SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and…Beer Experience
I consider myself extremely fortunate not only to have my career be my passion but also to experience what my life’s work entails at amazing events with even more amazing people. One such event, or series of events, was SAVOR as well as the Capitol Hill Climb which advocated for more friendly beer laws on a federal scale.
After preaching to legislators the benefits of a reduced federal excise tax rate on small brewers and encouraging them to join their respective chambers’ Small Brewers Caucus this past week in our nation’s capital, I attended what the Brewers Association bills as “a memorable craft beer and food experience.” Yet, during my two evenings at SAVOR, no one spoke about the food.
More specifically, all of the discussions I had or overheard focused solely on the beers, except for one comment casually made to me by Andy Sparhawk, the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Program Coordinator, who thought that the pairing of huckleberry and meyer lemon crème puffs with Mother Earth‘s Double Wit Blackberry felt like unicorns spitting rainbows over his taste buds. Given that Adam Dulye, Chef/Owner of The Monk’s Kettle and The Abbot’s Cellar in San Francisco coordinated the pairings for the soiree, the dearth of food conversations shouldn’t have been the case.
We know the lingo of beer. We can spit out Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus and wax poetically about charred bourbon barrels and yeast flocculation, but can beer enthusiasts describe the interaction of beer and food? In some of the initial recap pieces of SAVOR, my beer writing colleagues also seemed to skip over the marriage of drink and fare. In Food Republic‘s, “5 Favorite Beer Pairings From This Weekend’s SAVOR Blowout,” Josh Bernstein did a great job picking five wonderful beers and their food counterparts but failed to discuss the food under each choice and instead wrote solely about the beers. Greg Kitsock with the Washington Post gave food the same treatment—none.
And I’m guiltier than them all. I didn’t sample a single morsel of food at SAVOR, primarily due to the lack of vegan options (thanks to the Brewers Association for the “Contains Dairy” notifications, by the way). Had I eaten, however, I likely would have been in the same camp. I wanted to talk about the differences in Maui‘s and Jolly Pumpkin‘s versions of the Sobrehumano Palena ‘ole and the liveliness of Full Sail‘s refreshing Chris’ Summer Delight Berlinerweisse. I was not on the hunt for a riveting dialogue of how the Chatoe Rogue Good Chit Pilsner impacted a fava bean tapenade ricotta salad and cracker.
Why? At least three factors are likely at play. Many of the brewers pouring at SAVOR either pointed to a food tray when asked about the corresponding pairing or couldn’t answer the question of what the food was, much less describe it or how it interacted with their beer. Unfortunately, this nonchalance about the second part of the event’s equation—food—is not conducive to a beer and food experience.
Kitchen logistics also affect the role that food plays at SAVOR. To accommodate approximately 2,000 people per night, only small portions are available, which results in many attendees eating a full dinner beforehand and making them less interested in the food when they arrive. Similarly, SAVOR is housed in the National Building Museum, which I doubt has the same preparation facilities as The Monk’s Kettle. Despite these setbacks, however, the Brewers Association manages to pull off a small miracle in the amount, quality and freshness of the food it serves. The beer, on the other hand, simply requires bottles and ice.
Or perhaps I’m just not confident in my food vocabulary to talk eloquently about its interaction with a particular beer or to seek out these conversations. The compilation of my beer term dictionary and the building of structures for those words to make sense took time, patience and experimentation (along with many failures), and the construction of a parallel food vocabulary will require the same. The man who wrote the book on food and beer, literally, commented that he “can point you in the right direction, but you will, I’m afraid, just have to do your own research.”
This is not to say that the Brewers Association staff, brewers and attendees didn’t make this year’s SAVOR incredible—because it was. I’m simply asking what can be done to get us to ruminate and to discuss the food’s connection with the beer as much as we contemplate the beer itself. As it was with my beer education, it will be with my food education. It looks like Mr. Oliver‘s other little book and I have a “research” date…