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.

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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”

A Beer Pilgrim in Brewtopia [Ale Trails]

[The following was originally published in Food & Wine Magazine, June, 2009. Enjoy]

Stone Brewing
Stone Founder/CEO Greg Koch (left) and a bistro patron talk beer.

Fanatically innovative brewers around the globe are creating new beers with unorthodox ingredients and techniques. Beer geek Christian DeBenedetti makes a pilgrimage to a newly famous scene close to home: California’s San Diego County. By Christian DeBenedetti

My mission is simple: Skip the bland international lagers sold everywhere on earth, seek out small-batch, artisan-made beers in their native habitats and drink them.

It’s early spring, and I am exploring San Diego County, one of the most dynamic beer scenes in America and arguably the world. Avant-garde pro brewers from all over the planet, ambitious home brewers and even plain old beer geeks have made this pilgrimage before me. And like me, they have driven Route 78, a near-mystical road through San Diego County’s brewery-dotted landscape, then returned home with cases of rare beers (and even yeast samples), inspired and ready to experiment.

For me, this is the latest stop on a beer journey that began more than a decade ago. The year was 1996, and I was a beer scholar on a post-graduate grant that allowed me to spend 12 months researching ancient brewing techniques in Europe and Africa.

As a fledgling beer pilgrim, my ultimate destination was Belgium. Continue reading “A Beer Pilgrim in Brewtopia [Ale Trails]”

Summer is Another Word for Beer [Down-Time]

Here's an idea: let's bottle this stuff.

Here, two quick recent hits of mine on summer beers from the latest edition of Men’s Journal.

Rare Brews: Two exquisite craft beers, made only once a year

Firestone: Walker Solace

Hybrids of odd styles are popping up across the country, but this California beer is a brew marriage that actually works. The cross of wheat-enhanced Belgian saison and German hefeweizen intensifies flavor and spice in a lighter beer (firestonewalker.com).

Dogfish Head: Festina Peche

Sour beers are all the rage in craft brewing, but too many taste like pickle juice. Not so with brewer Sam Calagione’s summer-only offering, which is based on an acidic German style and made with peaches. It pops with the tart zing of good lemonade, with an added kick (dogfish.com). —Christian DeBenedetti

The Lion, The Witches, and the Wardrobes [Books + Media]

Would you like white truffles with that?

On occasion I’m invited to profile prominent NYU alumni for the school’s magazine. Here, the latest, on John Delucie of The Waverly Inn, who opened his you-probably-can’t-get-there-either pleasure dome The Lion last week. I’ve toured both, so you don’t have to. Enjoy, and may your dreams be of a gigantic highball and a Flatiron steak.

The Waverly Inn is the kind of place that doesn’t list its phone number because it doesn’t need to. A place that counts models, moguls, and movie stars as regulars. A place where even the mac and cheese costs $95 because it’s flavored with white truffles flown in from Alba, Italy. To those who want to get in, it can seem impenetrable. To those who do get in, it’s the modern epitome of “see and be seen.”

Back in the early 1990s, when John DeLucie was stuck in a cubicle at a Midtown employment agency, he had no idea that he’d someday be the executive chef and co-owner of such an establishment. His humble past is still evident on the menu, where patrons will find dressed-up comfort food—a simple yet stylish alternative to haute cuisine. And unlike chefs at some exclusive restaurants, DeLucie, who recently launched his second Village venture, The Lion, warmly greets guests as though they’re family coming over to dinner.

In his recent memoir, The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition (Ecco), DeLucie offers readers an intimate look inside one of the hottest restaurants to hit New York in decades and tells the tale of his unlikely rise to culinary fame.

Continue reading “The Lion, The Witches, and the Wardrobes [Books + Media]”

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]”