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Monday, October 27, 2014

A Polite List of Food Beers for Chef David Chang (or, Suck it Momofuku)

I had a whole post written for this week's beer (well, I had a whole three sentences actually written down, but the gist of the piece was nicely worked out in my head.  It does too so count.)  But then I read this little gem of a piece from the famous (in his own head and on one season of the now canceled HBO show Treme) David Chang, owner and head chef of New York's Momofuko, among other places.  Here's a link to the GQ article.  Pour out a decent beer and take a moment to read it yourself.

In a nutshell, Chang makes a case for his love of crappy, watered down, frat boy beer over the well crafted, thoughtful and yes, delicious beer from any small scale brewery here in the US.  Yep.  A guy who has the audacity to charge the same price as an box set of the entire run of The West Wing for a bowl of noodles, wrote a piece about how cheap beer trumps anything that craft brewers can make.  I get that we each have our own preferences and tastes.  And I also get that there are people out there that will always harbor a not so secret love of all things Miller and/or Bud.  My best friend in the world will only drink Miller Light and I don't judge her (OK.  I totally judge her.  But that's our unique dynamic.)  But my BFF doesn't run one of the most sought after, well respected, trendsetting restaurants on the East Coast.  Nor does she write pieces for major publications like GQ (stop snickering.  You can find it in airports so it counts.)  What ticked me off most after reading his piece was this quote : "For all the debatability of my rant here, let me make one ironclad argument for shitty beer: It pairs really well with food. All food. Think about how well champagne pairs with almost anything. Champagne is not a flavor bomb! It's bubbly and has a little hint of acid and tannin and is cool and crisp and refreshing. Cheap beer is, no joke, the champagne of beers. And cheap beer and spicy food go together like nothing else. "  Really?  There isn't any craft beer out there that an amazing chef with a respected and well honed palate  can find to pair with his plate of pea shoots in a chicory, sesame, kimchi vinaigrette?  Or a bowl of pig tails with  pickled Asian pear, chili and scallion?

Chef Chang, if you should ever find your way to Chicago, I am here to help.  I scoured the city (read- drank a lot of local beer) and believe that I have found four local brews that will change your brand of beer champagne.

Transient Ales' Obelus- Saison

Transient Ales is a relatively new brewery on the Chicago scene.  They focus mainly on Sour and Farmhouse style ales and do it extremely well.  I honestly haven't been this excited by a brand new baby brewery in a long time.  I tasted one of their Saisons, Obelus, at an event recently.  Saisons are a natural pairing for food, especially spicy or flavorful dishes.  Their inherent rustic character helps to mellow out any boldness you might find on the place.  Obelus has a lovely tropical fruit element that blends delicately into the farmhouse nature of the beer's yeast.  A slight graininess also compliments  a well seasoned meal.  I would pair Obelus with both delicate dishes, such as white fish, to something a bit more complex, like Lo Mein noodles.  Transient  has begun to play around with this particular Saison, using it was a base beer to experiment with various barrels and dry hops.  I could easily see an inventive chef creating an entire pairing menu based on the various versions of this farmhouse ale.  In fact, if some ambitious chef out there wants to take up the challenge, I'm more than willing to be the guinea pig (I'm selfless that way, I know.) 

Off Color Brewing's Fierce- Berliner Style Weiss

I originally wrote about Off Color's Fierce in early September (click here to read it again. You know. In case you missed it.)  Off Color refers to Fierce as being brewed in the style of a Berliner Weisse instead of just calling it a stright up Berliner Weisse.  My understanding is that they strayed from the traditional forms of yeast that one expects to find in your Berliners.  And to that, I say, I don't care.  It's fraking delicious.  Fierce has a subtle dankness to it's flavor profile that, in my opinion, greatly expands it's food pairing options.  I love to drink Berliners with my dinner just as a wine drinker might reach for a lovely Austrian Reisling.  They are often low in bitterness, dry, bright and crisp.  Fierce takes these qualities one step further by layering in a soft, musty element that  compliments light dishes.  I love drinking Fierce with vegetable heavy plates and let the green, herbal note bring out the earthiness of my meal.  And, honestly, since most Berliner Weisses clock in under 4% ABV (with Fierce sporting a 3.8%) you can easily drink one than one if you should wish to linger at the table.  Something has to wash down those third helpings, right? 

Begyle Brewing's Free Bird- American Pale Ale

American Pale Ales can be a dime a dozen.  And there is a very good reason for that.  When brewed correctly, APA can become a flagship sort of beer for a brewery.  Toppling Goliath's psudeoSue.  Three Floyds' Zombie Dust.  Half Acre's Daisy Cutter.  All APAs and all calling cards for their breweries.  Begyle Brewing's Free Bird may not yet possess that sort of  name making prestige of the best of the best, but it's a mighty fine foot in the door. Free Bird was brewed in the Spring of 2014 and, so far, has only been available in growlers at Begyle's tap room.   I've heard rumblings that at some point in the (hopefully near) future, this APA will be part of the brewery's recent six pack releases.  Free Bird was brewed with Falconer Flight Hops which are two purpose hops that work for both bittering and aroma when brewing.  They are known for their citrus and tropical fruit characters, both of which shine brightly in Free Bird.  Grapefruit and lemon notes pair wonderfully with food in much the same way that a chef might add a squeeze of lemon wedge when finishing off a dish.   Over this past summer, I enjoyed growlers of this bright and crisp APA with a wide array of meat on the grill (poultry, pork and beef all worked well as long as they weren't overly sauced.)  Free Bird is the sort of beer that should (and hopefully will) become a staple beer for a well stocked fridge. And by that, I mean mine. 

Une Annee Brewery's Quad- Ummm, a Quad?

God, I love Quads.  Unlike APAs, however, they are not a dime a dozen.  Quads take time.  I originally wrote about this particular Quad way back in the end of February (this should jog your memory)  We are very fond of our Belgians in the Down the Hatch family.  I confess to having a comfort beer (La Trappe Quad) in the way that others might have a comfort food (grilled cheese.)  Oddly enough, Quads and a gooey, cheesey grilled cheese sandwich can go very well together.  As do Quads and homeade turkey chili.  Also Quads and roast pork with a dried fruit compote.  My point is that the barely sweet toffee, slightly boozy, dark fruit forward ale pairs excellently with food.  I love to drink Une Annee's version with an array of winter meals.  The hit of peppery spice on the nose & taste lends itself to complimenting a bit of a heartier dish that I typically prepare in the colder months of the year.  But the beauty of this particular Quad actually showed itself to me this past Summer in late August/early September.  Other wise known as fresh fig season.  One evening, we cut up a few succulent figs while sipping my last bottle of Une Annee's Quad.  It was a revelation.  The dark fruit and Belgian esters brought out the fig's inherit nature, while the slight spice tempered any sort of sweetness present.  There is no way anyone will ever convince me that a bottle of Miller Light can create such a sublimely simple experience.  Une Annee will be bottling the latest batch of their Quad sometime before the end of the year.  Merry Christmas. 

Chef David Chang knows his food.  He's inventive and willing to continually push the envelope in pursuit of creating unique food experiences.  And I sincerely hope to someday get the opportunity to try his dishes first hand.  But I personally fail to see his point in bad mouthing the entire craft beer industry here in the United States.  To say that shitty beer is the only beer worthy of drinking with the food that he labors to create is not just insulting to the inventive and experienced brewers that make up the American craft trade, it also sells his own creations ridiculously short.  Anything that one puts their heart and soul into preparing deserves a counterpart that reflects this passion.  I chose four beers off the top of my head from Chicago alone to drink with food.  There is a myriad of craft choices out there, lurking in bottle shops and on restaurant menus from every corner of America.  Experiment until you find your favorites.    And then maybe send a Beer It Forward care package to Chef Chang so he can truly experience the wealth of flavors that craft beer has to offer. Oh, and please include a bottle of Chicago's own Lake Michigan drinking water.  If all else fails, the chef has to agree that that least that's better than a can of  Schlitz with his plate of smoked lamb ribs with white grapes, shishito pepper and mustard greens.