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Craft Beer and Cuisine
Twenty Years of Tastings Started in California (Recipe Included)
Culinary trends that affect craft beer often start in California, from star chefs such as Jeremiah Tower, who presented microbrews with fine fare, to the rise of the pub pizza kitchen and agricultural marketing that places craft breweries on par with growers, farmers and wineries.

Yet widespread culinary appreciation for craft beer is still developing. When Dean Biersch and Dan Gordon of Gordon Biersch Brewing began their brewpub 20 years ago, they were among the first to champion food pairings on the menu. Dan Gordon admits bias, saying, “I think German-style lagers are the perfect complements to all kinds of foods because of the rounded flavor profiles that won’t overwhelm the more delicate flavors of seafood and other dishes. Beers with extreme levels of bitterness create more compound flavors and are best enjoyed on their own.”

Entertaining at home is one of the best ways to convert someone to craft beer appreciation, says Gordon.

That said, Gordon enjoys high-impact flavors, Thai red and green curries, chili spiced pork and other spicy foods. “Sometimes a pilsner will be the most refreshing choice. But when I cook Thai food at home, I add lots of garlic and ginger, and those flavors meld really well with our Blonde Bock.”

Entertaining at home is one of the best ways to convert someone to craft beer appreciation, says Gordon. “I like to grill, so sometimes I’ll just hand a glass to someone in conversation, standing around the barbecue, and say, ‘Try this,’” he explains. “It’s easier to convince someone to try something new when it’s a one-on-one conversation.”

The caramelized flavors of grilled foods are natural complements to beer, but pizza is perhaps the top pub food in California. “Remember that gourmet pizza chains, such as California Pizza Kitchen, got their start on the West Coast,” says Jay Brooks, a beer writer based in Novato, Calif. “For craft brewers such as Gina and Vince Marsaglia at the Pizza Port in Carlsbad, and Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing Company, gourmet pizza is still the classic West Coast pub food.”

Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing explains, “We chose to serve pizza and focaccia for simplicity and price. There are so many toppings we can offer that go well with our beer, such as Blind Pig IPA with pepperoncini. Or Compunction, our barrel-aged blonde ale made with pluots, paired with a Pizza Verde made with fresh herbs. The pizza concept works for us because it doesn’t require a huge amount of kitchen space.”

At San Francisco’s 21st Amendment brewpub, innovative ales such as Watermelon Wheat from brewer Shaun O’Sullivan pair with creative adaptations of pub cuisine, such as grilled chicken salad topped with diced pears, spiced pecans and shavings of aged pecorino cheese. One of 21A’s first chefs, Eddie Blyden, also helped to start the nearby Alembic Bar’s small plates menu.

Chef Bruce Paton of San Francisco’s Cathedral Hill Hotel is one of the nation’s top-ranked brew chefs. His beer dinners often sell out within days. “I can find a beer to match virtually any kind of cuisine,” says Chef Paton, “and can use beer in many cooking methods, from classical braises to soups, stews, ceviches … really, the list is endless.” Most brewers rank their beer dinners with Chef Paton among the highlights of their culinary experiences. That’s true for Cilurzo, who claims, “Chef Paton is a genius, because he can make a menu that works instantly with very little taste-testing or revision. He just nails a pairing right away, and it works.”

Craft beer is a fine medium for food because it can be bitter, sour, creamy and textural, bready, malty or sweet. As a chef, the question becomes, “How do you best pull out those flavors?” Try Chef Paton’s fantastic recipe for Creamy Cavatappi with Wild Mushrooms (please see recipe below), and you’ll find inspiration for your own pairing.



Creamy Cavatappi with Fresh Corn, Fennel and Wild Mushrooms
Chef Bruce Paton of the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco pairs this warm, creamy pasta salad with Twist of Fate Bitter from Moonlight Brewing of Santa Rosa, Calif. You could pair it with your favorite extra-special bitter.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 6 ears)
2 bulbs fennel, sliced very thin
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and diced
1 cup crimini or chanterelle mushrooms, trimmed and diced
1⁄4 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 cups light cream
1 pound cavatappi pasta, cooked al dente
1 medium red bell pepper, minced

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add pepper flakes and garlic and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Add corn and sliced fennel, stir well, and cook 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, ground fennel, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

2. Add cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Drain pasta and toss with vegetables and cream. Garnish with red bell pepper and freshly ground black pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Suggested pairing: Extra-special bitter or pale ale




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