The connection between beer and cooking goes far beyond the occasional beer dinner. Actually, there’s a good chance your favorite beer was inspired by something a brewer ate. When brewers take inspiration from the plate, like with Westbrook White Thai (featured in our current issue), they push the drink beyond its traditional style constraints.
That’s when things take a turn for the deliciously weird.
White Thai is a particularly intriguing example: Husband and wife Edward and Morgan Westbrook were chopping ingredients for a Thai curry when it dawned on them that the dish’s flavors might translate well into a Belgian witbier. Instead of the beer style’s traditional orange peel and coriander additions, the Westbrook’s added lemongrass, ginger root and a healthy dose of lemony Sorachi Ace hops. The result is an explosion of vibrant sensations: A shimmering lemony aroma greets the nose with a touch of farmhouse funk, while black pepper spice and ginger sharpen a citrusy burst on the tongue. The refreshing flavors pair so naturally, it’s hard to believe this revamped Old World style isn’t a traditional drink of Southeast Asia.
No doubt, people in the beer industry have adventurous palates. I caught up with a few across the country who, like the Westbrooks, have beer in their portfolio born from a love of what’s on the plate.
“We have a beer coming out in the Chicago market very soon as part of our Fulton and Wood Innovation Series called Black Mission. It is an abbey-style ale brewed with black mission figs and lactose sugar. The beer takes inspiration from the popular dessert, the Fig Newton. By combining the malt bill of a Vienna lager, and the yeast strain of an abbey ale, the brewers are able to create the fig and graham cracker characteristics they were looking for.” –Ken Hunnemeder, Goose Island
“Our Frog’s Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale is inspired by the smell and taste of a fall classic—pumpkin pie. I had an old baker give me her family’s secret recipe for making pumpkin pie from the elements, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and several other spices all the way down to tiny amounts of white pepper and cardamom.”–Fred Karm, Hoppin’ Frog
Bacon ice cream
“All of my beers are food-inspired. I created the Siamese Twin while playing around with Thai cooking. The Golden State came about because I wanted a beer that would carry the flavor of toasted poppy seeds. My Bacon Brown actually came about because I was making a bacon ice cream and figured that I had to make it work with beer.” –Alec Stefansky, Uncommon Brewers
“Wild Wild Brett Yellow is inspired by southern Indian cuisine. I left out the cumin and curry spices so that the beer had the ginger, coriander, green cardamom, black cardamom, Szechuan peppercorns, tellicherry peppercorns, blade mace, nutmeg, Ceylon cinnamon, Madagascar clove and Jamaican allspice. Essentially a “garam” or blend of spices, this was added in conditioning while the base beer was brewed with honey, turmeric for color, and mangos.” ¬–Chad Yakobson, Crooked Stave
Side of fennel
“Our Bière de Mars with fennel is a great example of this thinking. It’s brewed with dark Belgian candy sugar and organic fennel from Heirloom Organic Gardens to pull out the flavors of a side of roasted fennel. Fennel is inherently a natural part of the local food scene here in San Francisco—it’s a weed that grows out of cracks in the sidewalk in front of my apartment, and it’s on just about every menu in the city.” –Jesse Freidman, Almanac Beer
“We did a beer called Hot Mess as part of our 2010 Pop Ten series. It was a Belgian quadrupel, brewed with cocoa nibs, cloves and cinnamon, then aged in oak barrels with ancho and chipotle chilies. It was very flavorful and spicy. The original concept was Mexican mole but our head brewer (at the time) Ben Johnson made an amazing Ethiopian berbere spice mix for the brew. We hope to bring [it] back someday as part of our new Alaska’s Most Wanted series.” –Barb Miller, Midnight Sun
What beers have you sipped (or brewed) that were inspired by a specific dish or cuisine?