Jared Rouben was first interviewed in this magazine in September 2005 when, as a beginning student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), he restarted the school’s Brew Club to bring beer education to CIA students. Later, after working in many top restaurants, he trained as a brewer himself and is now opening a brewery in Chicago.
AAB: I’ve read about what you call “culinary brewing.” Can you talk more specifically about what it means to bring your chef’s skills to the brewhouse?
JB: I teach the beer sommelier class at Siebel [Institute of Technology], so I think about this a lot. At a very basic level, beer is food. What we want to do first is demystify the ingredients that make up beer. Malted barley—that’s your bread. When I’m speaking to a class, you may not understand that malted barley is the backbone of beer, but you certainly understand bread. So when you lightly toast bread, that’s going to give you a certain color, a certain flavor and certain aromatics. You’ll find very similar color, flavor and aromatics in, say, a light pilsner.
People say, “OK, that kind of makes sense.” But we really get the “Ah-ha” moment when we discuss burnt bread. You get roasted characteristics, darker color, and if I then mention Guinness, their eyes light up.
The next thing we discuss is hops. I call hops the salt and pepper of beer. It’s the seasonings. You get a bitter taste, you get flavors of tropical fruit—pineapple, grapefruit, mango—and you also find those aromatics. People who have been cooking their entire lives understand how seasonings affect flavor.
Then we talk about water. I get looks of boredom when I bring up water as one of the four major ingredients of beer, until I mention pizza and bagels, and how different they are in New York versus Chicago. There’s another “Ah-ha” moment: “Wait a minute—water is very important!”
Then yeast. Any bread baker in the class appreciates that yeast is the soul of bread. It’s also the soul of beer.
AAB: Walk me through a particular beer as an example: the choice of base beer, if that’s the way you approach it, and how you sort out the more unusual additions and decide how to employ them in a beer.
JR: This sounds a little backwards, but for many of these beers I find a special ingredient and fall in love with it, then build a beer around that. Let’s use cherries as an example. There’s nothing new about putting cherries in beer; people have been doing that for a long time. What I take pride in is understanding what cherry I’m going to source, and then how to treat that cherry so that I get the most flavor.
If you’re using cherries—whether you’re baking them, whether you’re dehydrating the cherries, whether you’re brandying your cherries, whether you’re macerating your cherries—all these different culinary techniques are going to change the flavor and aromatics of the finished product.
Belgian sour cherries are fantastic in Belgian beer. It’s a natural connection: “What grows together goes together.” The sour taste contributes to the flavor, but taste and flavor are different things, it’s important to remember. We want the cherry to be the flavor of the beer, and we want cherry in the aromatics, as well.
We want to intensify that, so we’re going to let the cherries sit in brandy for about 30 days. At that point, thanks to osmosis, all that brandy flavor goes into the cherries, and all that cherry juice goes into the liquid. While that’s sitting, we’re going to brew a Belgian double. I love that style because it has a lot of dark red and black fruits, a little bit of currant, a little blackberry, a little cherry in there. We’re creating something with layers of flavor: the Belgian yeast is adding aromatics and complexity.
Post fermentation is when I want to incorporate the brandied cherries. We’ll take it through cheesecloth and let it cold-press within the beer at around 40 degrees. You still have the flavor of the Belgian double itself, but you have the aromatics of brandied cherries by incorporating it at cold temperature.
Some people put a lot of ingredients together, and it can become very hodgepodge, kind of mushy. But when we can get layers of aromatics and layers of flavor, then we’ve created something complex and very special—and that’s a culinary beer.
This Q&A appears in the July issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.