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Fine Dining and Craft Beer

00:00 September 24, 2013
By: Nora McGunnigle

Although wine is the traditional drink of choice to accompany fi ne dining, the complex fl avors of American and international craft beer are gaining a strong following among discerning diners' palates. Several of the most well-regarded restaurants in New Orleans have been increasing the quantity and quality of their beer offerings, communicating a passion for beer to their customers.

Robert Wailes, General Manager of Restaurant August, has an extensive fi ne dining management background and is extremely well-versed in wine. However, his sister-in-law is Leslie Henderson, co-founder and owner of Mississippi's Lazy Magnolia Brewery, and his brother-in-law Gar Hatcher is the head brewer at Louisiana's Bayou Teche Brewing. As a result of his family's infl uence as well as his own well honed sense of market shifts and trends, he began experimenting with expanding August's beer list. Encouraged by the positive reception of this experimentation, he turned to local beer experts Dan Stein of Stein's Deli and Polly Watts of the Avenue Pub for further advice.

Pairing an elegant artichoke dish with a wheat beer from Montreal brewery Dieu de Ciel or a roasted lamb with green garlic-oat risotto with Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan brown ale takes the wonderful and bold Southern-Creole fl avors of August's Executive Chef Michael Gulotta. He pairs each with the herbal, spicy, citrus, roasty, and earthy fl avors of the various beers offered. It opens up a world of taste combinations previously unknown to the palate.

At Uptown bistro Coquette, Chef Michael Stoltzfus turns out excellent food and has a beer list to match. Two particular standouts are Vicaris Generaal, an Belgian dubbel style brewed by Brouwerij Dilewyns in Belgium as well as an espresso stout brewed by Hitachino Nest, a Japanese brewery. Stoltzfus has hosted special beer dinners showcasing Belgian beer with a traditional choucroute garnie, or American beer with a fried chicken dinner. These beer dinners are served family style, as a nod to the convivial nature of beer. Coquette will be unveiling a new beer menu this month to further enhance the pairing potential of their food.

In the Riverbend, Boucherie's dedication to craft beer has been evident since its opening. Chef Nathanial Zimet and General Manager James Denio have supported local beer culture by hosting special beer dinners and carrying a diverse lineup of bottled beers and also have fi ve rotating drafts, which always has space for local NOLA Brewing, but also gives them an opportunity to go a bit "out of the box," according to Denio. He adds that their aim is to "keep a constant roster of a great example for each style of [bottled] beer in the house, plus a few variations on the classic styles. With this idea a restaurant can't really go wrong in terms of pairing their food, because traditional beers...naturally work with the major cuisines of the world." Zimet's connection to the New Orleans beer community is so close that when he was shot in 2011, local beer fans organized a fundraiser called "Beers Not Bullets" which raised $13,000 for Zimet's medical care.

Chef Phillip Lopez's downtown restaurant Root has an impressive beer list that includes 30-40 different bottles of beer. According to proprietor Maximilian Ortiz, 33% of their alcohol sales are from beer. An impressive statistic, especially considering that the price point on beer is much lower than that of wine or cocktails. You can pair their Cohiba Smoked Scallops with Rochefort Trappistes 8 Belgian Strong Ale, or perhaps for dessert, the "Yorkie"—a take on chocolate, mint, and breakfast cereal—with a Rogue Chocolate Stout. Beer pairing options will be offered at their soon-to-be opened second restaurant, Square Root, which will serve a multicourse dinner to only thirty diners a night.

Pizza and beer is a classic combination, and Ancora on Freret Street elevates them both. They've installed a second tap tower at their bar, doubling their draft beer selection to twelve taps. To complement the well executed menu of wood fi red pizza, salumi, and small rustic Italian plates, beer from breweries like Stone, Stillwater, Green Flash and Ommegang is available when dining at Ancora.

A good beer and food pairing can elevate both aspects to more than the sum of its parts. The most important thing is that you are enjoying what you drink and eat. However, there are a few guidelines to think about when pairing beer with dishes. One strategy is to match strength with strength, ensuring the food and the beer have the same balance of intensity so that one side of the fl avor equation doesn't overwhelm the other. Or, focus on a fl avor component that occurs in both the beer and the food, like chocolate malt notes in a stout complementing a dessert course. There are also cases where you may want to create a balance between the two, like pairing a rich course with a beer that is more effervescent, or a solid, malty beer with spicy food. Keep your eyes open for interesting combinations from the beer list the next time you go out, and have fun with it.

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