Beer Dinners Hit New Heights [Trends]

Labeling a special beer, Local 11, for a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at Eleven Madison Park (Photo: Nathan Rawlinson)

Here’s a report I put together for Food & Wine’s Mouthing Off site—CDB

American craft beer’s surge into the spotlight has taken many forms, but until relatively recently, beer dinners in ultra fine dining settings were generally considered oddities, one-offs, or experiments rather than the norm. No longer: American brewers from the likes of Allagash in Maine, Oregon’s Deschutes, and Deleware’s Dogfish Head are working with top tier chefs from Thomas Keller of Per Se to Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns to present beers and foods well-matched—and fun—to try together.

Recently the beer dinner concept hit a new zenith with a collaboration between New York’s Brooklyn Brewery and Eleven Madison Park, this year’s James Beard Foundation Award winner for Outstanding Restaurant – 2011. For the event, held on June 26 at the restaurant, Brewmaster Garrett Oliver worked with Chef Daniel Humm, General Manager Will Guidara, and Dining Room Manager/beer coordinator Kirk Kelewae to create a menu almost entirely from scratch, including a beer never before tasted outside the brewery, Local 11.

Made by aging the dark, abbey-style ale Brooklyn Local 2 in 20-year old Pappy Van Winkle whiskey barrels, it had bever been tasted outside the brewery before the dinner. “He [Garrett] really opened my eyes in a big way,” said Humm. “It [craft beer] works really well with food, and there’s so much to it,” said Humm, speaking of how beer pairs with the kind of rarified techniques and ingredients that make Eleven Madison Park number 24 on the list of the world’s top 50 restaurants. “And it’s not just rustic food the way you always think of it…sausages and stuff like that…but it works with really refined food, because the beers are really refined.”

Unlike most beer dinners—perhaps any other beer dinner that has ever taken place—the collaboration started with the beers, not the menu. “We’re getting a chance to show the real creative evolution of the brewery,” Oliver told me as guests sipped on an aperitif beer called The Concoction, inspired by the classic Penicillin cocktail and redolent of whisky, ginger, lemon, and honey. “Usually these things are done by email,” Oliver continued.”The chef sends me a menu, I send back the pairings, and then I’ll go do the dinner. And it often turns out wonderfully. This time, the Chef [Humm], Sous Chef, General Manager [Guidara], Dining Room Manager [Kelewae] and six people [restaurant cooks and servers] came out to the brewery and spent three and a half hours tasting with us, and then went back with the beers, and developed the menu in the other direction. This is a whole new way to do things.”

The event was entirely sold out and attended by numerous critics (including GQ’s Alan Richman) and guests who drove from as far away as Boston. Highlights included a foie gras terrine with strawberry, yuzu, and black pepper paired with Wild 1, a beer brewed in 2008 and aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels and then refermented with Brettanomyces, the earthy, fickle yeast strain prized by Belgian brewers, and Pennsylvania’s Four Story Hill Farm suckling pig with apricot and cardamom, paired with the Local 11. Oliver, for his part, was ecstatic. “I’ve done 700 beer dinners, but this is the ultimate.” What’s more, the evening felt relaxed and light, not uptight. Humm was enormously pleased as well. “It was really fun—we just really enjoyed it.” The diners did, too.

Here’s a photo gallery from former Eleven Madison Park Sommelier turned professional photographer Nathan Rawlinson and a short video report.

Going Full Beard [Blowouts]

Is every member of your party here and ready to be seated?
Here’s my coverage from EATER Portland on the James Beard Foundation Awards, the swanky affair held each year at Lincoln Center requiring journalists to wear uncharacteristically formal clothing and chefs to get very, very drunk. First, an interview with Seattle chef Jason Wilson of Crush on defeating three Portland, Oregon contenders in the category of Best New Chef, Pacific Northwest.
On the Portland food scene:
“We love going to Portland. We have family there in Camas and in Portland and in Clackamas, and we think the food scene there is so dynamic. And it’s really put a lot of pressure on what Seattle’s doing as well. We often look to see, ‘O.K., what are they up to, what are they doing?’ It’s a dynamic scene there [in Portland] for sure.”
On Portland vs. Seattle — who has an edge? “If you think about products, Portland has better accessibility to products — lamb, beef, meat products, sustainably raised — than we do in Seattle and in Washington. It may be that Seattle is just a more established city. But obviously with the number of nominees, it’s like ‘Portland Rising’ right now. Look at what Seattle’s taken from Portland. And Portland has, what, two blocks of food carts? And we have four in Seattle, expressing the authenticity of the food.”
But what about coffee? “An article on NPR or Seattle Business Journal came out about Seattle not really having excellent coffee anymore [Ed note: Read the NPR piece here], and [saying that] they look at that places like Stumptown in Portland for it, but personally — and I’m biased — but I think Fonte is one of the best. We’ve used their coffee for like 10 years. But Portland is really coming at our heels.”
On beating the Portland crew: “I definitely think it’s not defeat. This is a chance to enjoy your successes, and the fruits of your labor. The people who are working at this level, who are getting nominated — not to mention the award, the people who won the award — this is really an accreditation to the level they work at, and the time and devotion they sacrifice and experience in their life. So by no means is there a loser.”
“The third time for us is a charm, but it’s really just a wonderful thing to be nominated and be here.”
SEE ALSO: Assorted glam shots of Portland chefs and party pics from the night.
· Clyde Common Chef Chris Dimmino on his killer party food
· Pre-awards interviews with Portland nominees Gabriel Rucker, Naomi Pomeroy, and Cathy Whims
· Press room interview from PDX’s Naomi Pomeroy
Also! The complete list of winners (PDF).

Oregon at the Beards

Oregon chef has his own Big Night at New York gala from the Portland Oregonian FOODday section today, May 15, 2007   Park Kitchen‘s Scott Dolich didn’t win a Beard award, but that didn’t stop his revelry -Tuesday, May 15, 2007CHRISTIAN DeBENEDETTINEW YORK CITY — For Scott Dolich, chef of Portland’s Park Kitchen, the night really began with a camera flash. Not from the paparazzi lining the velvet ropes (those would come moments later) but from his own, as the nominee for the James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the Northwest snapped a shot of his 5-year-old daughter, Maddie, on her very first red carpet walk.”Actually, the night began with me getting a bit carsick as I tried to tie my own bow tie using directions I printed off the Internet,” Dolich later joked.Tricky formalwear notwithstanding, there was much to be excited about.  Continue reading “Oregon at the Beards”

Oregon Chefs Reprazent!

Robert Greene’s book ‘The 48 Laws of Power’—an update of Sun-Tzu and Machiavelli that has taken hold in the hip-hop community—talks about the tactical dangers of ‘outshining the master’, as I learned from Nick Paumgarten’s latest article in The New Yorker. This weekend I got the chance to see the upshot of such ambition, and take a break from my usual freelancer’s diet of pizza by the slice, cold cereal, and bagels, by tagging along as a group of Portland, Oregon’s top chefs visited New York City. Late last week, Leather Storrs and Greg Smith, chef and sous chef of Noble Rot, along with Scott Dolich and David Padberg of Park Kitchen, rolled in with about 600 lbs of Oregon-made goodies to prepare and serve guests of the James Beard House on Saturday. The anticipation mounted from Thursday as the posse prepped for the big meal, mainly in the way that chefs seem to enjoy most when not actually at the stove: by insulting, quizzing, or laughing at each other, eating out on the town, smoking, drinking, or generally behaving badly.  Continue reading “Oregon Chefs Reprazent!”