In Some Circles, Hot New Beverage Trend Is Cold Beer
NEW YORK (AP) _ You know the scene. You’re in a fine restaurant, you’ve just placed your order and you turn, a little uncomfortably, to The List. With the waiter hovering overhead, you scan the selections, take a stab and pick ...
Not just any beer. Maybe an Anchor Liberty Ale, or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or a Young’s Special London Ale. Maybe a fine Pilsener from Czechoslovakia, or a locally brewed German-style Maerzen.
This would have been an inconceivable scenario in almost any fine restaurant in the United States a decade ago. It isn’t anymore. The renaissance of small local breweries, along with the efforts of such high- profile restaurateurs as Wolfgang Puck, have combined to elevate the image of beer into something that can be ordered without embarrassment with good food.
″There’s a major trend,″ said Jack Erickson, a Reston, Va., beer lover and author whose books include ″Great Cooking with Beer.″ Erickson holds special beer-tasting dinners in restaurants in and around Washington.
″There’s a whole appreciation going on with beer and food that wasn’t around 10 years ago,″ he says.
Coors Brewing Co. spokesman Todd Appleman says his company aggressively promotes its products in better restaurants, and has had particular success with Killian’s, its version of an Irish ale. But for the most part, the trendsetters have not been the brewing giants.
While the wine industry has gone to great lengths to promote its product as something enjoyed in moderation with food, the mainstream brewing industry has continued to promote beer as something that is consumed mostly by itself, or with snack foods.
That may be smart marketing. After all, the average Joe Sixpack doesn’t eat a lot of blackened Chilean swordfish with lemon butter sauce, or grilled medallions of turkey with sun-dried tomatoes.
But those are among the food offerings on tap at a brewery, of all places - Duwamps Cafe and Seattle Brewing Co.
The owner of Duwamps, Phil Rogers, is a chef who started out with a restaurant and inn in California’s Napa Valley a dozen years ago. Napa’s winemakers, he discovered, were a lot like other folks - they liked a cold beer or two after a hard day’s work.
But they were a picky lot, and preferred imports, or the gourmet beers that small breweries were just beginning to make. These beers offered a range of flavors - fruity ales, roasty stouts, hoppy lagers - that contrasted with the bland sameness of most American beers.
Before long, Rogers had added a beer list to his menu. Soon, he was brewing his own beer and his Calistoga Inn had become the Calistoga Inn and Napa Valley Brewing Co. Last year, after selling the Napa place, he followed the beer trail to Seattle and opened Duwamps Cafe.
There, he brews a pale lager, a dark lager, a red ale and a seasonal specialty. And he serves them with the likes of grilled Thai curry sea scallops and saffron risotto cakes with duck confit.
″If people want good beer, they also want good food,″ Rogers says.
And, apparently, vice versa.
″I think there’s certainly a growing interest in beer,″ says Wolfgang Puck, Hollywood’s chef to the stars, whose newest venture is a Los Angeles brewery-restaurant, Eureka.
There, diners can enjoy an array of sausages, including one made with wild boar, and such ethnic dishes as Mexican quesadillas, Chinese roast duck and Japanese sushi. To wash it down, Eureka makes an array of lagers that reflect Puck’s Austrian heritage.
″Especially here in California, where we have so many nationalities living together and so many ethnic restaurants, beer is becoming very important,″ he says.
Puck’s emphasis on spicy ethnic foods is not uncommon. Up the coast at the Gordon Biersch brewery-restaurants in Palo Alto and San Jose, chef Dean Biersch offers similar fare, along with such California-style entrees as rosemary-marinated lamb chops with Zinfandel sauce, and chicken breast with brie.
Like so many culinary trends, the new beer movement began on the West Coast and is still strongest there. But there are signs of change across the country -even in New York, which has mostly been a wasteland for beer connoisseurs.
At the new Chefs Cuisiniers Club, a restaurant for people in the restaurant industry, co-owner Rick Moonen holds beer-tasting sessions with his waiters to elevate their beer consciousness. And he sometimes designs dishes, such as a venison chili, that are cooked in beer.
There are limits, of course, to the beer-as-gourmet-elixir trend. Diners at Lutece aren’t going to be knocking back Buds anytime soon. Restaurateurs still see wine as the appropriate accompaniment to haute cuisine.
Most small pub-breweries still offer fairly standard pub grub with their beers - hamburgers and Buffalo chicken wings and barbecued ribs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
″I have to live with guys who eat red meat and smoke cigarettes on Friday nights,″ says Bill Owens, a brewpub pioneer who owns Buffalo Bill’s brewpub in Hayward, Calif.
″I mean, we’re in the bar business, man. ... We can’t be too holistic about this.″