Thinking Outside the Wine List

The Savor event is designed to explore the synergy between food and beer, such as this pairing of stout with brownies that include stout in the recipe.
The Savor event is designed to explore the synergy between food and beer, such as this pairing of stout with brownies that include stout in the recipe. (By Souders Studios As Seen In "The Best Of American Beer & Food")
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By Greg Kitsock
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You can't blame craft brewers for having a case of grape envy. How often in a high-end restaurant have you been handed a wine list that runs on for pages, while the list of available beers could easily fit on an index card? Yet many brewers say that as a companion to a fine meal, beer is the equal of wine, if not its superior.

"We believe that tying beer to food is the way to keep craft beer sales growing," says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the small-brewers' trade group.

That's the rationale behind Savor: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience, a culinary festival sponsored by the association and slated for May 16 and 17 at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium downtown.

It won't be your father's beer blast, Herz guarantees.

Forget about those pretzel necklaces, for one thing. For the $85 admission price, attendees will be able to slurp a coriander-scented Belgian-style witbier alongside a carrot-ginger-curry soup; munch on turkey-and-shiitake Thai dumplings paired with a hoppy American pale ale; and taste a creme brulee with a roasty, chocolaty stout.

Altogether, the menu will feature more than 35 foods, prepared by Federal City Caterers in tapas-size portions, and 96 beers from 48 breweries dispensed in two-ounce pours. Herz says she hopes the small serving sizes will encourage experimentation. "You take two or three bites, you take two or three sips, and boom, you're done!" Then you're off to sample the beers of Free State Brewing in Lawrence, Kan., or Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville, Vt., or Four Peaks Brewing in Tempe, Ariz.

Also among the participants will be New Belgium Brewing from Fort Collins, Colo., whose Fat Tire Amber Ale, according to Brickskeller owner Dave Alexander, is the most-requested brand he can't get here. (Sorry, Fat Tire fans: New Belgium has chosen to serve its Abbey dubbel and Mothership Wit wheat beer at the event.) You'll also see some unfamiliar beers from familiar breweries, such as Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's Palo Santo Marron, a strong brown ale aged in tanks made from an exotic Paraguayan hardwood.

Dogfish founder Sam Calagione will square off against sommelier Marnie Old, director of wine studies at New York's French Culinary Institute, at one of several "educational salons" to accompany the slurping and noshing. The two co-wrote the just-published "He Said Beer, She Said Wine," a lighthearted debate on the culinary merits of those beverages. Other scheduled speakers include TV chef Dave Lieberman of Food Network and Lauren Buzzeo, assistant tasting director of Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

"The wine people are jumping on the bandwagon. That's what makes it so interesting," says Herz, who will deliver a talk on "Cross Drinking Without Social Stigma."

The timing of Savor isn't random. May 12-18 is American Craft Beer Week, an annual promotion of the Brewers Association. From May 12 to 15, the National Beer Wholesalers Association holds its annual legislative conference at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. Many of the nation's small specialty brewers will already be in town for that event.

(In between visiting their congressmen and pouring beer at Savor, those brewers will have a few free days. Keep your eyes open for special events such as the Sierra Nevada beer dinner that RFD Washington has scheduled for May 15.)

Be advised: Tickets for Savor will not be sold at the door. You can buy them online at or at the Dogfish Alehouses in Gaithersburg and Falls Church. As of press time, tickets were available for all three sessions: one on Friday evening, May 16, and afternoon and evening sessions on Saturday.

You can begin preparing for Savor on April 7, which is the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. Not of repeal, mind you: The 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th, wasn't ratified until December 1933. Earlier that year, to boost the nation's morale, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress rushed through a bill changing the definition of "intoxicating" in the Volstead Act to allow 3.2 beer. That bill took effect at 12:01 a.m. April 7, 1933.

Several regional breweries will host special events that day. Red Brick Station, a brew pub in the Baltimore suburb of White Marsh, will sell select beers at 33 cents a pint. Brewer's Alley in Frederick will serve a five-course beer dinner. Anheuser-Busch will trot out its famous Clydesdales for pregame festivities at Nationals Park (the Nats will take on the Florida Mariners); two days earlier, the horses will be on hand for a block party outside the Dubliner and Irish Times bars near Union Station.

For more events, check And party like it's 1933.

Greg Kitsock's Beer column appears every other week. He can be reached at

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