kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

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Suds with a Legend

This past Saturday, I went to a beer pairing lunch at Firefly in DC sponsored by Sam Adams, and attended by founder Jim Koch. I was really excited for the opportunity to meet a beer legend (I had never seen him in person before, and had only heard his radio spots over the years...). I was even more excited when I found out we were sitting at the same table...

He didn't disappoint, and shared interesting anecdotes, stories and a smart take on the beer industry that can only come from years of experience. He reminded us how up to the 1960's, beer was considered a "classy" beverage, and it wasn't at all uncommon to see advertisements of men in tuxedos and women in ball gowns enjoying a Pilsner glass of suds. However, in the 70's and 80's, the industry "dumbed down" beer to the point where it became associated with mud wrestling, Spuds MacKenzie, and, of course, twins. (Keep in mind that in 1967 the best selling wine was Thunderbird, and that the 70s and 80s saw the immense popularity of treacly sweet, sub-par cocktail mixes, and you can't single out just the beer industry for its faults...)

Koch believes, though, that beer is currently retrieving much of its former glory, going so far as to say that "beer is the new wine," more complex and able to pair with a variety of difficult to partner cuisines--he specifically cited beefy, spicy Argentinean cuisine as a no-brainer with a pint of beer... In my opinion, beer's carbonation also makes it a winner with food, in the same way that you enjoy dishes with Champagne or sparkling wine. The bubbles wake up and cleanse the taste buds.

I asked Koch what he thought of beer cocktails, and he said he's all for them. To prove his point, he asked the servers to bring out shot glasses and pitchers of OJ. We added half Imperial White and half OJ to the glass, and it tasted eerily like a Mimosa, just as Koch predicted it would.

On to the food and beer matchups...

For the first course, Chef paired a Tartare of Roated Baby Beets, and an egg baked in a bread "basket" with a lemon horseradish sauce, with Sam Adams' Imperial White. Herby, citrus and just a bit creamy, the beer matched the herbs on the accompanying side salad, and complimented the earthiness of the beets.

Next up was a Double Bock Brined and Roasted Organic PA Chicken, with fennel spiced Italian sausage, scarlett runner beans and collard greens, which we enjoyed alongside the same beer used to prepare it. The Double Bock is a bigger beer, with some spice notes. Koch told us this style was invented years ago by monks looking to sustain themselves during lent--they couldn't eat, but there was a loophole that didn't forbid alcohol consumption. So they figured out how to make the biggest, meatiest beer that they could. SA's version is big, malty and creamy.

I loved dessert--a chocolate pot de creme with coffee foam and crunchy chocolate pearls--paired with the Imperial Stout (3x the alcohol of Guinness, just for some perspective). This match-up really made the most sense to me--the roasted malt notes of the beer were exactly like those of the chocolate and coffee in the dessert. Yum.

Cowgirl Creamery Redhawk cheese was the choice to go alongside the Triple Bock--an 18% ABV beer that Koch bottled in 1994--very cool to drink beer that's 15 years old. It was smoky, savory and yeasty--a few sips went a long way.

We finished lunch by trying Sam Adams Utopias--a $150 bottle of Bourbon barrel aged beer (I use that term loosely since the alcohol is so high...technically it is beer since it's produced the same way, but it's really more like a Cognac.) Riedel designed a glass for this beer, and a bottle of it will keep for months once opened.