Hopped up on Beer
Restaurant chefs get creative in the kitchen with craft brews.
By Christine Stutz
Actually, as craft beers take the country by storm, the seemingly odd matchup works quite well. Gourmets are finding that exquisite boutique chocolates and rich, gooey desserts mate perfectly well with dark, malty porters and pale, crisp ales.
Such creative pairings reflect a growing awareness of beer as an incredibly versatile drink with flavor complexities that rival—and, some would argue, surpass—those of wine.
America’s restaurateurs are also taking notice. The availability of an ever-widening variety of beer flavors and styles is leading chefs to explore beer and food pairings as never before.
Joe Barbera, owner of Columbia’s Aida Bistro and Wine Bar, is among the converted. After co-hosting a sold-out beer dinner in February with Mahaffey’s Pub in Canton, Barbera realized how much high-quality beers could add to his customers’ dining experience.
During the four-course meal, his 35 guests enjoyed such savory dishes as braised lamb with caramelized onions paired with a Belgian pale ale and peppery bison loin served with a Belgian dark ale. For dessert, diners devoured ice-cream floats made with Bailey’s Irish Cream and an imperial stout.
Aida is planning to hold another beer dinner in mid-August. “It’s bringing different people into the restaurant,” says Barbera.
In recent years, Barbera had received complaints about the selection of watered-down American lagers on the menu. But he figured Aida Bistro is a wine bar with upscale Mediterranean cuisine. Why worry about beer?
Now, as part of its weekly prix-fixe menu, Aida offers flights of beer or wine to accompany a meal. Barbera says he is selling just as much wine as before, but now he is able to please those who don’t always want wine with their dinner.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of the game,” says Barbera, “because it seems a lot of people are taking a real interest in and liking to craft beers.”
That’s an understatement. Last year, sales of all beer were up 1.7 percent over 2006. But sales of craft beers shot up 12 percent, according to the Brewers Association, a trade association for the burgeoning craft beer industry.
Many restaurants throughout the Baltimore region are hosting beer dinners, often at the urging of Hugh Sisson, managing partner of Clipper City Brewing Co., Baltimore’s largest producer of craft beers for wholesale distribution. The Red Star in Fells Point, which stocks a substantial number of craft beers, such as Troeg’s and Fordham, held its first beer dinner July 1, featuring Clipper City brews and the cuisine of its chef, Bill Middlebrook. Great Sage, a vegetarian restaurant in Clarksville, also hosted a beer dinner with Clipper City and its Oxford line of organic beers on June 26.