Allagash Black chocolate cake. Beer-battered fried pork rib with ginger barbecue sauce. Ale-braised pork osso buco.

Expect to see some especially creative collaborations in Maine restaurants over the next eight days, when chefs and brewers start showing off what they can do by putting their heads together for the first Maine Beer Week, which starts tomorrow and runs through Nov. 17.

Oxbow Brewing Co. is keeping most of the menu for its five-course beer dinner, scheduled for Monday at the Newcastle Publick House, under wraps, but brewer Geoff Masland did share the dessert course. It starts with cask-conditioned smoked chocolate stout.

“We are going to be dropping a couple of scoops of Round Top (vanilla) ice cream right into that beer so it will be a cask-conditioned, smoked chocolate stout ice cream float,” Masland said.

Organized by gBritt PR and sponsored by the Maine Beer Guild, Maine beer week is taking the place of Restaurant Week this fall. Almost 50 restaurants have signed up to participate.

Unconstrained by any set format, restaurants and brewers are hosting beer dinners, tastings, tours, meet-the-brewer gatherings and even a benefit for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Several brewers are preparing one-time releases.


“Obviously it’s a showcase of our beer, but I think in addition to that, the fact that it’s a combination of Maine craft beer with Maine gourmet food is a way to start to educate people on how beer can be treated like wine has been treated for a long time: Being paired well with certain foods,” said Daniel Kleban, co-founder of Maine Beer Co. and president of the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

“The image of beer in a lot of peoples’ minds is it’s kind of a recreational beverage and isn’t always thought of as a more sophisticated drink, when it really is,” he said. “More goes into the process of making beer, especially craft beer, than goes into the process of making wine.”

Beer weeks have become wildly popular in other parts of the country as the public has learned to appreciate smaller craft breweries and the beers they create. Patrick Morang, bartender at David’s in Portland’s Monument Square, says he regularly witnesses customers walking over to the bar when they first come in the door to see what’s on tap before committing to a table.

How do chefs and brewers decide what will work well together?

Masland starts by considering which course the beer will be in — will it be used in the first or last pairing? Then he looks to seasonality of ingredients. Finally, he considers whether the beer falls within the general theme or aesthetic of the dinner.

“One of our beers is an imperial American Saison that’s been heavily dry hopped, and hops tend to really affect the palate and can mask other flavors in beers that you drink following,” Masland said. “We tend to pair that with more bold and flavorful food, and we typically position that beer later in the dinner.


“It’s also a 9 percent ABV beer, and we don’t want to start off with a beer that strong, because you’ve really got to warm up to that kind of body and presence.”

David’s has hosted beer dinners before, but for Maine Beer Week, the restaurant (and its sister establishment in South Portland, David’s 388) is pairing up with five of the state’s smallest brewers. Morang, who works with both the chef and brewers to help develop the courses, thinks about things like mouth feel and how the beer selections will flow together on the menu.

David’s Beer Week dinner menu begins with a light American pale ale and gradually gets heavier until the last course, which features a stout.

A stout, Morang said, is “going to coat your mouth, and you don’t want to have that kind of sitting in your mouth lingering as you’re trying to taste a delicate seafood dish. You want a citrusy pale ale with a little bit of sweetness as a kind of complement to that, kind of like a palate cleanser.”

David Connolly, executive chef at Falmouth Sea Grill, thinks about the food and beer together when doing pairings. He also has plenty of experience cooking with beer from his stint working in a gastropub in Chicago.

In addition to steaming mussels with beer (see recipe above at right), Connolly will be making smoked fried chicken served with Shipyard Export-braised beans and corn bread.


“You want to get that creaminess and a little bit of that bite from the beer to go with the smokiness of the chicken,” he said. “We’re doing chicken thighs, which are a little higher in fat, and the dark meat is a little richer than breast meat, so (the beer) should cut a little of that.”

When it comes to pairing beer with food, some people don’t like too many rules. Kleban generally finds such guidelines too subjective and confining.

“Spicy food, I guess traditional wisdom would say a bolder, more robust, beer, perhaps a hoppier beer to accentuate the spice,” he said. “But I don’t buy into that. I think you can do counter-pairings. With a spicy food, you might want something that’s kind of light, that doesn’t kind of bolden the spice, it softens the spice.”

Kleban also points out that while wines are produced with one ingredient — grapes — beer is made with different kinds of malt, hops, spices and yeast strains, all of which have very different flavor characteristics.

Taken together, all those ingredients create unique combinations of flavors that makes it harder to create rigid pairing guidelines.

Masland likes to pair heartier food with lighter beers and vice versa. But in a way, he agrees with Kleban.


Beer, he said, is “far more dynamic than wine when it comes to food pairings,” and open to much more interpretation.

“With beer,” Masland said, “I just find that there are way, way more intricacies, flavors and possibilities. I just really encourage people to explore beer and food and see where they can go.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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