Food & Drink: Beer Up
At elegant parties and modern wedding celebrations, as at gastropubs and fine restaurants, microbrews carry the same prestige and cool factor as fine wine | By Chelsea Lin
1. Lager, Kölsch, Pilsner & Hefeweizen
Some of these light, accessible beers may be best known for their commercial compatriots—think Budweiser and Miller High Life—but the same refreshing quality that makes them great tailgating beers makes them ideal for casual summer weddings.
- Drink: If you’re looking for an easy-drinking beer that goes with a wide variety of food, try something like Chuckanut Kölsch, Leavenworth Biers’ Whistling Pig Hefeweizen, or Maritime Pacific Brewing Company’s Old Seattle Lager. These beers’ low alcohol levels make it less likely that friends and relatives are going to get rowdy and act the fool at the reception.
- Eat: Skillet Street Food caters backyard shindigs, formal gatherings, and everything in between, says catering sales manager Jessica Paul-Jones; if you’re going for modern comfort food, she recommends the food truck’s fennel-crusted fried chicken sandwich and their kale Caesar salad paired with Hilliard’s Pils.
- Celebrate: Keep it classy—and keep a distance between your day and these brews’ relatively lowbrow reputation—by stationing a server at the keg so guests don’t have to pump their own.
India pale ales are beers for beer drinkers. They are golden-hued, ultra-hoppy brews with a bold—some even call it bitter—flavor and lingering aftertaste.
- Drink: Some would say IPA is Seattle’s beer of choice, and there are certainly plenty of options: Elysian’s Immortal, Pike IPA from Pike Brewing Company, Stoup Brewing’s T2R Haymaker III, and special releases of the Brother and the Sister Imperials from Fremont Brewing are particularly notable.
- Eat: When pairing beers in general, chef Ethan Stowell of Tavolata, Anchovies & Olives, and the new Red Cow says he matches a beer’s weight and overall flavor profile with complementary ingredients-—bitter beers with smooth flavors, sweet beers with salty, fatty meats and cheeses.
- Commemorate: Attention Seahawk fans and folks with a Colorado connection: After our Super Bowl win, Elysian brewer Kevin Watson made good on a brewer-to-brewer bet and spent a week in Denver crafting Boom IPA as a consolation prize.
Tasting flights generally move from lighter beverages to darker ones; it’s a natural progression, too, for meals. The richness and sweetness of porters and stouts make them an even match for desserts.
- Drink: If there’s one thing the Pacific Northwest loves more than beer, it’s coffee, so consider treating guests to a heady beverage that combines the two, like Two Beers Brewing Co’s Jive Espresso Stout, Elysian Brewing’s Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout, or Early Morning Espresso Stout by NW Peaks Brewery.
- Eat: Stoup beer expert Robyn Schumacher says their house porter has “delicious chocolate and roasted notes; it pairs really well with chocolate and could be served with dessert.” But you don’t have to take her word for it. The Fremont-based chocolate lovers at Theo offer a pairing kit with four chocolate bars meant to be explored with various brews. Sounds like a fine night of homework to us.
- Save: Couples looking to cut their budget might consider a dessert-only reception, and these robust, filling brews would not only go well with sweet treats but create a sort of full-meal-deal trade-off, too.
4. Fruit & Veggie Beers
There’s a cider for every season, but the Pacific Northwest’s bounty of produce yields a whole spectrum of complex brews. From light and refreshing glasses such as Pyramid’s apricot ale to heartily spiced concoctions like Elysian’s Great Pumpkin, vegetable- and fruit-based beers get culinary bonus points.
- Drink: Special brews like these are generally seasonal, limited-release offerings, so keep in mind that they may be more difficult to order—particularly in kegs. The most common varieties are pumpkin-focused, but with planning and persuasion Epic Ales’ Huckleberry Sour or Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale Ale from Elysian could hallmark your fête.
- Eat: Lendy Hensley at City Catering Company recalls fondly the experience of steaming clams in a tart, Belgian-style raspberry lambic- for a colorful, innovative presentation that would work well as a plated dish or in a station-style service setup—perhaps next to a fancy french fry and dipping-sauce presentation.
- Revel: This class of beer lends itself especially well to celebrations that underscore our regional specialties. It’s a natural fit for seasonally themed farm-to-table meals.
PAIR UP: Beer is like that convivial partier that everyone loves; as long as you follow a few cardinal rules, it’ll go as well with barbecue fare as fancy four-course meals. Stoup Brewing brewer and certified cicerone—the beer world’s equivalent of a sommelier, denoting extensive training and mastery—Robyn Schumacher says the trick to pairing food is matching intensity regardless of how formal or homey your menu concept is. “If the food is big and bold, make sure the beer is also,” she says. “If not, one will overpower the other and frankly defeat the purpose of pairing.”
BOTTOM LINE: A beer-only reception costs less than stocking a full bar, and you (or your catering manager) probably won’t need to hire as many servers. Kegs are usually the best way to go. “Often our clients wind up buying a couple of them,” says Jessica Paul-Jones from Skillet Street Food. You might consider starting the evening off with these bulk vessels (a regular half-barrel holds approximately 165 beers; a pony keg, half as many) and then moving to bottles or cans—perhaps specialty brews not offered in barrel form. This way, anything left over is easily stored for future soirées.
THE NEW WINE: “Beer has a laid-back reputation, but don’t underestimate it,” says executive chef Wesley Hood of Aqua by El Gaucho. Hood participated in a beer vs. wine dinner during Seattle Beer Week a few years back, and says beer swept the competition. “It was fun to see people swirling beer around their mouth, and really appreciating the flavors,” he recalls. You can encourage the activity by setting up tasting flights or pairing locally made brews with regional cheese, or talk to your stationer or event planner about creating an artful menu that highlights your beers’ tasting notes the way a wine menu might.
The Pine Box: With 33 beers on tap and a very rare built-in Randall—a fancy filter contraption that infuses beer with everything from hops to smoked wood chips and chocolate—this historic spot on Capitol Hill is your best bet for testing and tasting the beer industry’s most creative waters. Says Seattle Met beverage expert Allecia Vermillion, “The Randall can make for some sensory-scrambling combinations, as with Hopworks Noggin Floggin Barleywine: so aromatic from a filter session with hops that the Washington Beer Blog likened its aroma to a fruit salad.” Is it feasible to serve something so newfangled to your guests? Probably not. Is it fun to try anyway? Sure seems like it.
Brouwer’s Café: This Fremont joint from the owners of the beer boutique Bottleworks is notable not just for its 64 beers on tap and more than 300 in bottles but for its emphasis on Belgian brews and the bites that best underscore them. Think pommes frites, croquettes, and charcuterie. Think, in other words, potential reception menus.
Chuck’s Hop Shop: With locations in the Central District and Greenwood, these outposts of 40-plus beers on tap and around 1,000 bottles available to drink there or take home are something like mini-marts crossed with pubs. Considering hiring a food truck on the big day? The Grilled Cheese Experience, Snout & Co, Napkin Friends, Off the Rez, and more all show up at Chuck’s (check the online schedule), so research opportunities abound.
Glass Houses: Pint glasses are fine, sure (and better than plastic keg cups), but pilsner and weizen glasses are nicer—and more niche. Snifters, flutes, mugs, and steins may seem overly fussy, but proper glassware not only elevates the drinking experience, it can help integrate the service and the setting, too. Think goblets at Thornewood Castle or modern stemware for Cedarbrook Lodge.
Map Quest: Beer is a good-time beverage, and including it in your menu allows for clever personalization. For instance, City Catering Company owner Lendy Hensley’s suggestion: “Choose craft beers from regions that mean something to you.” Ex-roommates from Cal can grab a West Coast ale from Berkeley’s Bison Brewing; childhood friends from the East Coast might gravitate toward IPA from Dogfish Head in Delaware.
Cider Goes Pop: Beer’s apple-y cousin makes for a bubbly, festive, and—bonus!—gluten-free addition to the bar menu. Ciders are produced with varying levels of carbonation; consider subbing lightly effervescent dry and semisweet options from Seattle Cider Company for Champagne and other grape-based salutes.
Shaken & Stirred: Here’s to thinking outside the bottle: “Beer brings depth to cocktails that other ingredients can’t match,” says Erik Carlson, bar manager at Stoneburner and Bastille restaurants. He cites one called the radler as a fine example. Lemon, sugar, and German lager, plus additions such as ginger or bourbon, make for a winning signature selection.