Boulder’s brewpubs — where outside the mountains’ snowy tips mirror the foam-headed pints lining the bar — are out to prove that beer and food are one and the same.
Pairings involving beer are ballooning in popularity and esteem as these hop-filled sanctuaries continue to demonstrate the area’s legitimacy as a mecca of craft beer. Though they’ve been around for a matter of months, baby breweries such as BRU, FATE and Shine are joining some well-known names like Avery and Mountain Sun in pleasing crowds with these beer-soaked pairings. Successes, both new and sustained, stem from an interesting concept of unity when deciding to chase, for instance, a rich salmon dish down with a bitter pale ale.
“We don’t look at food and beer as two separate items, we look at them as the same thing,” BRU founder Ian Clark says via email, while traveling with his wife through Vietnam. “We design food to pair with the beer we brew and vice versa, we design beers around food pairings as well.”
One look inside a brewery’s menu and the calculated, if not obsessive, attention to detail is obvious. Suggestions of a tap beer to complement a dish, like a beer float uniting BRU’s Citrum IPA with a scoop of lemon coriander ice cream, allow certain flavors to be manipulated and strengthened as chefs and brewers best see fit. In cooking up innovative entrees alongside complementing ales, brewery leaders like Clark are successfully branding both their taps and their cuisine. And when compared to the elaborate world of wine pairings, Boulder’s brewers are ready to stake claim for beer dinners as being even more intricate in flavor preparation and tasted results.
“I would argue, and most of the people in the craft beer world would argue, that there’s a lot more complexity and variety in beers than you could ever accomplish with wines,” says Joe Osborne, marketing director at Avery Brewing. “It opens itself to even more interpretations by chefs.”
At its vaulted-ceiling taproom, Avery welcomes in neighboring catering company Savory Cuisines, pairing a Cuban sandwich with Joe’s Pilsner or the sweet potato tots with The Reverend Belgian-style Quadrupel Ale.
Recently, the nationally recognized brewery held its annual midnight breakfast at Euclid Hall in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. The 10-course fine dining event cost $100 per person, showing the company’s flexibility when considering it also revels in pairing its beers with hot dogs and pizza.
“So it’s anything in between, from one extreme to the other, fine dining to blue-collar dining,” Osborne says. “And that’s the fun part about it — you’re not stuck in a hoity-toity situation.”
Cheaper and lesser in alcohol by volume than wine, beer can be the more accessible option for many pairings.
And if anyone is suited to speak of the differences between wine- and beer-based dinners first-hand, it may just be Tom Arthur.
Arthur is the current manager at West Flanders Brewing Co. at 1125 Pearl St., which often hosts private parties for beer pairing events. A former manager at Laudisio, the Italian restaurant at the Twenty Ninth Street mall that closed last summer, he remained fluent on the company’s extensive and respected wine list.
Arthur, bearded and sporting a short-sleeve flannel, discusses the relative ease with which customers can get started in beer pairings.
“You can convince people, ‘Hey try this beer with us,’ and you don’t have to convince them to take a leap of faith on getting a bottle of wine,” he says.
Standing in front of a line of large bullet-shaped vats behind the bar, Arthur discusses the ability of both beer and wine to complement a given meal, claiming that most wines aren’t able to handle vinegar-based salads or more acidic dishes. These are flavors West Flanders prefers to highlight on its menu, pairing such plates with Belgian-style saisons or hopped-up IPAs.
“[In beer] the flavors aren’t necessarily as delicate as things in wine, where that little extra acidity is going to mask some of the flavors you’re tasting,” Arthur says. “The beer can stand up to that.”
And with spicy or fried foods, hoppy beers are suited to cut through the fats and the heat, highlighting intended flavors like climaxing notes in a symphony instead of drowning them in an unmeasured mash of uncertainty.
While Bobby Stuckey, master sommelier and co-owner of Frasca, says he agrees beer “outshines” wine when paired with spicier foods, overall he sees the grape as giving diners a wider potential of flavors to work with than the malt.
“Not everything’s created equal,” Stuckey says. “There are some really exciting food and beer pairings — and I’m not saying this as a wine guy, I’m saying this as a beverage professional — but there is more to work with in wine.”
Still, wine pairings can be a more fragile art, as seen firsthand through France’s famed Burgundy region, where vineyards again lost many of their crops to hail storms. Tragic yet natural occurrences like these can directly compromise a vintage wine’s quality and raise its price.
you drank Anchor Steam today, it’s going to pretty much taste the same
next year,” Stuckey says. “You don’t have that in wine, because of
Mother Nature. The vintages can be so different.”
Clark, the one-time executive chef of Centro, began his passion for brewing in his garage like a mad scientist, eventually obtaining a manufacturer’s license so he could sell BRU’s initial batches to local bars and liquor stores. The dedicated brewer and chef says the customizable aspects of the beer making process transition to the table via thought-out flavor combinations, something that an oenologist, or winemaking specialist, may have little control over.
“Beer, you design, you make it the way that you want it to be,” Clark says. “Beer is designed by the maker. This is not the case in wine, where a lot of the flavor is left up to the earth, to the elements.”
Though craft beer may have a tough time standing up to the proven pairing commodity of wine when washing down dinner, it offers a refreshing alternative. Some of BRU’s dishes even involve sauces and meats that are mixed or braised with its ales, further blurring the lines between food and drink.
Nowadays a trip downtown for a bite to eat with friends requires more awareness on the consumer’s end. Rather than having no other choice but to force down over-salted potato chips or trail mix to fill the lingering hunger left by beer, Boulder patrons are privileged enough to have both award-winning beer and carefully planned food items on the same bar menu. In Boulder, where new breweries are popping up seemingly faster than the taste buds can follow, curious drinkers are encouraged to pair their beers with food that makes sense.
Little can sum appropriate pairings up any better than a recent tweet by Gov. John Hickenlooper. From atop Colorado’s throne in the craft beer domain, the politician who came to fame by starting Wynkoop Brewing Co. decrees with a hashtag’s simplicity, “Beer is Food.”