Critic-Turned-Cook Gets a Beer Lesson
I love wine. I started writing a column called "Grapevine" for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, way back when there were 30-some vintners in the state. Now there are more than 600, many of them world-class producers.
One of my greatest pleasures in being a restaurant critic was exploring the intriguing wines of the world, savoring the way wine made wonderful dishes taste even better. I once heard somebody describe wine as their favorite condiment. Couldn't agree more.
But my knowledge of beer is sadly lacking. I like my pints frosty and light. None of that hoppy, heavy stuff for me. Until, that is, I got a lesson from Bruce Ryan while working at Shultzy's, the wildly popular pub near the University of Washington.
Ryan is the resident beer guru, a recovering Microsoftie, who also happened to be from Memphis. He had been a longtime customer at Shultzy's, and when he moved back to the Northwest after teaching math in the Mid-South for a several years, he had so much fun hanging at the pub, owners Don and Susan Shultze put him to work. Don't worry. He's still having a blast.
Ryan's actually the reason I got my foot in the door at Shultzy's. He had been a reader when I was writing for the Commercial Appeal, and after I started Twittering in Seattle, we got reconnected. As I was winding up my apprenticeship at Tom Douglas's restaurants, I sent out feelers on the social network, and faster than you can say "Pour me a PBR," Bruce came through.
It was such a treat for me to finish a shift and sit down to hear Bruce talk about the basics of changing a keg, or listen to him describe the next seasonal beer rotating onto the lineup of taps. The excellent pub grub at Shultzy's cries out for beer, for heaven's sake. Plus, we got to gab about our favorite barbecue in Memphis. He showed me where he kept a stash of dry rub from The Commissary in Germantown.
Bruce showed me beer can be as esoteric as wine, and as much fun to pair with food, too. Here's a few things he taught me about the current lineup of beer at Shultzy's:
Veltins Pilsener (Germany) is a crystal clear German lager that's very smooth and great with food; perfect for an American beer drinker looking for something a little different.
Hoegaarden is a Belgian witbier (White Beer) made in Germany. The unfiltered wheat beer is spiced with dried Curaçao orange peel and coriander, which makes it a great summer beer.
Bitburger Pils is a classic German pilsner, crisp and refreshing with characteristic Saaz hops bite for a clean finish.
Hale's Kölsch is made by one of Washington State's oldest handcrafted breweries in Köln's (Cologne's) classic summer beer style. The light lager has plenty of malt sweetness.
Newcastle Brown Ale from the UK was the first northern brown ale. Full-bodied, amber brown color, sweet maltiness creates a smooth, soft mellowness.
Ayinger Braü Weisse is an unfiltered wheat beer from Germany with characteristic hints of clove and banana.
Köstritzer Dark Lager was my favorite. A German schwarzbier, dark-roasted malt with hints of coffee, caramel, and smoke, but light bodied so you can drink it by the liter. Göethe drank it for the "health benefits."
Big Sky IPA is a Northwest-style India Pale Ale from Missoula, Montana, with big citrus nose, plenty of hop bitterness, but enough malt balance to make it refreshing and very drinkable.
Spaten Optimator is a traditional German Doppelbock: more malt, more hops produced a hearty medium-dark beer with complex, deep flavor.
I'm tickled to have soaked up this new knowledge, but, honestly, will probably always prefer the grape to the grain. What about you? Are you in the wine club or are you a hophead?