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!

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]”

An Untimely Death [Remembrance]

12climber_1901Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Gauntlett, a young British explorer with a long list of feats to his name and many more on the drawing board. He was a guest of honor at the National Geographic Society‘s Best of Adventure Awards, on hand with his expedition partner James Hooper.

Amid the all the attention, Gauntlett was refreshingly self-effacing for someone of his considerable achievements. In 2006, at 19, he’d become the youngest Briton to scale Mt. Everest, and last year, with Hooper, completed a 26,000 mile geomatic-pole-to-geomagnetic-pole expedition that was chronicled in the December/January edition of National Geographic Adventure. During that trip, the longtime friends came close to dying more than once. But they weathered the ordeals with grit and a goodnatured commitment. 

Last week Gauntlett—only 21—was killed while ice-climbing a couloir on the east face of 13,937 Tacul peak, in the Mont Blanc range, French Alps. It was, to say the least, an untimely accident that took the life of an extraordinary young person. Here’s more on the story from the NGA Web site’s blog, the NY Times, and The Independent. My condolences to his family and friends.

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]”

Raise a Glass to Fall [Diversions]

 

thirsty much?
thirsty much?

The sky may be falling on Wall Street, but we’ll always have beer. It makes us happy; it’s inexpensive; it’s readily available. What’s not to like? And fall is an especially good time to drink it. The Great American Beer Festival is in just a few weeks; the traditional Oktoberfest in Munich started just two days ago—and will go for another 13—but there are plenty of reasons raise a glass of beer right now, and close to home instead. 

 

For the last five years I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to join my friend Seth Fletcher in rating the best beers in the land (or sometimes the world) for MEN’S JOURNAL, a somber task we approach with monkish restraint (OK, we enjoy it mightily, but if we actually finished the hundreds of bottles we sample each summer the story would never happen. Much returns to Earth from whence it came. And we have notebooks, piles of them. We swear.)

This year’s list is on newsstands now, and this time, the premise was deceptively simple: if you like ‘X’ mass beer, try ‘Y’ craft variation. Are you a Guinness drinker? Then try Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter, available in 19 states and counting. With an eye toward America’s smallest, most artisanal craft brewers—some with only a handful of employees—we dedicated ourselves to coming up with a list of exceptional American (and in one case, Quebecois) craft beers that are a bit harder to find, but so worth the effort. Many of these beers are available in NYC, on tap or in bottles at bars like The Blind Tiger, Bar Great Harry, DBA, Against The Grain, Spuyten Duyvil, The Diamond, the Brazen Head, and more. There’s also a mini-profile of beer provocateur Vinnie Cilurzo (of California’s Russian River Brewing Company). Enjoy!

RELATED:

– Our previous offerings: 2004, 20052006, and 2007.

– The hard-to-please imbibers online at BeerAdvocate.com discuss our picks (via http://www.beeradvocate.com)(cheers, guys).

– Photo album: Outtakes from my 12 month tour through 14 countries, 59 breweries, and 330 beers on the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 1996-7.

– Interesting piece by Nick Kulish on the German beer scene today (NYT).