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© Nathan Rawlinson
Labeling a special beer, Local 11, for a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at Eleven Madison Park.
Beer is often associated with backyard barbecues and sporting events, but writer Christian DeBenedetti reports on the growing trend of craft beer showing up in some of the country’s best restaurants:
“American craft beer's surge into the spotlight has taken many forms, but until relatively recently, beer dinners in ultra-fine-dining settings were generally considered oddities, one-offs or experiments, rather than the norm. No longer: American brewers from the likes of Allagash in Maine, Oregon's Deschutes and Delaware's Dogfish Head are working with top-tier chefs from Thomas Keller of Per Se to Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns to present beers and foods that are well matched and fun to try together.
Recently the beer dinner concept hit a new high with the collaboration between New York's Brooklyn Brewery and Eleven Madison Park. For the event, brewmaster Garrett Oliver worked with chef Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park general manager Will Guidara and Eleven Madison Park dining room manager/beer coordinator Kirk Kelewae to create a pairing menu almost entirely from scratch.
The dinner included Local 11, a beer made by aging the dark, abbey-style ale Brooklyn Local 2 in 20-year old Pappy Van Winkle whiskey barrels. It had never been tasted outside the brewery before this dinner. "Garrett really opened my eyes in a big way," said Humm. "Craft beer works really well with food; there's so much to it. And it's not just rustic food—sausages and stuff like that—but also really refined food, because the beers are really refined."
Unlike most beer dinners—perhaps any other beer dinner that has ever taken place—the collaboration started with the beers, not the menu. "We're getting a chance to show the real creative evolution of the brewery," Oliver told me as guests sipped on an aperitif beer called The Concoction, inspired by the classic Penicillin cocktail and redolent of whisky, ginger, lemon and honey. "Usually these things are done by e-mail," Oliver continued. "The chef sends me a menu, I send back the pairings. And it often turns out wonderfully. This time, the Eleven Madison Park team came out to the brewery and spent three-and-a-half hours tasting with us. Then they went back with the beers and developed the menu in the other direction. This is a whole new way to do things."
The night’s highlights included a foie gras terrine with strawberry, yuzu and black pepper paired with Wild 1, a beer brewed in 2008 and aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, then refermented with Brettanomyces, the earthy, fickle yeast strain prized by Belgian brewers; and Pennsylvania's Four Story Hill Farm suckling pig with apricot and cardamom, paired with the Local 11. Oliver, for his part, was ecstatic. "I've done about 700 beer dinners, but this is the ultimate."
Here's a photo gallery from former Eleven Madison Park sommelier-turned-professional photographer Nathan Rawlinson along with a short video report.