Anyone who knows me realizes how much pride I take in matching wine with cuisine.
It’s a passion, a full-time hobby and a part-time profession. And though all other beverages take a back seat to wine in my world, my eyes have been opened to the delights of pairing cuisine with craft beer.
Such was the case last month, at Boulevard Brewing’s first dinner in a series whimsically titled “Boulevard Brewing Company’s Society for Fancy Eating and Drinking.” The series is the brainchild of Boulevard Brand Ambassador and self-avowed “beer nut” Kyle Hopkins.
“I love beer and food pairing. I think the more you can get people to taste beer within the context of food, the more they understand why beer matters and what beer does,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins says he loves interacting with Kansas City-area chefs, bouncing beer pairing ideas off them and seeing what they come back with. That part of his personality and profession led Hopkins to the founding of dinner series and to chef Katee McClean of Krokstrom Klubb and Market.
McLean crafted cuisine for the first dinner, which cost $50 per ticket. It featured three courses, three Boulevard beers and three secret ingredients, one for each course.
“I come up with the beers and the three secret ingredients, which I take to her. Then she gets to create the dish that’s going to feature them and pair with the beer,” Hopkins shared. “The featured ingredient for the second course was Gjetost, which is a very specific weird ingredient that she knows what to do with. I didn’t know how to showcase it, but I wanted to pair it and I wanted to talk about it. So, Katee gets to be creative and crazy and we’re all the better for it.”
It’s no surprise McLean was the first chef out of the chute for the series. She and her husband, Josh Rogers, do a lot of beer pairing at Krokstrom, which features the Scandinavian cuisine of McLean’s heritage and youth. As she points out, there’s not a lot of wine produced in Scandinavia, but there’s plenty of beer and spirits.
“Beer pairings, mead pairings and liquor pairings are right in my wheelhouse. Wine pairings are great, they’re perfect, but they’ve been done so much. I think the new revolution is beer pairing — taking these craft, high-alcohol beers that in some cases are almost like liquor and finding cuisine to match with that,” McLean shared.
McLean knocked it out of the park with her creations. For the first course, which showcased jam with herbs as the secret ingredient and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat, McLean crafted a sausage salad with a curry sausage accompanied by a salad with arugula, mustard, a “Clementhyme” cracker, “Clementhyme” vinaigrette, “Clementyme” mustard, and a swath of the jam. It was perfection with the Boulevard Wheat.
Next came the Gjetost and Boulevard’s Grain Storm. Gjetost, a sweet, caramel-tasting cheese from Norway, is tricky. McLean served it with a hearty rye bread. Both the Gjetost and the bread were terrific with the Grain Storm.
Finally came the Rye on Rye on Rye on Rye and the Luxardo cherries. The Boulevard Rye on Rye, with a 12% alcohol by volume, drinks almost like a spirit, which is exactly how McLean treated it. To match its high-octane presence, McClean came up with a high-octane dessert, a Rye Whiskey risotto featuring a nine-day candied orange and those Luxardo cherries. The pairing was spot on.
Hopkins said the plan is to do a dinner every three months. Though he has them pretty much planned out, he wouldn’t spill the beans on what’s next. I guess we’ll have to stay turned.
There’s also a beer pairing dinner every month at HopCat restaurant in Westport.
I tapped into one late last month featuring the beers of Public House Brewing Company, which has breweries in St. James and Rolla, Missouri. Public House’s co-founder/owner Josh Goodrich led the tasting and HopCat’s Jessie Nelson provided the food pairings.
Nelson’s been with HopCat for a little over a year and he’s already done 10 beer pairing dinners. He said he tries not to overthink matters.
“I try the beers and I think about what I would like to eat with them. I don’t really go with the social norms of what you’re supposed to match with them. I just like to try the beers and come up with a theme for the dinner,” Nelson told me.
The theme for the dinner I attended was summery dishes with a little kick: bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, a corn salad with jalapenos, and a balsamic chicken kabob with onions, peppers, and zucchini. All three courses had some definite spice, which married quite well with the Public House’s Farmstand Peach Ale, Blackberry Cider, and Hide and Seek Hefeweizen.
The final course featured fresh fruit atop panzanella with zabaglione. It was matched to a hard apple cider. It worked perfectly.
“I wanted the ciders to go with something spicier because when I drink a sweet beer, I want something spicy to offset the sweetness,” Nelson explained.
Neither of the ciders were particularly sweet on its own, but the spice in Nelson’s dishes emphasized the drinks’ natural fruit sweetness. Of the beers, I especially enjoyed the Hefeweizen, which was loaded with notes of bananas and plenty of spice. It handled the kebob flawlessly.
And guess what? The next Hopcat beer dinner on June 25 features ... Boulevard. Tickets are $30.
By the end of the two dinners, I had sampled six beers, two ciders and seven courses. Do I now think beer pairs better or as well with cuisine as wine? No. Do I have a better understanding and appreciation of beer and food matching? I do, and that’s what this was all about.
Dave Eckert is a longtime Kansas City food and beverage journalist. He was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons. Follow Dave’s eating and drinking experiences on Instagram at @eatsanddrinkswithdave.