A New Voice For The New York Times’ Restaurant Reviews…

So former culture editor Sam Sifton has posted his first review (registration required) after replacing Frank Bruni as the NYT’s new restaurant critic and it’s a curious offering. Sitting down at DBGB, a new Daniel Boulud offering that focuses on sausages and beer, it’s not entirely your typical upscale forum. Putting aside Sifton’s writing style (which is a lighter fare than Bruni’s, but perhaps with too many exclamation points/parentheses/and asides — excepting my irony here), the most curious part is the use and absence of beer in the review.

Sifton notes that Boulud’s place, whose name is a play on the nearby and now defunct rock club CBGB, has a focus on beer and the great photo accompanying the cover page demonstrates this, with a smiling bartender pouring a brooding pint. But the role of beer is generally absent from the article itself. One thing that is positive is Sifton’s suggestions in the informational sidebar regarding the beer selection, and this also works as a demonstration on how the NYT’s review template should be expanded from its outdated structure to include cocktails and craft beers:

WINE LIST Totally acceptable selection, but much better to experiment among the 23 beers on tap and large selection of bottled beers that have traveled here from Britain, from Brooklyn, from Germany, from France.

A good start and I look forward to seeing how Sifton handles beer in future columns.

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On Beer Budgets, the Economy, and the Most Expensive Beer Dinner I’ve Yet Seen…

I’ve been off writing my book for the better part of the last two months so generally have not been engaged in the beer scene or frankly much of anything. So when I finished the first draft today, I turned on the local Boston evening news and caught a segment on the success of craft beers. As a sign of the fading glory of local news, the story profiled the success of the Goose Island brewery in Chicago (why bother sending out your own camera and reporting crew when you can simply buy packages from other markets, right?), in a story that I have to believe simply picked up on the reporting done by the Chicago Tribune in this recent lengthy article. Overall, both pieces were good exposure for Goose Island and craft breweries in general, minus the lame “beer budget” and “let’s find out what’s on tap” lead ins to the television piece.

On the other end of the spectrum, I received a press release via Facebook in regards to an upcoming beer dinner that Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery is hosting at celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant in Manhattan. While the event is part of New York City’s Beer Week, it was not so much the menu but the price tag of $350 that caught my eye. On the back of the recent Ebenezer’s dinner that ran $250 for some pretty sick offerings, I thought this was a whole new level of ridiculousness. Would be interesting to be a fly on the wall at the Per Se dinner just to see who pays that kind of money to attend such an event.

GREETING
Brooklyn Brewery’s Manhattan Project

WHITE TRUFFLE OIL-INFUSED CUSTARD
“Ragoût” of Black Winter Truffle

Brooklyn Brewery “Local 2,? New York

“SALVATORE BROOKLYN RICOTTA AGNOLOTTI”
Sautéed Squash, Heirloom Tomatoes, Fino Verde Basil and Castello di Ama Extra Virgin Olive Oil Emulsion

Brooklyn Brewery “Sorachi Ace,? New York

BUTTER POACHED NOVA SCOTIA LOBSTER
Confit of Fennel Bulb, Rainbow Swiss Chard, Niçoise Olive Tapenade and “Mousseline au Citron”

Brooklyn Brewery “Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse,? New York

ALL DAY BRAISED HOBBS SHORE’S PORK BELLY
“Choucroute Garnie”

Brooklyn Brewery “Local 1,? New York

HERB ROASTED SNAKE RIVER FARMS’ BEEF RIB-EYE
Smoked Bone Marrow “Pain Perdu,” Creamed Arugula,
Trumpet Royale Mushroom and “Sauce Bordelaise”

Brooklyn Brewery “Reinschweinsgebot,? New York

MEADOW CREEK DAIRY’S “GRAYSON”
Celeriac Rémoulade, Compressed Granny Smith Apple, Mustard Cress and Green Apple Mustard

Brooklyn Brewery “Wild 1,? New York

“MUD PIE”
Dark Chocolate Mud Cake, Liquid Caramel, Chocolate “Crémeux”
and Caramel Parfait with Sassafras Ice Cream

Brooklyn Brewery “Black Ops,? New York

“MIGNARDISES”

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The Roadhouse Can’t Catch A Break…

According to a story on a local website, the Roadhouse, the somewhat new beer bar from David Ciccolo, owner of the Publick House and Publick House Provisions, will no longer be using its custom-built, 4,500 pound smoker due to odor complaints from nearby residents. The battle between the locals, including members of a nearby synagogue, and the restaurant has been quietly brewing for sometime. At a recent meeting, according to the article, Ciccolo decided to throw in the towel on the smoker, a massive device housed next door to the restaurant, instead of installing expensive equipment designed to minimize the cooking smell. After the company’s lengthy battle with city and state regulators over a liquor license for the Publick House Provisions store and nearly being Yelped to death by the foodie peanut gallery, one can certainly understand the reticence at battling on yet another front with city bureaucrats and neighbors. No word on whether the company will have some of its meat smoked off-site, as some other local restaurants prefer to do.

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A Look at Beer and Food: Recent Events and Upcoming Books…

For Charlie Papazian, founder of the Brewers Association, inspiration struck twice in remarkably similar ways. In the late 1970s, Papazian traveled to London, England, to attend the British Beer Festival. While sampling stouts, porters, and cask conditioned ales from around the United Kingdom, Papazian, an avid home brewer, started thinking about beer in the United States. When Papazian wondered aloud about whether Americans could host a similar festival, famed beer writer Michael Jackson famously quipped, “Yes, but where will you get the beer?? A few years later, Papazian welcomed eight hundred attendees at the first Great American Beer Festival, offering them forty beers from twenty-two breweries.

Fast forward two decades and travel to Italy, where local supporters of the Slow Food movement host several large international events dedicated to “good, clean, and fair food.? Founded in 1986, Slow Food has grown to more than 80,000 members in 120 countries. As part of its mission statement, Slow Food espouses that “everyone has a fundamental right to pleasure and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. Our movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy – a recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet.?

The Birth of SAVOR – Pairing American Craft Beer with Fine Food

It was in this environment, while enjoying wine and cheese pairings, that Papazian began wondering again whether such an event could work in the United States, only with beer. The resulting event, SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience, was held May 16 and 17 in Washington D.C at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Tucked just behind the National Museum of American History, just steps from the National Mall, the auditorium provided a fitting and picturesque venue for an event that sought to elevate the public image of beer. Considered one of the finest classical structures in America, the auditorium was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic District on October 15, 1996.

The event served several different purposes for the Brewers Association. SAVOR was the cornerstone event for this year’s American Craft Beer Week, which was held from May 12 to 18. Recognized by Congress in House Resolution 753, the event changed to a week long event in 2006. Celebrated annually, the week gives craft brewers a chance to highlight their industry and to promote their efforts. The event also gave craft brewers an opportunity to step up their legislative efforts on Capitol Hill. The Brewers Association, along with many of its top members, spent more than a week in the nation’s capital, where they attended the National Beer Wholesalers Legislative Conference and met with legislators from several states to press issues important to smaller brewers. As the culmination of their efforts, SAVOR gave craft brewers a chance to showcase their products to congressional staffers, many of whom attended the opening session on Friday night.

Beyond politics and legislation advocacy, the event gave the association the opportunity to raise public and media awareness of craft beer by associating it with upscale food. SAVOR offered its 2100 attendees the chance to taste ninety six craft beers from forty eight breweries from around the country. Each beer was specifically paired with a sweet or savory appetizer selected by the brewery and made by Federal City Caterers.

At eighty five dollars per ticket, the event was not an average beer festival for interested consumers. The price tag, which did not fully cover the association’s expenses for even the food portion of the event, was an area of concern for some brewers and attendees. Beer enthusiasts and well-heeled novices slowly roamed around the auditorium, stopping at the center table for the event’s main supporters, which included the Brooklyn Brewery, the Harpoon Brewery, Rogue Ales, and several others. Smaller breweries from around the country offered an eclectic assortment of beers at crescent shaped tables lining the outside walls. Late in 2007, the Brewers Association opened a lottery system for the selection of most of the forty eight slots for the event. While SAVOR offered many familiar names, including Avery Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery, the association also sought to offer geographic diversity from some smaller names. These participants included the Blacfoot River Brewing Company of Helena, Montana, Free State Brewing of Lawrence, Kansas, and Heiner Brau Microbrewery of Covington, Louisiana.

The pairings, which were offered either at an individual brewer’s table or from passing servers, included a number of interesting options. The Sprecher Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offered its Pub Brown Ale to match pan-seared pilsener sirloin tips with shiitake blue-cheese sauce. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, California, suggested its Summerfest Lager and lager steamed Thai turkey and shiitake dumplings. The Stone Brewing Company of Escondido, California, presented its Ruination IPA with either Peking duck purses or Christopher Elbow citrus spiced artisan chocolates.

Despite the initial bumps and hurdles to be expected at a new event, consumer response to SAVOR has been generally positive. In keeping with the general theme of the event, the Brewers Association asked attendees to “dress to impress,? which resulted in some interesting choices by beer enthusiasts, ranging from tuxedos to tuxedo t-shirts. Some attendees felt that the event was overpriced and complained about the relative scarcity of all the advertised pairing by the end of a session. Other attendees believed that SAVOR was underpriced considering the presence of otherwise difficult to find beers and the opportunity to speak with some of the most recognized small brewers in the country.

One clear failure for the event was its SAVOR Salons, a forum in which brewers, journalists, and other beer luminaries spoke in smaller, tutored tasting sessions to attendees. The Brewers Association designed the salons to “deepen ones [sic] appreciation and understanding of beer and food pairings.? The events included brewer Garrett Oliver pairing American artisan cheeses and craft beers, Boston Beer’s Jim Koch discussing how people can get started with beer and food, and Clipper City Brewing’s Hugh Sisson discussing the nuances of pairing beer with seafood from the Chesapeake Bay.

Limited to approximately seventy people by the venue’s tight space, the salons were poorly marked and proved too popular for the auditorium. Originally advertised as first come, first serve, the association quietly switched to a ticket system. As people approached the forum before it was supposed to start, security had to bar their entrance to the room and explain that the salon was unavailable for attendance. The venue’s limitations, combined with the popularity of the offerings and the lack of communication, left many people disappointed by their inability to attend.

Two years of preparing for the event left the staff of the Brewers Association, which is based in Boulder, Colorado, a bit strung out. The economics of the event are challenging and despite its popularity and its utility in promoting and improving the public image of beer among legislators and media on the East Coast, it is unclear whether SAVOR will be repeated next year. The association’s staff has also discussed the possibility of moving the event from the capital to New York City in future years.

Anheuser-Busch Pushes the Concept of Beer and Food

As part of its efforts to promote the public image of beer, Anheuser-Busch has also seen value in reconnecting beer with food. As part of its Here’s to Beer initiative, A-B hired ‘celebrity chef’ Dave Lieberman of The Food Network to host its Beer Connoisseur segment of its website. In this online video section, Lieberman teaches visitors about beer and about pairing foods with beer. The Here’s to Beer website (www.herestobeer.com) offers an excellent tool for consumers to select the best matches for their particular dishes or drinks. The site allows consumers to pick from dozens upon dozens of entrées, desserts, or cheeses, and the program will then suggest a recommended match, as well as a complementary and a contrasting match. The offered styles are then described in detail and suggest other food pairings. Alternatively, consumers can select the type of beer they are drinking and the program will suggest a suitable dish for pairing.
The Here’s to Beer website also leads consumers on an educational tour of food and beer pairings, with storage and pouring techniques and how to start pairing food with beer.

Anheuser-Busch has also taken its food and beer pairings into the real world. During its recent St. Louis Heritage Festival, a second annual event promoting the local brewers of St. Louis, Missouri, Lieberman also hosted a five course beer pairing dinner, along with brewmasters from the city. Lieberman has hosted similar dinners in cities around the country on Anheuser-Busch’s behalf.

Anheuser-Busch also kicked off the year with the release of its own cookbook, appropriately titled, The Anheuser-Busch Cookbook: Great Food Great Beer. Produced in conjunction with Sunset Books and released in January, the softcover book offers 185 recipes for pairing with specific styles of beer. The brewery worked with brewmaster George Reisch and Brent Wertz, executive chef at Anheuser-Busch’s Kingsmill Resort and Spa, to create the pairings. While the book avoids mention of specific brand pairings, opting instead for generalized styles, it does offer an entry level user the opportunity to progress to a new appreciation of the available possibilities. The recipes include offerings such as Spicy Shrimp Cakes with Corn Salsa, Tuna Ceviche with Cumin and Chile, and Fallen Chocolate Cake with Cherries

“Beer is one of the most versatile, moderate alcohol beverages in the world, and pairs well with a range of cuisines by complementing, and not overpowering, complex flavors,? said Wertz in a press release. “Beer adds pizzazz to any menu and with Great Food Great Beer we want to help provide culinary enthusiasts with a fun, creative twist when preparing dishes. As detailed in the book, beer should be paired carefully with the right dish to bring out the best of both.?

The Future of Beer and Food in America

While in the past most Americans have limited their idea of beer and food pairings to American light lagers and burgers, fries, and nachos, the increasing popularity of better beers, combined with the general consumer trend of trading up, has led to a radical shift in the popular perception of beer. Once cast away from the table and relegated only to life near the grill, flavorful beer is pushing forward to once again regain its place. On any given day in any major city around the country, consumers ranging from beer enthusiasts to complete novices can attend a beer dinner led by a brewer or interested restaurateur. Beer and food events can be found in package stores, where store staff or brewery representatives offer cheese and ale pairings.

The opportunities to mix food and beer are only limited by the mind of the creator. When considering possible matches, try matching beers and foods that enhance one another and call specific attention to one or the other’s particular attributes. Consider the aroma, bouquet, and taste of particular beers and the accompanying flavors found in your selected foods. Great pairings need not always blend seamlessly and strongly contrasting selections can also provide an enjoyable and palate expanding experience.

A number of resources exist for individuals, restaurants, or package stores interested in leading friends or consumers on a tasting tour of food and beer. Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery published his ‘Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food,’ which takes consumers on an upscale journey through world beers and cuisines. For a more literary experience, Chicago based author Bob Skilnik wrote ‘Beer & Food: An American History,’ beer cook Lucy Saunders released ‘Best of American Beer & Food: Pairing & Cooking with Craft Beer,’

2008 will also see the release of several new volumes related to beer and food, including Fiona and Will Beckett’s ‘An Appetite for Ale: 101 Ways to Enjoy Beer With Food.’ Brewer Sam Calagione and wine writer Marnie Old have published ‘He Said Beer, She Said Wine: Impassioned Food Pairings to Debate and Enjoy – From Burgers to Brie and Beyond.’

–Article appeared in June 2008 issue of Beverage Magazine.

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The SAVOR Wrap-up And Concerns About The Growing Snobbery Of Beer…

I traveled to the nation’s capital last week to attend the Brewers Association’s much anticipated food and beer event. SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience, was held May 16 and 17 in Washington D.C at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Considered one of the best classical buildings in the U.S., the venue was a fitting one considering the event’s focus on elevating the public image of beer.

As a keystone for the association’s American Craft Beer Week, SAVOR served many purposes.
The event first gave craft brewers an opportunity to showcase their efforts to a Congressional audience on Capitol Hill. Many small brewers spent the better part of a week in D.C. lobbying Congress and making their presence known as part of the National Beer Wholesalers Legislative Conference. In turn, many congressional staffers and lobbyists attended Friday’s opening session of the event.

Beyond politics and legislative advocacy, SAVOR gave the association an opportunity to raise public and media awareness of craft beer by associating it with upscale food. The association wanted to spread the craft beer gospel to media on the East Coast and hoped the event would accomplish that goal. While it’s a little early to tell, media database searches show a bit of a paucity of coverage of the small event.

Initially planned to host nearly a thousand attendees per session, the Brewers Association’s staff wisely decided to cut back to 700 persons per session. Sold out by the day of the event, SAVOR offered its 2100 attendees the chance to taste 96 craft beers from 48 breweries from around the country. Each beer was specifically paired with a sweet or savory appetizer selected by the brewery and made by Federal City Caterers.

The event’s $85 price tag was a point of debate among beer geeks and the public, both before and after the event. Some felt that the price far exceeded what they were willing to pay, while others thought it might not be enough. From a financial point of view, the price tag clearly wasn’t enough as SAVOR lost a fair chunk of the Brewers Association’s change. It appears the price tag may not have even covered the per person food costs, not even considering the other sizable expenses involved in hosting the event, including venue costs and the time and expenses incurred by the association’s staff.

As for the event itself, the venue was quite attractive and the staff did a nice job of decorating the interior portions. Beer enthusiasts and well-heeled novices slowly roamed the auditorium, stopping at a center table which hosted the event’s main supporters (who paid $5,000 each for the privilege, on top of donating a significant portion of free beer and their time). Smaller breweries from around the country dotted crescent shaped tables lining the outside walls. While SAVOR offered many ubiquitous names, including Avery, Dogfish, and the Lost Abbey, the association also sought to offer geographic diversity from some smaller names, including Blackfoot River Brewing Company of Helena, Montana, Free State Brewing of Lawrence, Kansas, and Heiner Brau Microbrewery of Covington, Louisiana.

Attendees had an excellent opportunity to meet and talk with brewery staff and the attendance by owners and brewers was impressive. Beers were plentiful and well selected. The food pairings, which were offered either at an individual brewer’s table or from passing servers, included a number of interesting options. The Sprecher Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offered its Pub Brown Ale to match pan-seared pilsener sirloin tips with shiitake blue-cheese sauce. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, California, suggested its Summerfest Lager and lager steamed Thai turkey and shiitake dumplings. The Stone Brewing Company of Escondido, California, presented its Ruination IPA with either Peking duck purses or Christopher Elbow citrus spiced artisan chocolates. The event staff, especially the waitstaff, did an excellent job of keeping the venue clean and in taking used food items from attendees.

The much touted food pairings proved a bit of a challenge for the new event. The venue’s tight confines caused bottlenecks at the crescent shaped tables, trapping people near the tables as others tried to approach the table. Food offerings became increasingly scarce as the event progressed, with a number of items running out an hour and a half into the event on Friday night (many blamed the ravenous appetites of the aforementioned Hill staffers). Attendees also saw a lot of the sirloin tips and chocolates as the event went on.

The booths also suffered from a decided lack of signage. While signage can certainly appear tacky if done wrong, I found myself coming upon breweries I didn’t even realize were in attendance, even late into the event.

One clear failure for the event were the SAVOR Salons, forums for brewers, journalists, and other beer luminaries to speak to attendees in smaller, tutored tasting sessions. The association designed the salons to “deepen ones [sic] appreciation and understanding of beer and food pairings.? The events included Garrett Oliver pairing American artisan cheeses and craft beers, Jim Koch discussing how to get started with beer and food, and Hugh Sisson talking about the nuances of pairing beer with Chesapeake Bay seafood. Limited to 70 people by the venue’s space restrictions, the salons were poorly marked and proved too popular. Originally advertised as first come, first serve, the association quietly switched to a ticket system after the first session. As people approached the forum well before its start time, security had to bar their entrance to the room and explain that the salon was unavailable for attendance. The venue’s limitations, combined with the popularity of the offerings and the lack of communication, left many people disappointed by their inability to attend the advertised events.

The event, which took two years to plan and execute, left some Brewers Association staffers a bit exhausted. In speaking with the staff, it’s not at all clear that this event will be repeated next year. Considering the expense and questions about the ultimate utility of SAVOR, it would not be surprising if the event went on hiatus for at least a year. The association’s staff has also discussed the possibility of moving the event from the capital to New York City in the future.

After attending the event, I was also left slightly questioning the purpose of the event. While I understand the potential media and legislative benefits to raising the public image of beer, I’m not convinced that an expensive beer and food event (where attendees are encouraged to “dress to impress”) is really the way to go. A certain air of elitism pervaded the event, which attracted a bit of an odd assortment of attendees (from tuxedoed wine folks to guys in t-shirts and shorts).

In traveling around D.C., I also found beer exposed to and ensconced in a similar and unexpected sense of exclusiveness. The city’s beer venues, from Georgetown to downtown, offer a surprisingly limited range of beers at some pretty exorbitant prices, even compared to other pricey cities. The cheapest draft beer offering we found was $5 at RFD and that was by $1.50 the cheapest pint we found in D.C. We saw several drafts above $10, including one at $14 (Brasserie Beck). The pours were also surprisingly small; in one case, Brasserie Beck offered a number of pedestrian beers of average quality for expensive prices and with ridiculously short pours. Maybe I’ve become disconnected with the real world, but I think $7.50 for a 8-ounce pour of Bavik pils is outrageous.

I’ve written a number of times in the past about my concern that beer will become untethered from its egalitarian roots and will spiral off into the price and snob stratosphere and my D.C. trip only served to aggravate my worry.

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