Beer and Food Pairings are springing up at restaurants all across the country. While in the Pacific Northwest I attended just such a dinner at Dukes Chowder House in Tacoma, Washington where Executive Chef Bill Raninger created a menu with each course paired to a unique Deschutes beer, as well as used the beer as an ingredient in many of the dishes. Deschutes is a Pacific Northwest brewery that was founded in 1988 by Gary Fish and has two locations; one in Bend, Oregon and one in Portland, Oregon. Here is a recap of the beer and food that was enjoyed at the dinner.
Cascade Golden Ale
Chef Raninger welcomed us and started off by explaining, “All of the courses were inspired by the beer.” As with wine, beer dinners usually progress from light and crisp to dark and heavy. We began our first course with Cascade Golden Ale paired with our first course, wild Mexican white prawns sautéed with fresh rosemary, thyme and basil. Chef Raninger explained that, “wild Mexican white prawns have a little more flavor and sweetness than a black tiger prawn.” A fresh avocado salad with cilantro and cucumber pico de gallo was used to accent the flavor of the prawns. Garlic citrus vinaigrette was used to add a little snap over all. Also, to bring harmony to the dish, the prawns were deglazed with the Cascade Golden Ale.
Green Lakes Organic Ale
At most beer dinners there are a couple of courses that prove to be exceptional. This was especially true with the blackened wild king salmon on a bed of organic greens, paired with Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Ale. Sometimes the simple nature of a pairing allows the true flavors of the beer and food to interact and become more than the sum of its parts. The salmon comes from Alaska’s Stickeen River and is then lightly blackened on an iron skillet. Though it did have quite a kick of spiciness, it was very balanced by the lightly sweet and malted character of the Green Lakes Organic Ale. Included with the salmon was a salad of organic field greens tossed with Duke’s blue cheese dressing and accented with Willamette Valley Blueberries and candied pecans. “Duke’s daughter Amy came up with this recipe for candied pecans and it took me about 50 times to get it right!” said Chef Raninger. The sweetness of the blueberries and pecans was a perfect contrast to the hoppy bitterness of the Organic Ale. “No one gets it right every time,” Chef Raninger tells us, “I originally tried poaching the salmon in beer, but it tasted really bad. It doesn’t work all of the time.”
The next course is a staple on the coast, beer battered fish and chips. Keeping with the evenings theme Chef Raninger battered the fish in Inversion IPA and served it with sweet potato fries and house made tarter sauce, which includes a fair amount of capers. The fish was moist with a thin crispy batter and cooked perfectly. One of the great things about pairing beer with fried foods is the carbonation. Carbonation has a cleansing aspect that prepares your palette for the next forkful of flavor. IPA’s have intense hop bitterness and the Inversion is no exception, its hop character was well balanced by the sweet potato fries.
Cheeseburger sliders and fries paired with Buzzsaw Brown soon followed. Sliders have become a ubiquitous addition to menus all across the country, and like pizza, it is a favorite with beer. Using a subtle hint of fresh herbs in the all-natural beef added an extra depth to the flavor of the slider. Again Chef Raninger used the beer as an ingredient in the meal by reducing seven bottles of Buzz Saw Brown and creating a beer inspired mustard sauce to accompany the burgers – it lead your palate from burger to beer.
Black Butte Porter
A tasting menu is never complete without a dessert and this evenings was not a disappointment. Chef Raninger prepared a homemade vanilla ice cream, swirled with homemade caramel sauce that was floated in a pint of Black Butte Porter. Many of you are balking at the notion of ice cream and beer right now, but I tell you that this is one of the best flavor combinations ever. The bitterness of the porter is contrasted by the sweetness of the caramel sauce and ice cream. The only flaw in a beer float is that the temperature of the beer is kept so cold by the ice cream you miss some of the more subtle flavors, but even that is not enough to sway me from this flavor sensation.