the wellspring from which it comes being deeper and far more ancient than a single climbing expedition in 1953. As the climbing world picks over accounts of this accident, and, just last year, a terrifying brawl on Everest between climbers and Sherpa brought on by a slight—it could all take years to sort all this out—today is a good day to remember that Sherpas aren’t just brave climbers. They are citizens of the world capable of absolutely anything, and the brave men who died fixing ropes in the Death Zone knew it, which is why their huge list of demands should come as no surprise. Breaking the enduring archetype of climber’s assistant may be impossible. When I reported this story in 2007 for Outside, Sir Edmund Hillary told me he saw clear dangers in Sherpa leaving the Himalaya for America. “I know a lot of Sherpas are now based in New York, and that’s fine,” said the climber, then 87, “but I just hope that they don’t completely lose their culture.”

“Going to work somewhere in New York, or anywhere in the U.S., would be very, very tempting,” Hillary continued. “The only thing is, for every Sherpa who goes to New York and earns money and sends it home, the vast number are good people who are really needed in the Khumbu. I’d certainly hope that they all come home, because they have so much to give to their own communities.”

Tsering, focused on a better life for his family, saw things differently. “My life is already burning now. I am like a candle. But the light which the candle gives is going to be good for the coming generations, which I can see in America.”

The postscript to my this story about Tsering and his Sherpa friends working toward a better life in America, including multiple Everest-summiteers Kipa and “Speed Kaji” Sherpa, is one I sometimes have trouble believing myself. As I reported the piece, I learned the New York based Sherpa—some 1,500 of them—were organizing to try to bring His Holiness the Dalai Llama to New York for a teaching at Radio City Music Hall and, at the same time, raise a million dollars to build a Sherpa cultural center in Queens. At press time they were up to $426,000 and gaining steam.

The Sherpas kept going. So did I.

One day in 2008 I got a call from one of the cabbies. They needed help, he said, for something important. “The Dalai Lama is really coming,” said Galgen Sherpa, Tsering’s close friend. “What do we do about press?” To my amazement, by driving taxi and working their various odd jobs—now you know what your Sherpa cab driver may be chatting about on his cell phone—the Sherpa had raised several hundred thousand dollars to bring HHTDL to New York. Though he’s not an elected official, he’s accorded the same protection as heads of state by the U.S. State Department, who, Galgen explained, I would need to coordinate with. Floored, I agreed.

A short time later, in a ground floor apartment in a leafy corner of Woodside, three Sherpa gathered to put the finishing touches on preparations. “We are working on the decorations now,” said Galgen, who hosted the meeting. “I think we are gonna go with 1-800-FLOWERS,” he said.

In addition to decorations there were more pressing matters; a fourth cohort joined proceedings by phone, and, with a DVD of their spiritual leader lecturing placidly on a silenced 46” flatscreen, two laptops, an iPhone, and two PDAs blowing up every few seconds, the men got to work. “Let’s make it happen,” Lobsang Thinley said, known to his friends as “Salaka”, another key organizer who’d just come back from a backpacking trip.

Suddenly the room erupted with urgent chatter in Nepalese. Tenzing Ukyab, also a Sherpa, and Lobsang, couldn’t agree on what to say in a press release about China, if anything. “We’re non-political,” urged Galgen. “Let’s just say, we are in support of the Dalai Lama’s aspirations,” said Tenzing Ukyab, who was taking time off from his day job selling handicrafts from his homeland inside ABC Carpet & Home. Salaka solemnly agreed, and the matter was tabled. “This event is only possible for us because we live in a free country, in the U.S.,” said Galgen.

It had been something of an improvisation, but a wildly successful one, considering their whole planning-visits-by-world-leaders record: one U.S. attempt, one success. The Dalai Lama had been booked to appear on July 17th 2008, before 5,900 spectators; through donations and ticket sales, the men recouped $325,000 in expenses, raised mainly from members of their community. Not bad for a bunch of cabbies.

Organizing that press access to the Dalai Lama’s appearance in July of 2008 necessitated a lot of emailing with said officials (vetting and background checks which were coordinated with The Tibet Office, the Dalai Lama’s cautious political arm). There was one final trip to a restaurant in Queens, Himalayan Yak, where, on the eve the teaching, Galgen, Salaka, and some 25 other Sherpa were rushing around in a pre-wedding night-like state of emotion.

Just as I was thinking about leaving to get some rest around midnight, Galgen approached me. He wanted me to go and greet the Dalai Lama at La Guardia in a few hours, joining the inner circle of visit organizers. Touched, but reluctant, I protested—this was their Everest—but he and the others wouldn’t hear otherwise. I was going. Sleep? Forget it. I headed home, excitedly emailed Elizabeth Hightower, my editor at Outside at 4:32AM, put on a suit, and jumped on the subway, headed for Queens.

We met around 6 in the bright, humid, hazy morning on a street corner in Jackson Heights, seven Sherpa and other Himalayan Community organizers in a couple of slightly banged up, but just-washed, town cars. They’d dressed for the occasion, one wearing a crisp beige cowboy hat, as they do at times. We were guided to a hangar area on the tarmac, where several aviator-clad State Department officials were preparing a long motorcade—with eleven other cars—inspecting each one for bombs using pole-mounted mirrors. A tight-lipped agent briefed us with the clipped diction of a military commander: “No photographs. Keep it tight, keep close and fast, and whatever happens, do not get separated in traffic.” Wait, what?

We weren’t just there to wave hello, we were going to be driving in the motorcade with the Dalai Lama. Suddenly the State Dept. guys signaled. Lined up, we raced across a tarmac, parked in an elliptical formation. This was just practice—or a safety measure?—but after several breathless minutes of waiting we raced off again to another spot, each time forming our perfect 13-car line. The anticipation was starting to get to the Sherpas, and me too. What was this, Clear and Present Danger?

When, moments later, we got the signal, we raced to our third and final spot, timed to meet the small jet as it rolled to a stop. The door opened, and out popped the smiling face of The Dalai Lama, squinting in the light. The Sherpas were coming a little unglued. “What do we do?” I wasn’t sure what the tough-looking agents would do, but I decided they had to take a chance. “Get out—Go and greet him!”

As he descended the plane’s stairs, the State Dept. guys were pacing around, finger-on-earpiece style. Out of the car now, I stood just off to the side as the Sherpas rushed forward and embraced the Dalai Lama, placing the ceremonial silk kata scarves around his neck, clasping hands with his and bowing in a state of bliss. They regard this man, after all—just as Tenzing Norgay had been worshipped by some—as a living reincarnation of Buddha.

I stayed a step back from the receiving line to observe, and suddenly we were whistled back into the cars. There was a lead Suburban, armored, with the Dalai Lama and his assistant behind it in another bullet-proof town car with very tinted windows.

As the Sherpas vibrated in shock, having just met their hero—I was completely awestruck as well—we were, for lack of a more polite phrase, hauling ass across the runways of La Guardia. We sailed off the tarmac and through a stoplight at full-speed. We really couldn’t believe the next part: The Grand Central Parkway and Long Island Expressways had been blocked off so the motorcade could drive on an empty freeway for miles approaching Manhattan. The Sherpas had, effectively, shut down an entire segment of New York City, for their guest. The two agents who’d briefed us popped out of the windows of the lead vehicle, brandishing assault rifles and darting their heads around, looking for danger.

We did not get separated. And for all Manhattan knew, we had the President of the United States on board.

The rest of the day went smoothly, at least inside. The stage had been beautifully prepared, with monks seated around the brightly colored, padded speaker’s perch. I stood around backstage and mustered the confidence to chat with the Dalai Lama’s personal liaison from the Tibet Office, Tashi Wangdi, who dryly informed me it would take six months to apply for an actual interview. The actress Uma Thurman’s father, Robert, introduced the guest of honor. Meanwhile, outside, around 100 protesters and an estimated 500 audience members clashed sharply enough to warrant intervention by mounted police.

After the teaching, the Sherpa and other Himalayan organizers gathered to the side of the stage. As I snapped the last group shots of the day with the Sherpas, assorted monks, and their hero, the State Dept. guys revving up outside, I was grateful. There was no more to do but go home. Joyfully, assuredly, the Sherpas had guided me, too, to a view like no other. And now they’re organizing to help support the stricken families in the Khumbu even as they keep working for progress here. “We all know about the risk that come with this [climbing] job, but due to lack of other opportunities, we have to take on these task and earn the livelihood,” Galgen wrote me recently. Perhaps it will always be so: the Sherpas’ dreams of liberation, and Everest, linked by a frayed, fixed rope of family, danger, and destiny.

Further Reading: The End of the Everest Myth, by Katie Ives, in Alpinist.

The Beer Electric

Today on The New Yorker‘s Culture Blog, I published a brief history of sour Belgian-style beer in America, which, of course, is a dream assignment on many levels. “A Brief History of Sour Beer” touches on a few of the remarkable traditions, breakthroughs and innovations that are ushering American beer into a thrilling new era. Of course, there tough decisions to be made—in this introductory format, I couldn’t describe every single sour beer operation in the country, let alone Belgium, where these traditions were born. But I do hope you’ll enjoy this portrait of lambic and wild ales and the artisans who create them, preferably with a nice beer in hand. 

…some biologists believe that humans evolved to enjoy low-level bacterial sourness to encourage probiotic health. High-proof pucker, on the other hand, can indicate spoilage. According to a study described in Nature, PKD2L1, the sour protein receptor, also resides along the entire length of the spinal cord, possibly monitoring cerebrospinal health. Sour beer lovers sometimes speak of being ruined on conventional beer styles—forever. It must be love. Or is it lightning, bottled? 


Big World, Small Brews


Recently I filed my first story for Bon Appétit, for the April print edition, a long-awaited foray into the pages of what I regard as the best food & drink magazine. My humble one-page subject? How countries with little in the way of artisanal brewing tradition are quickly remaking the global beer map (and your local’s beer list), mixing Old World styles with a New World attitude. Here’s a 12-pack of the best.


In 1996, Italy had next to niente for craft breweries; now there are hundreds, especially in the north.

Birra del Borgo ReAle Extra
An American-style IPA that drinks great with wood-fired-oven pizza. $18 for 750ml

Birrificio Montegioco Dolii Raptor
Aged in Barbera barrels, this lip-smackingly sour beer is molto refreshing. $13 for 330 ml


Beer is catching up with wine, as successful farmhouse operations in the north have sparked microbrewing countrywide.

Brasserie Thiriez Extra
The ultimate beer for mussels. You could even (gasp!) cook them in it. $10 for 750 ml

La Choulette Biere des Sans Culottes
This earthy, elegantly bottled brew is aged on top of its own yeast. $9 for 750 ml


The country’s genre-bending beers have found an export audience in the States.

Hitachino Nest XH
A Belgian-style ale aged in sake barrels and shochu casks; great with sushi. $6 for 330 ml

Baird Beer Angry Boy Brown
A strong brown ale with flavors of caramel, toffee, and pine. $5 for 355 ml


Bold Swiss brewers are making Belgian-inspired creations prized for their edgy flavors.

Trois Dames Grande Dame
A Flemish oud bruin ale with a sour-sweet interplay and mellow nutty notes. $17 for 750 ml

Bad Attitude/Rappi Bier Factory CH2
This rustic, unfiltered lager is brewed with fresh Swiss hops. $6 for 330 ml


Vikings loved their aul. Today’s Norsemen are brewing some wonderfully idiosyncratic beer.

Nogne O Porter
Roasty and chocolaty: a hearty beer to savor on a cold night. $8 for 500 ml

HaandBryggeriet Kreklingol
Made with tart wild crowberries for the perfect thirst quencher. $9 for 500 ml


Farmhouse upstarts and “gypsy brewers” are stealing megabrewer Carlsberg’s thunder.

Mikkeller Wheat Is the New Hops
A wheaty IPA made in collaboration with Vermont’s Grassroots Brewing. $6 for 330 ml

Amager Bryghus Rye Porter
Try this one for dessert–maybe even over ice cream. It’s rich and complex. $9 for 500 ml

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