Hello, SAVOR! (Yes, it’s supposed to have big ol’ letters.)
Too many times to count, beer has served as our appetizer, entrée and dessert, the sole source of our evening’s caloric intake. Solid food is an afterthought to loads of liquid bread.
Not so last weekend in Washington, D.C., where the Brewers Association hosted SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience. The festival’s mission is simple to take over the National Building Museum, then partner some of the country’s top breweries with dishes devised by Adam Dulye of the Monk’s Kettle, one of San Francisco’s finest beer-focused restaurants.
Before Saturday night’s main course, we broke bread at the Brewer’s Brunch at Birch & Barley. The restaurant and its upstairs bar, Churchkey, have become the epicenter of the city’s beer and dining scene thanks to the one-two efforts of chef Kyle Bailey and beer director Greg Engert. Taking advantage of a quirky local law that allows the bar to pour just about any beer it can acquire (instead of wading through the legal muck), Engert sources beers not commonly found on the East Coast.
The main event assembled some of America’s best brewing talent to lead diners through six courses complemented by beer as unusual as they were delicious, such as the Black Berliner Techno Weiss devised by Bluejacket (the restaurant’s in-the-works brewery) and Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone. “It defies expectations,” said Bluejacket brewer Megan Parisi, holding aloft a glass of the dark and sour German ale that only weighed in at about 3.4 percent. The tangy ale was a fine fit for the pickled vegetables, while Boulevard Brewing’s wild yeast–spiked Saison Brett found harmony in the beet-cured Arctic char.
Also intriguing was Durham, North Carolina–based Fullsteam Brewery’s Carver, a lager made with plenty of sweet potatoes. “We’re all about being a Southern brewery,” explained founder Sean Lilly Wilson as we dove into buckwheat crumpets studded with bacon, English peas and corn. On the other hand, homemade ricotta cavatelli and breakfast sausage sidled up to Terra Incognita, a dark, lightly leathery barrel-aged curiosity also dosed with the wild yeast Brettanomyces. “We wanted to do something that was earthy and had food-friendly flavors,” explained Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman of the beer made in conjunction with Boulevard Brewing (it was SAVOR’s official commemorative beer).
That sour, wild yeast–infected beers were the stars of brunch was no accident. That evening, as we ping-ponged around the 74 breweries scattered beneath the towering ceiling, the coming trends of craft beer became apparent. More than ever, breweries are tinkering with souring bacteria such as Lactobacillus and the wild yeast Brettanomyces, creating tart, funky beers that’ll make you pucker with pleasure. Fruit, vegetables and herbs are also taking their starring turn, as are smoked malts that are providing beers with a campfire complexity. Here are five of our favorite finds from SAVOR 2012 and their accompanying food. Note: Some courses were paired with multiple beers.