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.

Thank You Ray Deter [Goodbyes]

Jimmy Carbone (left) and Deter celebrating the Good Beer Seal Proclamation (via diesel

Ray Deter was the heart and soul of D.B.A., and the original D.B.A. was the first beer bar—or bar of any kind, for that matter—I visited in New York City.

I’d heard of D.B.A. spoken of with the reverential tones reserved for Gotham landmarks like C.B.G.B.’s and Siberia (the old one, of course), and so on a hot July night in 1999 I piled in a cab with a couple of high school friends living in a ramshackle office building in Little Korea and headed South to find it. We did and we stayed later than we should have, which is usually the case with a visit to 41 1st Avenue. I found this reverence entirely justified—look at that beer list! The whisky, the Kentucky Bourbon!—and in all seriousness D.B.A. became one of the reasons I moved to New York City. But unlike the punk clubs and gutter dives D.B.A. was about sharing knowledge, not posing on a stage or getting wasted. I knew that no matter what else happened, I could at least count on one really good place where I might find common cause, a decent beer, a good conversation. That hasn’t changed, of course, but it will never be the same, because Ray Deter won’t be standing down at the end of the bar, with his steady attention to the main thing—the beer.

I didn’t meet Ray until many years later, around 2004. A writer friend, Seth, had gotten to know Ray, who invited us both in for some beer tasting. That tasting led to many more; Ray was deeply passionate about craft beer, and like us, lived in a city almost entirely oblivious to its charms. The fact is that were it not for Ray Deter and D.B.A., the good beer renaissance that has transformed Manhattan into an isle of beery joy may never have happened at all, or at least not for many years. A trip to the candle-lit, copper topped tables and those chalkboards was a golden promise every time.

That first night I met Ray he blew us away by pulling dozens upon dozens of beers out for us to try from his cellar, and there would be many other such nights when his generosity flowed like the East River. There was the photo shoot when he kept running back up and down from his stash with new treats, regardless of their value and rarity, making the work light and laughter-filled.

And there was another fine early summer evening, after a party at The Blind Tiger Alehouse, when it was time to relocate. Deter, along for the ride at his friends’ bar, invited the revelers to reconvene at D.B.A., which was, naturally, packed. Ducking inside, Ray reemerged with bags and bottles under each arm, and began handing them out until he’d supplied the whole lot, and then led us all, Peter Pan-like, to his own roof top apartment in the East Village.

It was 2005. I recall the limpid quality of the air and the orange-teal-grey-blue views we took in from that spot, looking West. Soon were listening to a series of hilarious stories from a German brewmaster wearing lederhosen (he’d flown that day from Munich for the party carrying only bottles of beer as luggage). Seth and I and a girl I was falling for and everybody stayed too late and talked too loud. Herr Lederhosen recounted his affinity for heavy rock (“especially The Slipknot!”) and trundled off into the night at about 3:30AM, looking for life, and then we left Ray’s place too, weary with laughter. The promise of everything I had come to seek in New York hovered in my hands like fireflies.

And there was the night about a two years later when Ray and a few close friends gathered in the back garden of D.B.A. to toast another very special person making what would be his last visit to the city: the late beer writer Michael Jackson. Just as he had always loved to do, Ray shuttled back and forth making sure we were all comfortable and well-supplied. Of course we were. And a few months later when Jackson died, there was a nationwide toast being organized by Monk’s Cafe owner Tom Peters, beer importer Dan Shelton, and others. I headed to D.B.A. to find Ray and a friend of his, and there the three of us stood for a couple of hours trying to make a measure of things. We did a lot of looking down into our beers.

Ray’s death this week was needless and random and many decades too early. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

One mutual friend of Ray’s I called when I heard the news said a Belgian brewer friend had thought of Ray as the ultimate incarnation of American freedom. Idealistic, forgiving, a bit reckless at times, joyful, and more than anything else, generous. Ray was all those things. This July 4th, instead of tanks, keep a tankard in mind, and toast Ray, for all he did.


Craft Course [Essential Knowledge]

Last week I debuted a new weekly column on craft beer with Eater.com, Craft Course, with a slideshow on the home site. Here the text of week #1…

Ah, sweet, delicious beer: it’s the U.S.’s—and the world’s!—most popular alcoholic drink. From straw-gold pilseners to thick roasty black stouts, there are over 100 distinct brewing styles in the world and counting. With its array of food-friendly flavors and pleasing, moderate buzz, no drink satisfies in quite the same way.

What Exactly Is Craft Beer?

The late British beer writer Michael Jackson once said, “You wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and order ‘a plate of food’, so why would you do the same with your beer?” In other words, if we are what we eat, then shouldn’t we drink the best stuff that humans and nature can conspire to make? Would you rather eat Spam, or a good steak? So it is with beer, but the difference is—unlike wines, whiskeys, and other alcohols—the best beers in the world are rarely all that expensive. Beer is always going to be the drink of the people.

And the people have spoken! The U.S. now has about 1600 breweries; some 60% of Americans now live within ten miles of a brewery, most of them “craft.” According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewer is “Small — Annual production of beer less than 2 million barrels,” and “Independent — Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.” In other words, when it comes to beer, craft is the opposite of industrial.

Continue reading “Craft Course [Essential Knowledge]”

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).

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]”

Empire State of Mind [Beer]

You want some a dis?

A recent story of mine from http://www.examiner.com, Nov. 20th, 2009.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a city of more than 8 million people and some 30,000 restaurants and bars should take to the latest, full-flavored craft beers, but the fact is, it’s a relatively recent development. From locally-made craft beer to world-class beer lists, festivals, and beer pairing dinners, Gotham has gone certifiably beer crazy.

For starters, several reputable breweries now call the city home, which means beer lovers can drink the freshest beer, which affects flavor, especially in unfiltered, unpasteurized beers made in traditional styles. For starters, seek out the full-flavored beers made by Brooklyn Brewery, of Williamsburg; Kelso Brewery, in the area of Prospect Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant Town, andSixpoint Craft Ales, located in Red Hook. Continue reading “Empire State of Mind [Beer]”

He’s Got Game [Self Reliance]

Here, my first feature (with original photos!) for Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, on newsstands now. It’s a story that easily could have become a chapter for The Accidental Extremist: two men with virtually no experience and hearty thirsts for whisky load up a bunch of  guns and go game shooting in Scotland. One, a world class chef, was a natural. The other, not even close, merely lived to tell. Enjoy!

On a gusty wet morning in January, chef Terrance Brennan stood in a sodden field with mud streaming down his boots and a loaded gun in his hands. This was Scotland’s Earn Valley, in Perthshire, not far from the town of Auchterarder, and the day—two winters back—wasn’t starting well.

The A7 Quattro had gotten mired in the mud; everyone had drained more than a few whiskies the night before; the driving wind and rain had soaked us to the bone. The plan—for Brennan; Andrew Hamilton, a Scottish-born, East Coast–based game supplier; and me—was for a traditional “rough shoot,” meaning, loosely, this: a stomp in the fields, dogs, plenty of ammo and, with a bit of luck, some quarry—pheasants, duck, maybe a woodcock or two.

We’d arrived for the last week of shooting season in Scotland, where all of the game birds Brennan has served at Picholine for the last 12 autumns are shot in the wild on sprawling estates, but so far, the fields were silent. Then Mark Wilson, a local farmer’s blue eyed, red-haired son showing us around, led us into a boggy field.

Suddenly Clyde and Rosie—Wilson’s dogs, a spry cocker spaniel and an ancient black lab—flushed a noisy whorl of teal ducks from a pond into the sky. Terrance raised his shotgun and blasted, unloading both barrels. They were his first-ever shots at birds, and, in that instant, the day improved considerably: two ducks froze in mid-air, shot through, and dropped like stones. Continue reading “He’s Got Game [Self Reliance]”

Dying to Get Some Sleep [Breaking]

Strange Brew in the Executive Branch [Now We’re Talking]

 

You may ask yourself, why such a short table?
You may ask yourself, why such a short table?

Let posterity show that the last week of July, 2009, beer and its mythical powers to unite the irreconcilable became the number one conversation in America. Earlier this week I got an email I won’t soon forget, from NIGHTLINE, offering me a chance to comment on the so-called Beer Summit at the White House, which, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will recall was convened by President Obama to diffuse the tension following his comments on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge, Mass., Police Officer Sergeant Jim Crowley. Phew. So how could I resist? In the end, the three guys and Vice President Biden joined each other for an awkward exchange on a ridiculously small picnic table for beers, the brands of which threatened to overshadow the Very Important Reason for their little brew down in Obamatown. Here’s the result. Blink and you’ll miss me, right after Barbara Walters and Barack himself raise their eyebrows at all the considerable fuss.