Chefs and brewers are kindred spirits; both are tradesmen, practicing their time-honored crafts. The brewer and the chef share the common goal of creating a memorable - albeit fleeting - experience for the fortunate, final recipient. If examined from a less visceral point of view, there are other similarities: they both follow recipes, work with a perishable and at times inconsistent medium, and create a consumable "art." "The similarities in brewing beer and cooking are quite extensive," said Ethan Osborne, head brewer at Crazy Mountain Brewery in Edwards. "Beer is fermented, so we are changing the actual properties of the beer by the yeast eating the sugars and creating alcohol. This is similar to how a baker uses flour and yeast to create a chemical reaction in the dough where the yeast eats the sugar, creating air pockets and making the bread rise."Chefs and brewers, as fate would have it, tend to have great mutual respect for - and take great pleasure in - each other's crafts. Beer and food are made for each other, and just like wine, different styles of beer pair well with specific foods. 'Keep your palate clean'Without even thinking about it or making a conscious effort to "pair" beer and food, thousands of people enjoy one of the most straightforward and basic beer/food pairings every day: pilsners and spicy food. "One of my favorite (pairings), despite being a huge fan of super hoppy IPAs, is a pilsner like Yella Pils from Ska Brewing out of Durango with something spicy like chicken wings or Thai food," said Shawn Smith, an avid home brewer, pastry chef and owner of Mountain Flour, a pastry shop in Eagle. "The hops and carbonation help to keep your palate clean, much like a champagne would." Smith once made gelato with his own IPA and paired it with a spicy Mexican chocolate cake. Both the creamy texture of the gelato and the intense hoppy flavor of the IPA complemented the chipotle spiced cake.Charles Hays, chef/owner of Vin 48 in Avon, is committed to creating dishes that pair well with beer and he participates in the Great American Beer Festival in Denver each year. He is currently serving an "Oregon Tail & Trotter" pork belly that he braises in Firestone Walker's Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout. He then makes a sauce for the dish with a reduction of the stout and serves it with a black truffle and cauliflower puree. "The full flavors, heaviness and high alcohol of a stout or an IPA hold up well to an earthy dish that is full of bold flavors and also pair nicely with more gamey proteins like goat and lamb," he said.'Varietally correct' beerAt Larkspur Restaurant in Vail, the passion for beer is evident in the bars tap offerings with special beers like Bonfire Rye Pale Ale and Chimay. James Gall, the restaurant's managing director, explains the process of choosing beers for the 12 keg lines:"First, we determine the most popular categories of beer, then we attempt to choose the best beers that we can procure in each of those categories," Gall said. "We try to choose beers that are, as we say in the wine world, 'varietally correct.' For example, we chose to serve Barney Flat's Oatmeal Stout because it exemplifies what an oatmeal stout should taste like and accurately provides all of the flavor profiles that are historically associated with an oatmeal stout." Sometimes the tap offerings are determined by the chef. Guinness has been on tap at Larkspur since opening day in 1999. The deep roasted flavor it has brings depth to the chili that is served in the Larkspur Market, at the bar and at lunch. Avery White Rascal just joined Avery's The Reverend in the tap line up at Larkspur because Chef Richard Hinojosa chose to use it in a steamed clam dish. "I thought of White Rascal for this dish because it has natural notes of coriander and citrus that complement the clams and the spiciness of the chorizo," Hinojosa said.On to dessertOften it is wise to pair a dish with the same beer that is used in its preparation. Larkspur Pastry Chef Mark Metzger makes an Oatmeal Stout spice bread. This quick bread can be served for breakfast (perhaps not the best time to pair it with a pint) or sliced and warmed as a casual dessert with fresh whipped cream. For a more composed dessert, pair it with a caramel poached pear and Tahitian vanilla bean custard. Either way, it pairs well with the stout and is a great "comfort dish." (For these recipes visit larkspurvail.com/happenings or the Larkspur Restaurant Facebook page.)"In the summertime I like to pair a light fruity beer like New Belguim Somersault, which has an apricot and ginger flavor profile with the stone fruits from Palisade. It's an easy drinking summer time beer," Metzger said. "If you want to keep it simple, pour your favorite stout over a couple of scoops of chocolate gelato for the best float ever."The point is simple: Have fun. Beer is not serious business. Let's face it, no one enjoyed their first beer with a cerebral food pairing in mind. That being said, a great pairing can create a lasting memory, the goal of both chefs and brewers. Chances are, if you make a mistake, it will be very minor, and you can always try again.Cheryl Liedke, is a freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur (www.larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999.
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