July in Washington:While everybody else is pulling on tank tops and shorts, beer is putting on a top hat and tails.
For the third year, Belgian Restaurant Week peaked with the annual beer dinner at the Belgian ambassador’s mansion on Foxhall Road NW. A select handful paid $175 a pop last Tuesday to dine with His Excellency Jan Matthysen and his wife, Agnes. (Sadly, I was on assignment in New York City and not among them.)
Guests (according to colleague Noreen Burns of AOL’s Ballston Patch) enjoyed a seven-course meal prepared by seven beer-savvy chefs, including Bart Vandaele of Belga Cafe, Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s, Niel Piferoen of Locolat and Robert Wiedmaier of Brasserie Beck. The evening began with foie gras lollipops and a cocktail of leading InBev brands (Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe Blonde) and concluded with truffles and a digestif of the formidable Straffe Hendrik Quadruppel.
Besides the requisite mussels and chocolates, the international feast included Maine lobster salad and New Zealand venison. However, beer selector Thor Cheston of Brasserie Beck limited the beverages to classic Belgian brands, ranging from the strong pale ale Piraat to the funky, spontaneously fermented St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition.
Tonight, Birch & Barley will host an equally exclusive event: a five-course “bottle battle” pitting wines selected by San Francisco sommelier Emily Wines against beers hand-picked by Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Greg Engert. Proceeds from the $150-per-person event, which starts at 6 p.m., will benefit the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure.
Speaking of Engert, the beer director has been cited in two wine mags for his beer program. First, Food & Wine named him one of its seven sommeliers of the year for 2010, citing his 555 beer menu and lauding him “for bringing the same seriousness to beer that other sommeliers bring to wine.” Engert’s favorite food pairing, according to Food & Wine: “WinterCoat Vildmoseol, a funky Danish peat-smoked ale, with chef Kyle Bailey’s smoky charred octopus with capers.”
Engert believes he’s the first beer maven so honored by the publication, and so far he’s the only one. Food & Wine’s 2011 top seven list is limited to wine experts.
In its August 2011 issue, Wine Enthusiast magazine places Birch & Barley among “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants of 2011.” Birch & Barley, says Engert, does offer a small-but-thoughtfully-chosen wine list of about 50 bottles, but Wine Enthusiast was primarily wowed by the restaurant’s 50 drafts, 500 bottles and 5 cask beers and Engert’s expertise in matching beer and food.
Interestingly, Engert cites a totally different beer-and-food pairing as his favorite in Wine Enthusiast: “crudo of mackerel with strained yogurt, yuzu, cucumber and dill,” accompanied by the citrusy/spicy Saison Athene from Saint Somewhere Brewing Company in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Engert is a multimedia personality, too: You can catch him on an episode of the Cooking Channel’s “Food(ography)” program. The segment is scheduled to air at 8 a.m. on July 31 and again at 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. on August 28.
Lastly, Oxford University Press has announced that this October it will release its 848-page “Oxford Companion Guide to Beer,” a tome that the publisher is promoting as “the first major reference work to investigate the history and vast scope of beer,” which “after water and tea...is the most popular drink in the world.”
Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver edited this compendium of more than 1,100 entries that run the gamut from “barley diseases” to “Belgian brewing degrees” to “breweriana” (and that’s just one letter). For a fuller description, check out the guide’s Amazon page.
“This book is the perfect shelf-mate to Oxford’s renowned Companion to Wine,” the press release notes. It’s further proof (as if we needed more) that beer has permanently moved to the adults’ table.