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!

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Finish Line…FaceSpace…Field Photos…

Almost there...

My first book, THE GREAT AMERICAN ALE TRAIL (Running Press ’11), is in its final stages of completion! What an amazing year of travel and discoveries…I don’t even know where to begin. Such an inspiring and challenging and rewarding project. Please take a moment to visit and ‘like’ my FaceBook page for the book. I’ve got a photo album going from my research (and beer field research going back to 1996 or so…) I’ll keep it updated on all things related—release dates and events for the fall, readings, spontaneous beer drinking sessions in Portland…that sort of thing. Thanks for your support….It makes all the difference. And please, follow me on Twitter too: @debenedetti.

Cheers!

CDB

Brauereisterben

Slate: Germany’s beer culture is in decline.
By Christian DeBenedetti. Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011, at 10:07 AM ET

Germans, famously, coin neologisms when a crisis hits or the culture reels in a new direction. Take die bad bank (toxic lender), kreditklemme (credit crunch), or twittern (sending a message via Twitter). Because Germany’s brewing industry has fallen on hard times, especially since the mid-1990s, you’ll now hear brauereisterben (literally, “brewery death”) muttered across the land as well. That may sound a little ridiculous, but in a country practically synonymous with beer and brewing—buxom servers in dirndls and overflowing steins, the biergarten echoing with song—the possibility of a downturn is a major buzz kill.

The facts are stark: According to German federal statistics released in late January, German brewing has dropped to less than 100 million hectoliters of production for the first time since reunification in 1990. (That’s less than half of the United States’ annual output.) The same study revealed that consumption dropped almost 3 percent last year alone, to 101.8 liters per person per year, and that it’s down about one-third overall since the previous generation. The number of breweries in the country has also dropped—by about half over the last few decades to around 1,300. (There are nearly 1,700 up and running in the U.S.) The vaunted Weihenstephan brew master degree program in Munich adopts a dour tone on its student prospectus, saying the majority of graduates don’t actually become brew masters but instead head for jobs in mechanical engineering and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Further evidence of brauereisterben is depressingly easy to pile on. Continue reading “Brauereisterben”

Remember “Dow Ten Thou”? [Gross National Happiness]

All the recent chatter about the Dow reaching 11,000 points made me recall a piece I wrote (but never published) about another American economic highwater mark, attained in December, 2003. Bon apps.

Bling Ipsa Loquitor

“The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 10,000 yesterday for the first time in more than 18 months, adding its own ratification to this year’s economic rebound.” — The New York Times, Dec. 12, 2003

Precisely five hours after the closing bell on Wall Street on Thursday the 12th, a formerly desolate block 28th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues made its case for a rebound, too. Here the leading economic indicator wasn’t the evanescent “Dow Ten Thou,” but the opening of Crobar, New York’s most opulent nightspot in decades — a massive, self-described “over-the-top megaclub”, a pleasure coliseum for the new era. In all, some 2,500 Chelsea clubbers, transvestites, dancers, wispy models—and an alarming number of bluehair Jersey matrons and Goombahs in dark glasses—were invited to cram into a wedding-tent covered line at 9pm, awaiting a peek at the new 25,000 square foot club, proof positive that The Good Times Are Back.

And back they were this night, or so it seemed, but there would be a few more minutes to wait. No one seemed to mind, because this, after all, was It. Measured in pure bang per square inch, Crobar promised an opening nothing short of Titanic, with traditional Japanese Butoh dancers, aerial ballerinas, famous DJ’s, original art, and a turgid list of celebrities (De Niro, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, The Donald…) The line buzzed and lurched; cell phones and cigars lit up. After about an hour, the line trundled ahead, berated by security: “Slowly, people! Slowly!” Each person in line held a black glossy ticket which read, on opposite sides, “Let me in, I’m fabulous!” and “Let me in, I’m hot!” Continue reading “Remember “Dow Ten Thou”? [Gross National Happiness]”

Reel Food [Comebacks]

381   It’s a rare film about haute cuisine that manages to come down to Earth and stir deep emotions, too; Big Night is an easy exception, but there are many more misses than hits in the ouevre. And great documentaries about food are rarer still. So I was pleased to see the excellent documentary LE CIRQUE: A TABLE IN HEAVEN on the schedule for HBO on Monday, December 29th. This is a great one to watch at home over Christmas break, and you’ll want a good bottle of red wine to go with it.

Completed in 2006, the film, which debuted at IFC’s Stranger Than Fiction series in April of 2007, documents the rise-and-fall-and-rise-again of restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and his famed eatery, Le Cirque, once the most celebrated restaurant in New York. Catering to celebrities, Presidents, and, famously—thanks to Sirio’s legendary hospitality—seemingly anyone who walked in the door, Le Cirque became a symbol of the good life, dreams achieved, abbondanza.

The film opens with scenes of Le Cirque 2000’s heyday at the Palace, when Henry Kissinger was a regular, and jumps to its closing in 2004, beset by the cold financial realities of Post 9/11 New York. Much of the rest of the film depicts the fraught lead up to its glittery reopening 2006, on East 58th street, and the internecine conflicts among Maccioni and his three sons that tear at the very fabric of the family. And then there’s the bruising two-star review from Frank Bruni after the party’s over, since upgraded.

Continue reading “Reel Food [Comebacks]”