Here, Taste This: And This. And This.
Bragging rights for the best bites from Beer Week.
Duck Confit paired with Duck Foot Blonde | Photo by Bruce Glassman
In honor of the upcoming holiday season, where we reflect on good fortune and practice gratitude, I wanted to give thanks for the many wonderful culinary treats I was fortunate enough to taste during Beer Week a few weeks back. Fortunately, there were literally hundreds of great food-and-beer events to attend—unfortunately, I was not able to attend all of them.
Of the events I was able to experience, three stand out for their quality and variety of food, and also for the interesting pairing opportunities they presented. Technically, I began my Beer Week a day early (why not turn a 10-day week into an 11-day week?); I started on Thursday night at a 7-course Stone beer dinner hosted by the excellent chefs at Omni La Costa (Executive Chef Marc Therrien, Rhandell Molina, and Justin Huntington). The Stone team came loaded up with an interesting collection of small batch beers and special releases, including Witty Moron (an awesome dark wheat beer), which is produced exclusively at the Liberty Station location. The beers and the food were all top notch, with the standouts being the Cobia Escabeche (grilled calamari with chili, grapefruit, olive fennel relish, and marcona almond) that was paired with the floral, spicy, caramel-infused hoppiness of Vertical Epic from 2008. Following that was a Seared Scallop dish prepared with lamb bacon, black pepper spaetzle, and caramelized cipollini onions in a Japanese shoyu broth. Paired with the scallop was Quadrotriticale (from Stone’s Stochasticity series), which has a smoky, spicy, molasses richness that matches so well with the salty, sweet, peppery flavors in the food. Dessert—Brown Butter Almond Cake with Spiced Pears and Honey Ice Cream— was paired with Oak Smoked Old Guardian Barley Wine, which has a rich, sweet maltiness (that underscored the honey and almond) and a smoky, raisin quality that accented the spiced pears beautifully.
Friday night, down at the Broadway Pier, the Brewers Guild hosted the VIP Brewers Takeover, which featured dozens of breweries with limited-release beers (many barrel-aged selections, as well as sours, double and triple IPAs, and big Belgian-styles like Tripels and Quadrupels). Food selections included pizza, burgers, poke, buffalo sausage, a braised-meat-and-roasted-potato dish, and an especially tasty (and refreshingly different) plate of crispy pork belly tossed in a spicy buffalo sauce served on top of a celery root purée and sprinkled with bleu cheese (provided by the chef from Flagship Tours). This dish, with its spicy heat and richness from the pork and bleu, paired wonderfully with a number of hoppy brews, including the Bad Boy double IPA from Alpine, the Debut IPA from Abnormal, and the Stingray IPA from Coronado —further confirmation that crisp, hoppy beers do wonders for rich, fatty, and spicy foods.
As good as all the food happenings are during Beer Week, the climax always comes on the final Sunday at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. This is where the Beer Garden event teams 12 chefs with 24 breweries in a food-and-beer bonanza. Overlooking the famous golf course and (of course) the ocean, attendees sample dishes designed to pair with specific beers from pre-determined breweries. The list of participating chefs and restaurants is always impressive (this year it included Matt Gordon’s Sea & Smoke, Jeffrey Strauss’s Pamplemousse Grille, and Greg Frey’s Golden Door, among other distinguished proprietors) and their inspired pairings are always palate-expanding. Standouts from that afternoon included Matt Gordon’s Smoked Lamb Sopes with Pumpkin Seed-Fig Adobo paired with Aztec’s smoky Chiptole IPA; Ballast Point chef Colin Maclaggan’s Scallop with Grilled Fennel, Mustard Greens, Vinegar Pearls, and a drizzle of Port Syrup paired with BP’s Barrel-Aged Piper Down Scottish Ale; and Leroy’s chef Ronnie Schwandt’s Caramelized Stuffed Apple, Cabbage, Lardons, Black Truffle, and Hazelnut paired with Groundswell’s funky and delicious Barrel-Aged Imperial Pogue. My personal favorite of the day was the Duck Confit with Curried Cauliflower Purée and a Golden Raisin Gremolata created by Tidal chef Amy DiBiase. This simple dish managed to deliver a whole host of different flavors, including rich, fatty, smoky duck, a bit of spice from the curry, and sweetness from the raisins. Paired with a glass of Duck Foot’s crisp, refreshing, lightly hopped Blonde Ale, I could have spent the whole afternoon eating only this.
Even though most beer fans are not likely to re-create these unique and somewhat complicated recipes at home, all these pairings are inspiring glimpses into the exciting world of beer and food. Whether a chef uses beer in a preparation, or simply pairs a beer with the final dish, the right combinations can provide wonderful, eye-opening experiences—ones where, together, the beer and the food achieve a level of flavor that neither can on its own. During Beer Week I got to experience many of those wonderful culinary combinations and, for that, I am truly thankful. It's been a good year!