What’s cookin’ at the breweries?
A truly accomplished chef must have a knack for knowing what ingredients can be combined into a happy experience on the palate. Culinary education can develop technique, skill and perhaps even a philosophy, but like perfect pitch for a musician, the sixth sense for knowing what tastes good with what is beyond the realm of mere training.
That indefinable art separates the greats from the not-so-greats, and it’s no longer just the province of the kitchen. Fruits, spices, vegetables and savory ingredients are now being enlisted into the magical world of beer making. Small and medium-size craft breweries work hard to assemble the most unlikely components to create new adventures in flavor.
I recently attended a beer pairing at Matt’s Fish Camp for the very young and very talented Tröegs Brewery located in Hershey, Pa. Co-owner and beer savant Chris Trogner, barely out of his teenage years (of course, pretty much everybody seems like a teenager to me…) introduced us to some of Tröegs’ latest creations. This year’s seasonal offering is Mad Elf Ale. Sweet and sour cherries, honey and chocolate malt mingle into a potent (11 percent!) brew that certainly ain’t yo’ momma’s PBR. While having dinner last week at Pickled Pig Pub I was delighted to see the Mad Elf on the menu. After a couple of glasses, I do believe I spotted a few elves of my own out in the parking lot.
I’ve made so many good friends in the restaurant business here at the beach, and a couple of the nicest are Karen Stauffer and Kevin Reading at Abbott’s Grill in Milford. A couple of months ago, they honored me with an invitation to judge a Dogfish Head beer pairing throwdown. Several of the area’s top chefs were tasked with craft ing just the right dish to go with some of Sam Calagione’s handiwork. One that I’ll not soon forget is the Sah’tea Dawg: A chai tea sausage and sauerkraut slider whomped up by Chef Tommy Long (Dewey’s Nalu/Whiskey Beach BBQ) and then betrothed to Dogfish Head’s Sah’tea brew. Juniper berries, black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and black pepper played very politely with the piquant sausage and tart sauerkraut.
16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown takes this new trend very seriously. Chad Campbell, Brett McCrea and marketing guru Claus Hagelman are tapping the talents of some of Rehoboth’s star cooks to boldly blend where no man (or woman) has blended before. The first of the Collaboration Brews was the Eastern Chef Brew, consisting of dried and fresh figs, roasted coriander and cooked sumac. The beer is a kaleidoscope of tastes, leading off with a hint of toasty coriander, but reserving its wisp of sweet fig until the liquid warms slightly.
The next Collaboration Brew to simmer in 16 Mile’s tanks will be a sweet brown Porter redolent of oranges, cocoa powder and chili peppers. I hope to be there when some of Rehoboth’s best kitchen bosses hurl those goodies into the bubbling cauldrons. 16 Mile also made history with Delaware Oyster Stout (yup, real oysters) and Hot Fudge Sundae Stout (cocoa nibs, vanilla and local cherries, oh my!). Those of you who frequent this page might remember 16 Mile’s summer collaboration with King’s Ice Cream that gave birth to the miraculously delicious Amber Caramel and Harvest Hazelnut flavors. And the kids won’t need their IDs. Both flavors are alcohol free.
16 Mile’s Claus Hagelman says that the line between professional chefs and professional brewers is beginning to disappear. Apparently the sky’s the limit, and if these local craft brews are any indication, beer and food (and those who love them both) are in for a lot of fun.