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.

Beer-versus-Wine
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!

Hops on the Radio [Books + Media]

 A couple of months ago I was invited to be interviewed by the one and only Lynne Rosetto Kasper of NPR’s Splendid Table. Here’s the link to the recent broadcast, a conversation which veered from my experiences in West African homebrewing to a journey into Alaska in mid-January and the wild, barrel-aged wonders from Mark Jilg’s Craftsman Brewery and Shaun Hill’s Hill Farmstead. Enjoy!  The Splendid Table, 1.7.12 (from 23:19 to 29:20)

A Pint of Prosperity [Rabblerousing]

Illustration by Mikey Burton for Bloomberg View

Is it time for another Beer Summit? The U.S. subsidizes corn syrup-filled soda pop but taxes the hell out of small and independent craft brewers who are making delicious artisanal beer and bringing jobs to American Main Streets. Let’s have a sip of wisdom, shall we? Here’s my first Op-Ed, for Bloomberg Voices, on the subject of taxes, job creation, and American craft beer. Let me know what you think.

GIVE ECONOMY HOPS WITH MICROBREW TAX CUT

With the president and Congress mired in partisan backbiting, many lawmakers may be tempted to retreat to a dark room for a cold beer. They would do well to make that a craft beer.

Various high-ranking senators and representatives have been working on a pair of bills that not only would make craft brewing more competitive, but may also make a small contribution to helping relieve the nation’s grinding unemployment.

This legislation would roll back excise taxes on small brewing companies by anywhere from 11 percent to 50 percent. The current tax rates, adopted in 1976 before the rise of micro- and craft breweries in the 1990s, have never been updated, requiring many brewers to pay levies calibrated for much larger operations once considered small…[Read More]

 

An Age of Beer Stained Pages [The Critics]

Huzzah! Here’s a thoughtful review of The Great American Ale Trail by The Atlantic Monthly‘s Clay Risen. Cheers to Risen for the “young and talented” and “fluid and entertaining” bits! Good man, I owe you a beer.

A young and talented beer journalist, DeBenedetti provides extensive descriptions of beer bars, stores, breweries, brewpubs, and restaurants with extensive beer lists (11 Madison Park, one of Manhattan’s toniest eateries, also boasts one of the country’s best beer inventories). Tucked between are travel itineraries, regional overviews, and general musings about the culture of beer in America. What could have been a dry mash note to the nation’s beer havens is, in DeBenedetti’s hands, a fluid, entertaining handbook.

Here’s the rest, which quibbles with my having missed one of Risen’s favorites spots in Tennessee (join the club, my friend), and only describing one brewery in Bend, OR (there are four in the book actually). It’s an honor to have my work in The Atlantic — there was a time not so long ago when books about beer didn’t even exist.

The Problem With Guides to Beer Drinking: There Just Aren’t Enough (via The Atlantic)

Continue reading “An Age of Beer Stained Pages [The Critics]”

Is Craft Beer Better in PDX or BK? [smackdowns]

From Brooklyn Based, 10/18/11: Not even a glass of Pliny the Elder could get craft beer fans as excited as the release of two new books: The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Brooklyn Brewery’s celebrated brewmaster Garrett Oliver, andThe Great American Ale Trail: The Craft Beer Lover’s Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation, written by food and travel journalist (and former Brooklynite) Christian DeBenedetti, who began exploring the world’s breweries and beer cities 15 years ago on a fellowship. Oliver’s tome is an encyclopedic survey of the history and scope of beer produced worldwide. DeBenedetti’s book is an enlightening guide to over 400 stellar breweries, beer bars, and other beer destinations across 43 states, including local favorites like Spuyten Duyvil.

The two took breaks from their busy travel schedules to talk with Brooklyn Based about the state of the American craft beer scene and Brooklyn’s place in it.

Brooklyn Based: Where does Brooklyn fit into the country’s craft beer movement? Is it a trailblazer in any sense, or are we just following the lead of other cities like Portland, OR?

Christian DeBenedetti: Brooklyn stands on its own. I wrote in the intro to my Northeast section that all of New York City, and especially Brooklyn, has beer in its very foundations. No fewer than three breweries called New Amsterdam home in 1612; in 1913, Jake Ruppert built a $30 million dollar brewery and got himself a baseball team, the Yankees. Brooklyn produced one-fifth of the nation’s beer by 1960, according to a recentTimes story. By 1976, the number of local breweries had bottomed out, and no one really cared about beer anymore.

I tend to think that NYC’s modern craft beer evolution has been more food-oriented and didn’t really grow as much out of the DIY homebrewing and brewpub culture in the same way that, say, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco has.

Garrett Oliver: Brooklyn has, as Christian has mentioned, very deep brewing roots. In more recent times, the Brooklyn beer culture was based on pioneering places such as Sam Barbieri’sWaterfront Ale House. Today, Brooklyn’s beer culture has outstripped Manhattan’s, despite the excellence of great places like The Blind Tiger on Bleeker Street. The fact that a fairly short walk will take you from The Diamond, The Gutter, Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn Brewery, Mugs Ale House (also foundational), Teddy’s and Brooklyn Ale House to Spuyten Duyvil, Fette Sau and Barcade is nothing short of amazing.

I think our beer culture is probably deeper and more varied than Portland’s (witness the relatively British-based bent of most of the beers up there; not nearly so much Belgian influence), but Portland wins for sheer volume. And yes, food is a very big part of the Brooklyn beer scene.

Christian, what city do you think has the most adventurous craft beer scene in the country?

It depends, because adventurousness is totally relative these days. Compared to the watery norms of beer selections past, one could make the case that cities like Billings, Montana, New Orleans and Los Angeles are all contenders for “most adventurous” these days. All three once craft-beer-averse cities are awash with unusual styles on offer. You can now drink barrel-aged beers made at a deliciously high level in rural outposts like Bozeman, Montana and Jackson, Wyoming.

But for the sake of making my friend Garrett squirm a little I’ll say this: while my old stomping ground of Brooklyn has superb beer in the kettles, a glorious history, and virtually un-improveable watering holes, there’s an eye-popping number: 53. That’s the latest count of craft breweries in a city essentially the size of Park Slope. And among these you have everything from homebrewer-founded giants like Widmer and Bridgeport, to award-winning experimental wizards of sour and farmhouse and wood-aged styles at Cascade Barrel House and Uprightand Breakside and Hair of the Dog. I mean, there’s a food cart with a built-in brewery on wheels–Captured By Porsches Brewing Co.

It gets crazier: You can buy and fill a glass growler with Rogue or Laurelwood beer in the Portland International airport and carry it on your flight, because it’s all beyond security. Who said flying sucks? Forget those skunky $7 Heinekens. How about four pints of fresh IPA for the same price?

Garrett, do you think Brooklyn Brewery is a victim of its own success; meaning, more specifically, do you think it is unfairly considered too “big” or not local/craft enough by some in the craft beer scene?

Given that we’ve been brewing for 22 years, including 16 years in our current location in Williamsburg, I think that we’re the size that we should be. No matter what your endeavor is, a rock band or a brewery, you’re going to find some people who want you to remain tiny and unknown. I think that outlook is really pretty weird.

If a brewery is successful, it grows; if it doesn’t grow, it’s a failure.

We have, in many ways, defined “craft” for many years, pioneering things like collaborative brewing and even now-established beer styles. We also have the largest 100 percent bottle-conditioning operation in the U.S., which represents a true evolution of a distinctly artisanal nature. In fact, I think we are one of the most genuinely artisanal breweries in the country. Do people know that? Some do, but I think many don’t. So perhaps we need to be better at telling people who we are.

How much Brooklyn Brewery beer is actually made in Brooklyn now?

Garrett: The brewery in Brooklyn is now four times the size it was a year ago, and we produce more than a dozen beers, including all of the bottle-conditioned beers, from there. With the new expansion we will take some of the upstate production back in-house. It’s hard to know exactly what proportion that will be during the next year, but right now it’s looking like about 30 percent or so.

How much has the craft beer scene changed over since Brooklyn Brewery started 22 years ago? Do you think craft brewers are more free to experiment and make ambitious beers than they were in the past?

Christian: Craft brewing in America—and abroad—is practically unrecognizable today from the scenario we were sipping at the end of the ‘80s. There were perhaps a couple of hundred microbreweries then, whereas we are soon to pass 2,000. Most made a few basic varieties of British-inflected beer. Stylistically speaking, brewers were charting new ground, sure, but nothing like the wide-ranging, genre-bending efforts we’re seeing now, swerving into smoked, sour, super-hoppy, hop-less, fruit-infused, and even gluten-free territory.

Garrett: It’s hard to remember now that back in 1989 there wasn’t a whole aisle of bread at the supermarket and there weren’t cheese departments either. Back in 1989, sushi was considered exotic food–now sushi is at baseball stadiums. Our food culture has been transformed by diversification. We’re no longer a meat-and-potatoes nation.

In 1989, New York City, except for Brooklyn Lager (the only beer we made back then) and New Amsterdam, was pretty much a craft-beer desert. We had to go to Boston just to get some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It was possible, in 1989, to open up a bar and maybe have four to six draft lines, and have them all be mass-market beer. That’s impossible today–you wouldn’t have any business. It would be like opening up a 1989 supermarket next to Whole Foods or Wegmans.

What many people don’t realize is that craft brewing is not a trend or a fad. It’s a return to normality. One hundred years ago, we had the most interesting beer culture and the most interesting food culture in the world. We forget that, but we did. Our immigrant culture meant that we had everything from everywhere. We took bread and made it into sponges, we took cheese and made it into plastic, and we took beer and turned it back into water. Now we’re in recovery. And I have a message for every 55-year-old beer salesman who figures he’s going to ignore craft beer because he’s only 10 years from his retirement. And my message is simple:  you don’t have 10 years. If you don’t learn this stuff now, you simply aren’t going to make it. The world has changed and it isn’t going back–it’s accelerating.

 Posted on 10/18/11 | Interview by Keith Wagstaff

Beer West and The Book Hit the Bay

Beer West magazine and I are teaming up this Monday and Tuesday — that’s October 10th and 11th — in the Bay Area to bring you two nights of book signing, beer, and fun. Are you in?

MONDAY: Beer Revolution: October 12th, 6-9pm: 464 3rd St. Oakland, CA beer-revolution.com

TUESDAY: 21st Amendment: October 11th, 6-9pm: 563 2nd St. San Francisco, CA 21st-amendment.com

Please come and help celebrate the release of my new book, The Great American Ale Trail

I will be on hand to talk about and sign copies of my first book, the essential road map to 430 of the best craft beer destinations in the United States, including Beer Revolution and 21st Amendment, of course. Also, meet publisher Megan Flynn, of Beer West, a quarterly magazine covering the craft beer lifestyle on the West Coast. Come check out the magazine and sign up to start receiving a subscription. There will be beer specials and raffle tickets awarded for purchasing beer, books, and magazine subscriptions; drawing includes tons of great prizes. Hope to see you at one or both events!

About the book: 

After a year of toil, travel, and tasting my first book on beer pilgrimages is ready! Are you? THE GREAT AMERICAN ALE TRAIL: The Craft Beer Lover’s Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation, came out nationwide 9/6/11 on Running Press and has already nearly sold out its first print run…

With a preface by Garrett Oliver and detailed profiles of hundreds of destinations from Kona to Cooperstown, South Beach to SoCal, Portland East and Portland West, it’s a 368-page, full-hearted celebration of America’s amazing craft beer community, with profiles of brewers and key beers to seek out in more than 40 U.S. states.

I hope you will consider sharing news of my book with your FaceBook fans and Twitter followers by directing them to the Amazon site for the book or the book’s FaceBook fan page to “like”,  and the Twitter feed.

Cheers!