I always assumed that craft beer was a natural extension of foodie culture. Love of quality ingredients, focus on the art of preparation, the desire to know where you food comes from and who makes it, all seem like tenets that marry well with beer geek culture BUT lately a number of brewpubs seem to have set out to disprove my theory. I know that beer and pub grub (think nachos, deep fried whatever, shepherd’s pie) have a long and well-established relationship and you go to a pub for the beer not the gourmet cuisine blah, blah, blah but craft beer is an entirely different animal right?
The pride and quality that goes into producing small batches of unique beer should not be hindered by pairing said beer with mediocre food offerings more suited to a case of the late-night munchies at the 7-11. I am not saying I need complicated or elaborate courses served at the breweries but I do want the quality of food to be a reflection of the quality of the beer. I want food that compliments and enhances the character of the beers, and I have to believe I cannot be the only one.
Luckily here in Vancouver we have many awesome tasting rooms like Alibi Room and Bitter Tasting Room that provide finely honed menus to suit their craft beer offerings. In Beervana aka Portland I have also had the pleasure of visiting brewpubs with stellar food selection like Cascade Brewing Barrel House and Hopworks Urban Brewery. These places manage to put a foodie twist on pub staples, toss in some unexpected items, have menu diversity and just generally keep the quality of ingredients very high.
Sadly this has not always been the case with other brewpubs.
On Thursday I visited Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen in Bellingham Washington. The brewery and tasting areas are housed in a typical warehouse-like buildings situated beside a small river in the heart of downtown. Displayed along the entrance way are the numerous awards bestowed upon Chuckanut craft brews; I was particularly excited to try their much lauded Kolsch. There is a small seating area by the bar, a large seating area in front of an open kitchen, and a patio with a few tables along the water. I also noticed a back patio, which I assume plays host to events or tastings at the brewery. It is a pretty nice layout all-in-all with lots of flowers lining the fence along the patio.
When we got the menus I was happy to see that all the food is prepared fresh as you order. Not a lot in the way of veg friendly options and a pretty standard line-up of brewpub fare like Bangers and Mash, BLT’s and Burgers. Faced with two choices, hummus or yam fries, we opted to split an order of fries to accompany our sampler of the six beers. Our food came quickly, so quickly in fact that I saw the fries sitting on the counter about two minutes after my partner order (warning bells alert me that fresh made in two minutes violates the laws of physics). Needless to say the food was pretty bad, well really bad actually, kind of like eating day old fries that attempt to make up for their questionable freshness with tons of salt. The food went back and we opted to focus on the beer sans nourishment – our waitress was not too happy and pretty much ignored us for the remainder of our visit so we probably could not have tried something else from the menu anyway.
But this is a beer blog so I will get on with the beer assessment. I inadvertently learned the Kolsch was a no-show when I found a British IPA in its place –bummer. The other five beers we sampled were the Pilsner, Yellow Card Ale, Rauch Lager, Golden Ale and the Smoke Porter. The Pils was very pale gold and effervescent. It was very dry, light in body with a bitter hoppy finish; would have benefited from a slightly colder serving temperature. The Yellow Card and the Golden were somewhat similar in appearance with the Yellow Card Ale being stronger and hoppier with some fruity element on the nose. The Golden Ale was milder with a nutty flavour. The British IPA was orange-gold in colour with lots of stiff bright white head. It was very smooth but quite dry again with a subtle hop character. The Rauchbier and the Smoke Porter both had a lot of hickory (sweet but smoky) flavour almost like applewood smoking. In the Rauch this smoked flavour dominates the palate while in the porter it adds another dimension to a fuller bodied beer. I wish the porter had more of a rosted quality to it. I think both of these beers would be fun for food pairings since they have a lot of character. If I visit again I would get the British IPA and try the Kolsch.
So you can take what you will from this rant; either it is about the beer and food is just a side-note or craft beer and foodie culture really make great bedfellows. I think as the craft beer market continues to define its place in the world, the food breweries choose to serve alongside their beers must not be an afterthought but rather a compliment to and a reflection on the care and passion put into each and every beer being served.