There was a time when chefs bought their ingredientsbeets, precut pork loins, artisanal bread. But these days, chefs are doing the farming, butchering and baking themselves. And now they're collaborating with brewers to tailor-make beers to pair with their food.
Last year, Chicago's Goose Island Brewery began inviting local chefs into its two brewpubs to work alongside head brewer Jared Rouben. Some chefs come with a clear idea of what they want to make, such as a light, citrusy beer to go with ceviche or a smoky beer to drink with chocolate chipbacon cookies; others arrive with an open mind. All of them brainstorm with Rouben, a former chef who brews single-batch beers with whatever's freshest at the farmers' market every week it's openfrom rhubarb in the spring to bell peppers in the summer. "I love showing chefs that what we do at the brewery is really not very different from what they do in their kitchens," he says. "We both deal with raw ingredients, we both try to enhance the aromatics and flavors, we're both based in time and temperature. The only difference is that making beer is a three-week process."
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Chefs work side by side with Rouben to make their beers, stirring the mash, adding hops ("I always relate hops to spices," Rouben says) and tasting as they go. Most chefs even stick around to help shovel the grain out of the tanks after brewing is completed. "They're there to scrub," Rouben says. "Ninety percent of brewing is cleaning and if you don't have people willing to do that, then they're not really brewing."
Paul Kahan of Chicago's beer-centric The Publican, a 1999 F&W Best New Chef, teamed up with Rouben to make a beer inspired by Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, a golden Belgian ale that he loves. Kahan's is a bit more sour than the original: "The more beer I drink, the more I like sour and bitter," he says. The tanginess of the beer gives a nice boost to the richness of Kahan's dry-aged duck breasts with golden beet panzanella. Even the colors of the beets and the beer match.
Chris Pandel, chef at The Bristol, wanted to make a more experimental beer. He and Rouben developed a black IPA that gets its color from roasted malt hulls. "There's the illusion that this beer is going to be heavy," Pandel says. "You're not expecting the kick of hops and the brightness and acidity"qualities that help the beer pair with richer dishes like his goat ragù with fresh spaghetti. Pandel's pastry chef, Amanda Rockman, even used some of the beer to make a batter for a dense chocolate cake.
Do all these food-friendly, chef-made beers mean that wine has a new rival in restaurant dining rooms? "It's not so much a competition between beer and wine," Pandel says. "It's the ability to have both."
Goose Island Brewery: More Great Beers
These three wonderful Goose Island beers are available in stores and many restaurants across the country.
Light and tangy, this Belgian white pairs well with lighter foods, like white fish and vegetables.
A caramelly, slightly tart, Belgian-style beer that can pair with almost any food.
A dark, toasty new ale infused with black peppercornsperfect with meat dishes.