I recently enjoyed a multi-course dinner at Atwater on Gore Creek in Vail, each dish paired with beer from the Vail Cascade’s extensive cellar. The beers ranged from the readily available to the exotic, and each one brought out something different in the plate with which it was partnered. When the holidays roll around, many families reach for the wine or pop some champagne when they want to get festive. If you want to buck the trend, or if you just have a hankering for brews over bubbles, shop for an assortment of high-end or unique six-packs and bombers to adorn your table.
When looking for the perfect beer to match with your meal, there are two routes you can take: complimentary or contradictory. A complimentary brew will pick up similar flavor notes in your dish, such as pairing a coffee stout with an espresso-drenched tiramisu. A contradictory beer matches flavor or texture with its culinary opposite, like marrying up a bitter, hoppy IPA with a sweet onion jam or a malty brown ale with spicy fajitas to put out the fire on your tongue.
Whichever route you choose, you might be inspired by a few of these combinations provided by Atwater.
Topped with a soft poached egg, salt roasted beets, sunflower seeds and kumquat vinaigrette, Atwater’s warm spinach salad marries perfectly with a Dry Dock Hefeweizen. The orange peel and coriander-tinged Hefeweizen complements the fruit-based vinaigrette, and the effervescence of the brew helps to clear the fat of the egg yolk off your tongue.
One of the new arrivals at Atwater is the buffalo chili, which replaces the restaurant’s pork green chili. This gluten-free edition is made with big, hearty chunks of buffalo meat and topped with cheddar cheese, sour cream and scallions. Perfect for apres, pair the chili with a new collaboration beer from Stone Brewing Co. Bluejacket and 10 Barrel breweries came together with Stone to create Suede imperial porter, an ale brewed with calendula flowers, jasmine and honey. As its name implies, the porter has a smooth, velvety mouth feel with a lightly floral aftertaste.
Pair the Hitachino Nest White Ale, from Kiuchi Brewery in Japan, with the sweet pea tarragon ravioli. Cut each pillow carefully with the side of a fork to reveal the bright-green sweet pea center, and twirl it through the lemon-white wine sauce, scooping up bits of sautéed butternut squash, pumpkin seeds and lemon-zest ricotta. The orange peel and coriander in this brew are reminiscent of the Hefe, but the beer is made with a different yeast, giving it more of a skunky aroma that brings to mind a light German lager. The citrus in the beer complements the light lemon of the sauce.
The crispy pork shank has been a staple at Atwater for a few rotations of the menu, each iteration coming closer to the visually stunning version the restaurant now serves, with white bean ragout, sherry-apricot glaze and an herb pesto topped with crisp peppers. Match it with Lost Abbey’s Mayan Apocalypse, a quadruple ale with raisins, chilies, cinnamon and tamarind, to bring out the spices and other complexities of the dish.
Another decadent treat is the 7X Colorado Kobe beef. The Paonia purveyor breeds only 100 percent Red Japanese cows, which are raised without antibiotics and without contact with other animals, from birth through butchering. The current cut — on this day, a sirloin cap — is served with mashed potatoes, asparagus succotash and a choice of Atwater’s own steak sauce or a house-made chimi churi. Keeping to the adage of red wine with red meat, reach for a bottle of Dogfish Head’s Sixty-One for this dish. Born of Dogfish president Sam Calagione’s propensity for putting a splash of red wine into his pint of 60 Minute, Sixty-One combines the IPA with Syrah grape must from California. The resulting beer-wine hybrid perfectly complements the fork-tender Kobe beef.
Complete the meal with a dessert originally formulated for one of Atwater’s Brewmaster Weekends. The events, which pair small plates with craft beers, allow the culinary team to experiment with new recipes, and the AB&J was such a hit that it made its way onto the restaurant’s winter menu. A take on classic peanut butter and jelly, the dessert features sourdough bread sandwiched around almond butter and strawberry preserves, then deep-fried and served with house-made peanut brittle and Rocky Road ice cream. The suggested beer pairing is a Vanilla Porter from our own Breckenridge Brewery, a beer that accents the surprisingly delicate dish without overpowering it.