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Bitter Brothers Launches Its First Family-Style Beer Dinner

The Bay Ho brewery's elevated comfort cuisine hits the sweet spot


Local sea bass with Island Salsa. | Photo: Bruce Glassman

It’s always nice when a brewery owner has a solid understanding of food. After all, being a brewer (and constructing a beer) is a lot like being a chef. A beer is a recipe, and nobody knows that better than Bill Warnke, co-founder of Bitter Brothers Brewing Co. and a chef in his own right.

From the very beginning, Bill and co-founder Monica Andresen (who is an event designer for Waters Catering) knew that they wanted food to figure in to the life of their brewery. Now, at just over half a year old, Bitter Brothers is ready to make a commitment to hosting regular beer dinners right there in the tasting room.

Their inaugural Family Dinner, which was held at the end of July, was the perfect introduction to the pleasures of matching Bitter Brothers beer with artfully prepared, elevated comfort cuisine. The dishes, much like the beers they were meant to complement, were inventive but not unnecessarily showy; they were full of satisfying flavor and were presented in a casual, unpretentious way that focused attention on the sensory pleasures instead of the egos of the chefs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly in favor of matching beers to “uber-concept” food (Pilsner with your lichen salad in sea urchin mayonnaise, perhaps?) but, honestly, I do find that the most satisfying beer dinners are those that don’t try to stretch too far into the culinary stratosphere. Clean, well-made beers that deliver balance and flavor matched with food that achieves the same: That’s my beer dinner sweet spot, and that’s just the spot that Bitter Brothers hit with their first event. [All but one of the beers, by the way, came in under 6% ABV, which helped to make consumption of the six different beers much more manageable.]

Family-style dinner at the Bitter Brothers tasting room. | Photo: Bruce Glassman

The evening was a true team effort, helmed by Bill Warnke and his lead brewer John Hunter, and masterfully coordinated and executed by Monica Andresen and tasting room manager Delanie Koken. Bill was joined in the “kitchen” (actually a bunch of cooking equipment at the back of the brewery) by Kevin Lissy of Panama 66, Kat Johnson of Luce, Travis Clifford (formerly of Ballast Point, who now works full time on the BBB team), and Joe Burns of Waters Catering.

As the first course was being prepared, guests nibbled on Korean BBQ beef and scallion skewers and sipped the Bitter Brothers ESB (Extra Special Brother Extra Special Bitter). The caramel flavors in the ESB married nicely with the sweetness of the beef, and the earthy hops provided just the right amount of bitterness to cut through that sweetness (which keeps your palate refreshed and wanting more!).   

The first course—prepared by Bill—featured the daily catch from Catalina Offshore, which happened to be local sea bass. The fish was seared and oven roasted and was topped with a sweet, fresh island salsa. The pairing here—the Pink Guava Family Tart Berliner Weisse—mirrored the flavor elements of the dish. The beer’s pineapple, apricot, and lemon flavors echoed the tropical fruitiness of the salsa, while the tart, crisp acidity in the beer offered a light counterpoint to the medium-dense, meaty fish. This match-up was yet another confirmation of something I’ve come to realize lately: Berliner Weisse is generally a great beer for fish!

Citrus Grilled Chicken with Cold Soba Noodles. | Photo: Bruce Glassman

Chefs Kat Johnson and Kevin Lissy collaborated on the second course, which featured a Golden Pork Pâté on a large family-style tray surrounded by a variety of accouterments that included pickled cherries, a compote of fig and golden currants, homemade sour kraut, beer mustard, and grilled bread made with spent grain. The pâté was enhanced with peacotums (a fruit that is a combination of a peach, an apricot, and a plum), burnt orange zest, lemon, cardamom, toasted coriander, and Golden Child Hefeweizen bacon. The accompanying Golden Child Hef, which is light, crisp, and clean with banana and clove notes, countered the richness and fattiness of the pâté as well as the sweetness of the cherries and the compote. Wheat beer and pork: Another reliably excellent combination.

For the third course, Travis Clifford riffed on his vision of a deconstructed classic Chile Relleno. A battered and deep-fried pepper was topped with a lime crema and served atop a summer avocado-corn relish and a fire-roasted tomato sauce. Paired with this dish was the Little Brother Citra IPA (their session IPA), which offered the perfect tropical, citrus, and bitter notes to balance the fried batter, the creamy avocado and crema, and the rich, earthy tomato sauce.

Chef Travis was also the talent behind course number four, which played with a series of distinctly Asian flavor combinations. Citrus grilled chicken was served on top of a bed of chilled Soba noodles and cabbage tossed in a miso-hoisin vinaigrette. On top of the chicken, pickled fresnos and crispy wontons provided some wonderful tang and crunch respectively. The Prodigal Son Amarillo IPA was the pairing for this dish, and the tropical fruit, pine, and citrus notes in the beer—along with the healthy dose of bitterness—worked perfectly to contrast and cut through the sweet elements in the food. This pairing (which also worked wonderfully with the Citra IPA) was my favorite of the evening.

Spent Grain Beignets with Coffee Cream Filling. | Photo: Bruce Glassman

For the final course, pastry chef Joe Burns created a delicious and decadent dessert of beignets (made from spent grain) filled with a coffee cream and served with a crème anglaise (made with Black Sheep Coffee Porter) and caramelized chocolate sauce. The beignets, which were the perfect combination of light body with rich flavor, were paired with the Black Sheep Coffee Porter on nitro. This match was all about loading up on dark chocolate and sweet caramel flavors in both the dessert and the beer, and highlighting the fresh, roasty notes of coffee in both the creamy filling and the porter. This was one of those desserts that you could have eaten two or three plates of in a restaurant—that is, if you weren’t too embarrassed to re-order a few times.

Keep an eye out for details on the next Bitter Brothers Family Dinner, coming (in all likelihood) in a few months. The ultimate plan, according to Bill and Monica, is to hold one of these events four times a year— about every quarter. So stay tuned, and—if you haven’t yet checked out this still-relatively-young brewery—go pay them a visit. And while you’re at it, bring home a growler or two and pair some their very food-friendly beers with some of your own cool culinary creations.

Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., 4170 Morena Blvd, Bay Ho

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