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Is Beer the new wine?

By Evan Halperin, Guest to Dining in DC

When you dine at an upscale restaurant for a meal with a prix-fixe menu, usually there is an accompanying wine pairing. What many people probably do not expect to see are beer pairings. I mean come on, how do you expect them to match my egg noodle pappardelle with boar ragout with a Miller light? The simple answer is: you don’t.

Beer dinners are becoming more and more popular and are sprouting up across the region, giving patrons the ability to experience delicately prepared dishes along side with a craft beer that explores new flavors including coffee, chocolate, raspberry, and many others. The Tuscarora Mill Restaurant in Leesburg, VA recently held a beer dinner featuring Bell’s Brewery. A friend of mine, Jeff Webster attended this dinner and had this to say: “Chef Patrick did a great job of transforming each dish into a meal that not only satisfies the palate, but allows the diner to experience uncommon, yet satisfying beer-food pairings.” Small microbreweries are clearly taking their hand at crafting beers with specific flavors that are made to balance and counterbalance cuisine in new and exciting ways.

Northside Social, Photo by Lisa Shapiro

The Tuscosara Mill is not the only restaurant looking to break into the beer pairing landscape. Alison Crist, General Manager and Sommelier of a new restaurant in Northern Virginia called Northside Social, will be looking to provide customers with beer dinners, like the recently hosted event at the Liberty Tavern. The dinner paired Belgian beers with an exquisite six course meal, from Executive Chef, Liam LaCivita.

Are Beer dinners are the new wine pairings? These thoughts are being echoed even more loudly by Greg Engert, Beer Director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, whose expertise helps manage a beer selection at ChurchKey in Washington, DC. ChurchKey offers over 300 bottles and more than 50 taps, including remarkable 5 cask ales.  Mr. Engert was recently on the Kogo Nnamdi show, discussing the American beer market. Mr. Engert sees the craft beer as having “revolutionized the idea of beer…” creating “an almost new category of adult beverages.” Even during this recent recession, beer consumption was pointed to as one industry that was not suffering. To Engert, “craft beer offers amazing, delicious complexity for affordable prices…” versus “more expensive alternatives of wine and spirits.”

I think that is important to understand that as craft beer has exploded on to the dining scene, high-end restaurants are scrambling to create pairings with beer like they had previously done with wine. Engert believes that as consumer demand for craft beers has increased, restaurants “are seizing upon the opportunities.” A key to this new business decision is the fact that beer is cheaper than wine and champagne, making it all the more intriguing to diners.

Personally, I think that the beer dinner trend phenomenon is not something that will go away. I can remember back to college when my friends and I would stop by Shangy’s, a huge beer distributor in Emmaus Pennsylvania, and search for new interesting beers to try. We didn’t just pick up a case of Natty Light and call it a night. Getting advice from the staff, or going on instinct, it was exciting to pick out a new beer from somewhere halfway across the country, or world, and dig in. Since then, I have enjoyed trying new beers, learning what styles I enjoy and more recently pairing beers with food, something that even my old college self wouldn’t have done.

As far as I am concerned, I hope more high-end restaurants offer beer dinners. I’m waiting on the day that I can go to Jose Andreas’ Minibar and pair cheese-steak puff pastry with a full flavor chicory stout. I suppose I need to go to Minibar first, but that’s another story. Beer dinners will not being going the way of the dodo bird as the popularity of craft beers continues to rise.

As craft beer taps replace macrobrew taps at bars and are installed at high-end restaurants, more people will jump on the craft beer bandwagon which in turn will have them expecting high-end restaurants to offer beer that can match the complexity of the cuisine. Handcrafted beers will continue to be on the rise and restaurants will need to keep up. This is not a phenomenon that is going away any time soon, so make your beer dinner reservations today!

For the beer lovers out there, here are some upcoming beer dinners to mark on your calendar:

  • March 10, 2010 – Beer vs. Wine dinner at BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier, Alexandria, VA
  • March 17, 2010 – Magnolia At the Mill, Purcellville, VA
  • March 22, 2010 Stoudts Brewery at Pizza Paradiso, Washington, DC
  • April 7, 2010 – Smuttynose and Bear Republic at Tusocrora Mill, Leesburg, VA
  • May 12, 2010 – Beers of Belgium at Tusocrora Mill, Leesburg, VA
  • June 9, 2010 – Lagunitas and BBQ at Tusocrora Mill, Leesburg, VA
  • Unknown Date – Beer and Wine dinners at Northside Social, Arlington, VA
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    2 Responses

    1. Hi – thanks for the post. I never know what I will come across when I scroll these blogs. But just wanted to let you know I really liked yours. Keep it up.


    2. Thanks for the compliment Jaqueline…sorry I just am seeing this now. I was very happy when Lisa asked me to write a guest post over here. I hope to write a follow up soon on my blog

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