Slow Food and Beer: A Tasting From Heaven
For some time now, the Slow Food people in my part of the world have acted as though beer did not exist. That’s OK, because until very recently I thought of them as an anti-McDonald’s group and not much else. I could sympathize with them, but I wasn’t ready to squander $60 of my ill-gotten finances on such a narrow philosophy.
It was Garrett Oliver who changed my views. He spoke at length on that subject when I interviewed him a while back at his Brooklyn Brewery in New York City, where he is a member of Slow Food’s New York board.
What makes Slow Food so interesting is that it ties together ecology and gastronomy in what is referred to as an “eco-gastronomical organization.” Its goal is to preserve worldwide food culture and the biological diversity necessary to produce the foods.
I found that Slow Food doesn’t just talk; it actually takes action through various projects. One is called the Ark. When products are put into the Ark, that means that Slow Food is taking the action to help preserve them.
Slow Food was founded in Italy, but Slow Food USA is an American booster organization that looks to do the same things here that the Italian, German, and French—and now Chinese—Slow Food organizations are doing in their countries. Lookin’ to make sure that everything isn’t sold to us by McDonald’s and Archer-Daniels-Midlands.
Carlo Petrini, who started Slow Food, has said that the American microbrew movement is the purest expression he’s ever seen of the concept of Slow Food in action—bringing back from the dead a whole beer industry and various beer styles. The United States has become the Ark for beer styles. Many of the Belgian breweries you love couldn’t exist without their US sales.
Despite those brave words from Slow Food in New York, in this part of the world, Slow Food was neglecting and even maligning beer—this in a state where craft beer is an important factor in our economy.
I tried to point out to the local Slow Food convivium that there’s a lot more trouble in the European brewing world than ever might be imagined. Breweries there are in REAL danger. This is the whole world’s brewing industry. And America is the Ark.
Here in Portland, several brewers have been open to the Slow Food movement, and Peter de Garmo, head of the Portland Slow Food Convivium, has been receptive but had not managed to get together with any of our brewers.
Change in the Making
I was hoping to change all that. I had done several tastings for Rogue Brewing’s CEO Jack Joyce’s Rogue Pub here in Portland (including the beer and cheese tastings reported in the May 2002 All About Beer). I proposed a tasting of 10 different beer types matched with 10 different food snack items, using beer from Oregon’s major craft brewers. (Normally in my tastings, I try to use only beer from the smallest brewers.) The Rogue staff greeted my idea with much enthusiasm, as did the local Slow Food people.
The Rogue Pub’s kitchen (Chef David Worley) prepared all of the foods that accompanied the beers. Two items were listed on the program as a “surprise” just to keep things wired up a bit.
What I had in mind was an educational exploration of beer’s gastronomical possibilities. Close to a hundred guests (mostly homebrewers and Slow Food members) were to attend. I preceded each beer/food item with a description of the beer style’s parameters, and the food item’s affinity to that particular beer type.
Nine of the ten beers were from Oregon, four of them from the Rogue brewery in Newport on the Oregon coast. We made little attempt to secure organic foods here. The idea was to assess the combinations. Moreover, we were trying to keep costs down where possible. Representatives from almost all of the beers’ brewers were present at the tasting.
Our first beer was Rogue Kells Lager, an all-malt, Munich-style beer with an original gravity of 12 P (degrees Plato, the percent fermentable extract at the start of fermentation), 4.8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), 28 International Bittering Units (IBU, a measure of hop bitterness in the beer). This beer was paired with peanuts prepared Indonesian style.
Deschutes Pine Pilsner (13 P, 5.4 percent ABV, 50 IBU), a Bohemian-style lager beer from Oregon’s largest brewery in Bend, in the central part of the state, was paired with a slice of Bandon White Aged Oregon Cheddar (from Bandon, coastal Oregon), served on a small pretzel and topped with a slice of fresh apple. This particular “sandwich” combination is also a great snack accompaniment for champagne, sake, white wine, and even Budweiser.
Our third beer, locally brewed Widmer Oktoberfest Lager (13 P, 5 percent ABV, 20 IBU), a Vienna-märzen-style brew paired with locally made Zenner’s bratwurst. Our only meat offering, good sausage belongs with Oktoberfest beers.
Next, local BridgePort India Pale Ale (13.8 P, 5.6 percent ABV, 50 IBU), an award-winning beer from Oregon’s oldest brewery, was sampled opposite warm Hudson Valley Camembert (Hudson Valley, NY) on a baguette slice. Of this combination, we can say the hoppier the beer, the better the match, although Camembert, even at room temperature, goes well with almost any beer.
Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar (14 P, 5.5 percent ABV, 33 IBU), a nut-brown ale designed by an Eugene, OR, homebrewer, paired with spiced hazelnuts. Filberts, or hazelnuts, are a large crop in Oregon, and our state leads the nation in filbert exports to Europe and Turkey where there is a great demand for them.
Combo six: Rogue Mocha Porter (13 P, 5.1 percent ABV, 54 IBU) was served with Chef Worley’s delicious Tex-Mex-style black bean burrito, and it matched well.
Portland’s third largest craft brewery offered a fine Bavarian-style wheat beer, McTarnahan Uncle Otto’s Weiss (12.5 P, 4.9 percent ABV, 12 IBU). The cheese here, Humboldt Fog Chevré (soft blue goat cheese) from Cypress Grove, CA, is one of America’s finest. It has been a favorite of mine since Garrett told me about it and how he took it to Italy (in 2000) to match with Ommegang’s Abbey beer from Cooperstown, NY.
No tasting of beer types could ever be complete without something Belgian. Ommegang Abbey Ale (18.5 P, 8.1 percent ABV) is a Belgian abbey-style beer and a fine American example of that style. We paired it with freshly baked cornbread, served warm and moist out of the oven, with a truly generous dollop of butter and honey. This was an item from a tasting I did at the Houston Dixie Cup in 1992. David Worley’s cornbread is the best I have ever tasted. I am salivating over this even as I write about it.
The last two servings were surprise combinations. The first, a triple threat beer/music/chocolate combination, was not revealed until it was ready to be served. When folks checked in, they were given a single chopstick with no explanation. It remained a curiosity throughout the tasting, as none of the staff explained the purpose, except to say it would be needed later.
The beer, a favorite of mine and named after me, was Hair of the Dog’s Fred (24.8 P, 10.3 percent ABV, 50 IBU), a strong golden ale from that tiny brewery here in Portland. Fred is a distinctive beer.
I chose a common chocolate bar, not a Slow Food staple, but one found in any grocery store. It was not a difficult choice, because any chocolate bar would have sufficed. What I had really wanted was a good-quality Rocky Road from a local chocolatier. None was available! I settled for Hershey’s Symphony Almond & Toffee Chips Milk Chocolate bar.
Our third element in this three-way was Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major K.622 II Adagio, an unearthly beautiful piece, smooth and sophisticated. It is a work from Mozart’s final years—one of great maturity. Listening to this piece, it is very hard to resist the urge to “direct.” That’s why we issued conductor’s batons, which guests may have perceived as half of a set of chopsticks. I told them, “Stand up with me and ‘conduct.’ This a long piece, but I don’t care; you’ll just have to bear with me. This sublime music belongs with this beer and this chocolate—so take your time. The Fred is a beer Mozart would have loved, not to mention the chocolate.”
We reserved our second surprise for the finale. This was a beer/ice cream combination in which Rogue Shakespeare Stout (15 P, 6.2 percent ABV, 69 IBU), one of America’s finest, was paired with Ben and Jerry’s vanilla bean ice cream, as a beer float.