16 Mile celebrates Newark taphouse with award-winning brew
Craft breweries have spawned a beer culture that’s beginning to parallel oenophiles’ cherished rituals of infusing, cooking and pairing food with wine. Indeed, one of the most popular wine infusions is sangria, not to mention fortified wines like port, sherry, Madeira and the rest. But the humble brewski is catching up to the hoity-toity grape! Though you might not think about pairing a frosty PBR (in the can, no less) with haute cuisine, the small-batch mind-set of the craft brewery allows for infusion or fermentation with figs, spices, mushrooms, cherries or whatever - often with tasty results.
Georgetown’s 16 Mile Brewery was once the new kid on the block, but with all the other boutique beer factories popping up, owners Chad Campbell and Brett McCrea are beginning to look like the elder statesmen of regional craft beers - not quite as “elder” as Sam Calagione and his up-and-coming Dogfish Head empire, but still confidently staking their claim among the competition. 16 Mile’s philosophy has been to create solid core brews and stick with them, but they have been known to go off the deep end (with amazing success) with collaboration brews, commemorative brews and beer-infused ice cream, cheese and bread.
Last week, 16 Mile held its very first beer pairing dinner. I was invited - as long as I was willing to make the 90-minute trek to the new 16 Mile Taphouse in downtown Newark. It was worth the drive - the place looks great. Our Boys from Georgetown have picked up where former tenant Stone Balloon Winehouse left off; creating an upscale pub atmosphere featuring a photographic tribute to historic Newark and long-gone but still remembered Delaware breweries. The risk associated with opening a beer joint smack in the middle of the University of Delaware was most likely minimal (college students have been known to partake in the occasional brew). But 16 Mile has kicked it up a notch from college hangout to an upscale tribute to beer, wine and food - including the license to sell spirits to go.
After a short welcome by 16 Mile’s sales and marketing guru Claus Hagelman, infusion specialist Rich Gustafson started us off with Tiller Brown Ale. The dark but unexpectedly smooth member of their core lineup not only served as the palette for the evening’s infusions, but was also - at that very same moment - being presented with the 2014 Good Food Award in San Francisco. A very excited Brett McCrea broke the news by cellphone. Our little event in Newark was off to a roaring start.
Taphouse chef Brian Mackey’s first course of shrimp, poached with tomato vinaigrette and basil, was accompanied by a glass of Tiller Brown, redolent of sun-dried tomato, basil and … wait for it … horseradish! In short, it was delicious, with the softly aromatic basil tempering the snap of the horseradish. Jerk chicken salad and crispy plantains arrived at the table shortly thereafter, accompanied by a faintly sweet infusion of banana, butterscotch overtones of caramel, and in deference to the brightly spiced chicken, dried peppers. Though I could have used more heat from the peppers, the banana and caramel experience was delightful. Sort of like a banana split with a head on it.
Apple, cinnamon, lemon and pickling spice matched up nicely with a grilled pork and apple wonton perched atop juniper-braised red cabbage. Apples and cinnamon dominated the beverage for this course, with the sunny hint of lemon keeping it from becoming too sweet. The next glass of beer was infused with porcini mushrooms and ginger. It was nothing like I expected it to be. The understated earthiness of the mushrooms took the lead over the whisper of ginger, playing nicely with a Korean short rib parfait swirled with edamame puree. The cute little shot glass was crowned with crunchy white noodles.
Black Forest donuts in a cherry dipping sauce were saved for last, so obviously nobody was going anywhere. The beer evoked chocolate, caramel, cherries and cherry rum-soaked wood and reminded me of Tröegs Mad Elf. Needless to say, there were no leftovers.
16 Mile has come into its own with the new Taphouse, and their willingness to push the boundaries of tradition while still standing by their core brews is to be applauded. There can never be too much beer (I don’t even know what those words mean), and Chad, Brett, Claus, Rich and the rest of the 16 Mile crew have given us even more reason to be proud that we live - and sip - in Delaware.