All Articles Food Chefs play a growing role in the rise of craft beer

Chefs play a growing role in the rise of craft beer

6 min read


Photo © Brewers Association

The popularity of craft and small-batch brews has been growing steadily, fueled in part by a growing awareness of the ways beer and food work together to tempt increasingly adventurous palates in search of new flavors.

U.S. craft beer continued to soar in popularity both at home and abroad last year,  jumping 22% to $19.6 billion, according to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association. Craft beer has grown to 11% of the total beer market, a new record, and there were 3,418 craft breweries operating by the end of 2014.

The Culinary Institute of America is putting more of an emphasis on beer, with plans to open a craft brewery on its campus in Hyde Park, N.Y., this year, staffed by students. And last week, the Brewers Association named classically trained chef and former restaurateur Adam Dulye as its first executive chef.

Dulye, a CIA graduate, honed his craft at restaurants in Portland, Ore., and Aspen, Colo., before moving to San Francisco and eventually opening two restaurants, including The Abbot’s Cellar which featured a four-course tasting menu paired with different beers. He got to know the Brewers Association while living and working in Colorado, and craft beer has played a role in every restaurant he has worked in for more than a decade, he said.

Seven years ago, Dulye began working with the association, when the group’s annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver expanded to include a farm-to-table pavilion, where chefs and brewers work together to create new pairings of food and beer. His role grew to include overseeing the menu at Savor, a beer and food event in Washington, D.C., which this year will include 56 menu items paired with beers from 76 brewers.

I spoke with Dulye to learn more about the role food is playing in the rise of craft beer.

On craft beer education

I recently jumped into the education side of things. [Brewers Association Program Director] Julia Herz and I co-wrote a craft beer and food course, and just last month we were at the CIA and talking to culinary classes, we did a tasting with them.

The education piece has  lot of different aspects. Few culinary schools are teaching craft beer, and those that are still are not spending the time they spend on wine and spirits. The idea of the course from the student level is stripping down what  you commonly find out there. You rarely find anything not written by a brewer, and much of it is technical. This program is co-authored by a chef, and we focused on really breaking out what you need to know if you want to go into the restaurant industry, how to incorporate craft beer.

We stripped out a lot of technical stuff you don’t need to know to run a restaurant and said here’s a great ground level way to get in.

Then, and the next level, lot of restaurants out there right now are increasing their craft beer footprints. Now they’re finding they want to expand from a few craft beers to eight or 10 or 12. Good restaurant staffs are highly trained, and guests expect them to be knowledgeable. This course is designed to give them that knowledge on craft beer, how to pair it, how to present it, how to pour it and so forth.

On changing trends

There’s been an insane growth really in the last 25 years, as we’ve begun to define what American cuisine is, and craft beer came into it at a really great time. Seven years ago, you couldn’t sell a sour beer. Now you can’t keep enough of them on  hand. People’s palates are changing, there’s a willingness to try new flavors. People are looking for that and chefs in restaurants are responding.

On the international front, as part of the [Brewers Association] Export Development Program, we went to Stockholm and did a collaboration dinner with restaurants there. We had American craft beer and worked with the cuisines of Stockholm and Sweden, with their chefs and ingredients.

That kind of thing is happening all over right now. It’s a really amazing thing to see right now, and it’s just another notch in the relationship building. That’s one of the really amazing things about cooking and about brewing. You can get on a plane and go to Stockholm or somewhere else, and communicate through cooking or brewing beer. There’s a level of communication that crosses any and all borders, it’s amazing to see.

On using beer in recipes

There is a use for beer in cooking, but it’s one of the things in craft beer we’re looking to change. Just because you have beer,  doesn’t mean you have to use it in the recipe. If you’re using it and it makes the recipe  better, then use it. If it doesn’t make the recipe better, then don’t.

In reduction sauces, like a demi-glace, like a mushroom sauce, and other heavy reductions, using porters or stouts makes a beautiful deep shiny sauce.  It’s incredibly gorgeous on the plate and they add an excellent touch to roasted meat.  What we’re countering now is the idea of “we’re making cheese sauce, we’re making chili, lets put beer in there.” To me, if you’re using beer, you should be able to taste beer, and you can’t taste it in chili.

On chefs and brewers working together

It’s a different kind of relationship than the relationship  with wine. Once a year, wine goes into the bottle. You’re looking to wineries for recommendations on when to pour it, and it is what it is. When you’re working with craft beer, brewers are constantly evolving, changing, modifying, improving and the conversation with chefs is phenomenal. Do we need more malt? more hops? The ability to fluctuate to the chefs needs is very unique. There are so many more styles of craft beer out there, you can always find a style that fits the chef’s style.

Tips for craft-beer tasting, pairing

First and foremost, what you taste on your palate is what you need to recognize and acknowledge. Too many times in tastings people are trying to find what people tell them they’re supposed to taste, but everybody’s palate is unique.

Another thing is that richness calms alcohol. If you’re tasting a high- alcohol beer, you need to look for something richer, moving from a halibut to a salmon, for instance, or from a roast chicken to a braised short rib.

Is your restaurant menu changing to work in harmony with craft beer? Tell us about it in the comments.


If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s email list for more stories about the food and beverage industry. We offer 14 newsletters covering the industry from restaurants to food manufacturing.