15 Jul 2009 @ 4:41 PM 
 

What makes a good beer dinner great?

 

Last night, I went to multi-brewery beer dinner. It’s the first time I’d gone to a beer dinner that wasn’t hosted at a brewery and also the first since I started writing here. Overall, I had a blast, but it got me to thinking: What exactly makes a successful beer dinner?
Beer Dinner Menu, Spice Street, July 14, 2009
Certainly, there are two easy starting points: Good food and good beer. Without those, you are doomed to fail, but if that’s the only thing you’ve got, I think you’re only coming out at mediocre. So I tried to come up with a little list of what I think makes (or would make) a beer dinner exceptional.

Have brewery reps present. Last night, we had brewmasters from two of the four breweries represented on site (Triangle and Lone Rider, and a rep from a 3rd (Natty Greene’s). They came around to each table as their beer was being served and talked a little bit about the style, how they thought it would pair with the course, a little about what was going on with them for business and everything. It was a wonderful touch, and the 4th brewery was noticeably absent when their beer was poured. If brewery reps aren’t available, at the very least, have a beer connoisseur or cicerone available to go around to each table to talk to people about what they’re drinking and eating.

Be thoughtful with your pairings. I really enjoyed the menu last night, but we had what I would consider beer pairings for wine people. I’m not trying to be disparaging, here, but it was organized in a very familiar way. Light beers went with seafood. Dark beers went with red meat and chocolate. It’s traditional, and really mimics the way most people pair wines with food. To be fair, if you’ve got a wine-friendly crowd that’s fairly unfamiliar with beer/food pairings, this is probably a great way to go. Myself, I like it when you actually work on the flavors available in the food and the beer together for an end result.

For instance, one of the pairings last night was Lone Rider’s Shotgun Betty Hefeweissen with a hop-marinated scallop and frisee salad. This is a traditional pairing. I’m not sure it really worked. Without doubt: the beer was excellent and the scallop was excellent, but the beer scrubbed the rather delicate flavor of the scallop off of your palate entirely. They were both great, but they weren’t great together. It might have been really interesting to see Lone Rider’s Deadeye Jack Porter paired in this instance; using the dark roasted flavors (and probably lower carbonation) to play against the light flavors and somewhat spicy flavors in the scallop to create a whole new sensation across the palate might have been really fantastic. Mind you – I haven’t tried it. It might suck. But I think getting that kind of non-traditional pairing right is a step toward creating a fantastic beer dinner.

At the same time, you can’t really beat chocolate stout and chocolate cake together, traditional or not. Damn that’s tasty.

Give people information. I think it’s important to remember that craft beer still has a really small market share and that to population at large, craft beer – much less beer/food pairing – is something entirely new. Giving people information – especially printed information – that they can refer to during the dinner and even take with them afterward, is tantamount in getting them to enjoy themselves and come back for more later. Tell them what they’re drinking, what to expect out of what they’re drinking, what to expect from the pairing, and where to find the beer later. (Presumably, they know where to find the food.) Education is key. There are three related reasons that so many smart people are into wine: 1) There is a lot to learn. 2) There are readily available resources to learn about wine. 3) Smart people like learning. Craft beer fits into the same mold. Exploit it.

What about you? Outside of “good beer” and “good food” what makes a good beer dinner into a great beer dinner for you?

 

Responses to this post » (4 Total)

 
  1. Adam says:

    i don’t know about dinner, but let me tell you something. I got this pack of Goose Island Bourbon Stout. This stuff is INTENSE, very thick and very bourbon-y. It was honestly overwhelming. I got a four-bottle pack, and it took me two weeks two drink two bottles; each took me over two hours to finish. I really had to nurse it to tolerate it.

    Then we made brownies. Holy shit. Amazing. I downed the next two bottles in 15 minutes apiece (over two nights, thank god). At 13.5% alcohol, that knocks you on your ass.

  2. Sarah says:

    Wow, Adam, that beer sounds amazing.

    I second what Erik wrote about having brewery reps available: it really gave the dinner a personal touch and encouraged the attendees to learn more about the beer. Since there wasn’t any kind of write-up about the beers, the brewers/reps were key to informing the tasters about what they were tasting.

    Another important thing, in my opinion, is careful planning. Whoever is hosting should be familiar with the beers and foods they’re serving, and should be able to announce, either at the beginning or before each course, what is being served and why. After all, when they sign up for a beer dinner, people are paying for an educational moment, not just for a meal.

  3. barbecuesteve says:

    When you say the brewery should have reps there, you need to set the bar a little higher. I went to a Sweetwater beer dinner and they sent the sales rep, a willowy blonde who gave us such ringers as “the orange peel is where the hoppy flavor comes from”. No, they need to send one of the brewers. Someone who can speak intelligently about the beer and how it’s made and why it’s so good with this dish.

    And Randy Mosher talks about this a bit — you don’t match light for light and dark for dark; you match intensity.

  4. erik says:

    the orange peel is where the hoppy flavor comes from

    Did you laugh? Because I don’t think I could have stopped myself.

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