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Beer and food coupling is burgeoning delight

By Brandon Hernández

Food and wine go hand-in-hand and chefs relish the task of pairing their gastronomic creations with just the right vintage and varietal.

A similar phenomenon involving the pairing of beer with food is picking up some serious steam. Brewmaster dinners and special beer-pairing menus and events are popping up all across the nation, not to mention right in our own backyard. A number of La Jolla restaurants are celebrating the compatibility of their cuisine with craft brews hailing from San Diego to Europe and all parts in-between.

Not surprisingly, one of the venues championing this movement is the La Jolla Brew House. A restaurant that has made a name for itself with a rotating roster of varied-yet-equally satisfying year-round and seasonal craft beers brewed on-site, this Fay Avenue hot-spot hosts a four-course beer dinner each month for just $26. The most recent, the Winter Harvest Beer Dinner, featured steamed mussels paired with a crisp, clean Belgian wheat, Angus beef short ribs and three-cheese macaroni and cheese with a full-bodied Red Lion ale, and chocolate and vanilla ice cream over a peanut butter and chocolate.

The skyrocketing popularity of diverse, flavorful craft brews being produced both locally (San Diego is widely-respected as one of the top beer-producing regions in the country) coupled with our rapidly advancing dining scene and the amazing fare being created by its talented chefs has created the perfect environment for this trend.

The Shores Restaurant, an offshoot property of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, recently hosted a Brewmaster Dinner where the head brewers from Quebec-based Unibroue were on hand to educate diners on their line of Old World-style European beers and sample the innovative flavor combinations created by Executive Chef Bernard Guillas and Chef de Cuisine Augie Saucedo.

The meal kicked off with plum-smoked prime New York carpaccio, arugula salad, cumin gouda cheese and banyul syrup paired with Unibroue 16, the company’s 16th anniversary ale featuring a semi-sweet, slightly smoky flavor profile with floral, herbaceous notes that further enhanced the delicate carpaccio and arugula as well as the pronounced flavors of the smoky gouda and sweet wine reduction. Next up was a mixed seafood plate featuring smoked salmon, mussels, scallops and prawns in a delicate star anise butter that matched up perfectly with Unibroue’s citrusy La Fin du Monde triple-fermented golden ale.

The entree du jour was thyme-crusted pork tenderloin with potato rosti and candied onion glaze matched with a caramely, slightly nutty Don de Dieu triple wheat ale. That was good, but the two finest couplings of the night came next - a beer-battered apple beignet served with Ephemere, a beer fermented along with Granny Smith apples, and dark chocolate truffles paired with a sinful, cocoa-infused Tois Pistoles dark ale. At first thought, sweets might not seem to go well at all with beer. At first taste, however, it becomes clear that chocolate hasn’t seen such a natural mate since being introduced to the marshmallow, graham cracker and campfire.

A long-time local craft beer institution that’s been onto this perfect partnership for quite some time is Karl Strauss Brewing Company. They’ve been floating scoops of vanilla ice cream in their Oatmeal Stout and toffee-esque Red Trolley Ale and setting their ales and lagers up with hot little dishes for the past three years. They were the first brewpub to open in San Diego since Prohibition and, as such, have been instrumental in pioneering the beer and food connection.

In order to help ensure an optimal taste experience for their customers, Karl Strauss’ Web site is equipped with a Beer Pairing section.

Best bets are the fried calamari with a crisp Woodie Gold to cut through the spiciness of the accompanying chili aioli dipping sauce, Amber Lager with beer-brined pork chops or Stargazer I.P.A. with either the drunken shrimp or spicy Cajun chicken pasta. Or sample Karl Strauss’ monthly feature - a brand new dish paired with the beer best-suited to complement it. In December, a Holiday Rye IPA was served alongside surf and turf. January featured a Red Trolley Ale and crunchy BBQ chicken salad combo (the salad was so popular it is now on the regular menu). This month, you can feast on pan-roasted tilapia over linguine coupled with a frosty Karl Strauss Amber Lager.

A great opportunity for beer pairing will be Tuesday, March 11th at 7 p.m. when the La Jolla Brew House holds its most popular dining event of the year, the St. Patrick’s Beer Dinner.

The number one resource for finding out about the exciting beer-pairing events taking place throughout our region is the Upcoming Events section of the San Diego Brewers Guild Web site - www.sandiegobrewersguild.org. Check it out and take the first step into a brand new world of spirited libations. And for more information on the restaurants mentioned in this article, refer to www.lajollabrewhouse.com, www.theshoresrestaurant.com and www.karlstrauss.com.