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Food and wine is like Ethyl and Lucy. Old-but classic. Beer and food is like having HBOgo on your iPad. Ever changing and never boring.
So it’s not surprise that laid back beer dinners are replacing what was once stuffy black tie affairs held in sterile dining establishments filled with people using their “library voices.” Jeans and t-shirts are replacing lapels and cufflinks, the atmosphere is light and fun, and the pairings are seemingly made in heaven.
Even at an establishment as upscale as Geoffrey Zakarian’s The National (located in Midtown East on Lexington Avenue), with a little beer flowing, everything seems relaxed.
On February 1, 2G1P was cordially invited to such an event at restaurant at the Midtown hotspot where a four course dinner was designed around four of Widmer Brother’s award winning brews.
To begin the evening, we were greeted with a pint of Widmer’s Columbia Common, a ‘steam’ beer made with Columbia hops. Not a bad way to start. The slight sweetness of the malt and the low abv (4.7%) made for a great palette teaser. Hors d’oeuvres served to us were mini reuben sandwiches which complemented the slight sweetness of the beer perfectly.
After imbibing and chatting with fellow beer kin, we were seated in the grand dining room. Our first course consisted of house-cured salmon with tangerines, lentils, and a carrot vinaigrette paired with Widmer’s flagship Hefeweizen. The clean, citrusy beer balanced the acidity of the tangerine while bringing out the tanginess of the vinaigrette.
Next up: grilled quail with pork fried rice and a apricot ginger glaze. Accompanying the dish was Widmer’s Alchemy Ale. This sweet smelling ale is made with a proprietary blend of hops which yields a brew both aromatic and slightly bitter. The caramel backbone of beer mixed beautifully with the slight spiciness of the pork fried rice, as well as downplayed the gaminess of the quail.
For our main course, we were treated to a tender, juicy pork loin with roasted brussel sprouts, speckle pear, and cheddar grits. As if things couldn’t get any better, we were privy to one of the best Russian Imperial Stouts I have ever had: Widmer’s 2013 Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout. Made with real raspberries, the result is a chocolaty, aromatic, berry smelling, plum colored stout with a creamy brown head. The saltiness of the pork was balanced perfectly by the slight sweetness of the beer. The berry notes meshed well with the brussels as well which were coated in a sweet apple glaze.
To finish the evening, as if we needed more to eat or drink, we were treated to two grand finales: Chocolate whiskey mousse and Widmer’s Gentleman’s Club Ale. The Gentleman’s Club is a collaboration ale made with Cigar City. The concept behind the beer is to mimic the classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned. In order to do this, the mad geniuses decided to age an Old Ale in rye whiskey barrels, then add cherries from Oregon and whole oranges from Florida (get it? Cigar City and Widmer Brother’s home states). The result is a beautiful burnt sienna colored beer with multiple levels of complexity. On the nose there’s the oak and sweet smell that only aging in barrels gives to beer. On the palette there’s coconut, oak, cherry, slight booze, and citrusy notes.
Our night ended at a reasonable time considering the amount of beer we’d consumed! There was no dancing on table tops, no unanimous singing of Journey songs, no raising of voices. Surely a dinner involving beer would involve more debauchery, one might think. I left the National with nary a stain on my light dress and all of my belongings securely affixed to me. As I boarded the 6 train back to Brooklyn at 9:15, I couldn’t help but worry that maybe in fact beer was the new wine.
Nah…beer is way more fun.
If my doctor told me I had to stop drinking beer due to a medical condition, I’d probably cry. I would most likely throw a hissy-fit and it would definitely have an enormous impact on my lifestyle in addition to forcing me to adapt to an entirely new diet. And that’s really no fun.
Luckily, I do not have an allergy that would force me to stop drinking beer. But millions of Americans do, and gluten-free diets are becoming more commonplace as celiac sufferers and those with a gluten-intolerance or sensitivity have to adapt to a whole new diet—one that omits any product that contains wheat, barely and rye. For those with this restriction, that often means giving up some of their favorite foods—pasta, pizza, cupcakes…and of course, for many, beer.
The selection of gluten-free beers on the market has grown immensely over the past few years and craft brewers across the country have been offering some gluten-free options, usually using sorghum, buckwheat, quinoa and even rice, as a substitute for malted barley or wheat. The movement is so popular that even Anhueser-Busch InBev has a beer option for the celiac-sufferers—Redbridge. There are also many more craft options out there created by microbreweries.
But commercially, nobody has created a beer using the traditional four ingredients—malted barley, water, yeast and hops—that is, until Widmer Brothers Brewing based out of Portland, Ore., released their option earlier this year, a brand appropriately named “Omission.”
Sure, those avoiding gluten can always opt to drink hard cider—I know many of my regulars at the bar that live gluten-free often opt for this—but that doesn’t satiate the craving for a hoppy, delicious, well-crafted brew.
Until now. And for those who have tasted the gluten-free beers out there, whether out of curiosity or because of dietary restrictions know that there’s just something missing. Most don’t really taste like beer.
The people over at Widmer Bros have recognized this lack of a satisfying gluten-free beer and made it their mission (pun intended) to create a brew that tasted, well, like a “regular” beer. And they even went out of their way to create two different but recognizable and satisfying styles—a sessionable, light blonde, almost German (Helles)-style lager and a hoppy, amber-colored American pale ale, an essential west-coast style, brewed with the distinctive aroma of Cascade and Citra hops. We were lucky enough to taste both last week at Swine in the West VIllage, where representatives of the brewery were present.
Both options are highly approachable. And just like choosing a candidate to vote for in this upcoming election, some of us prefer a light, easy drinking lager while some of us may prefer a more bold, classic-style pale ale—we live in America and we have the freedom to choose! Even if we can’t have gluten! Yeah!
And they’re both really good. Coming from a person who is blessed to not have celiac or any sensitivity to gluten, both styles satisfied my need for a well-crafted, easy drinking beer. If handed one blindly without the knowledge of its “secret,” I would still think, “Hey…yeah…this is a great beer.”
So how did Widmer Bros create a gluten-free beer using barley? Isn’t barley the celiac’s enemy? Well, that answer is purely scientific—they extracted the protein from their beer using a handy little enzyme called Brewer’s Clarex that breweries have been using for years in order to clarify their beer. It seems that this handy enzyme also has the ability to extract that nasty gluten protein that celiacs and those with a sensitivity have come to loathe so much. Both brews actually contain both Caramel and Pale malts—no gluten-free substitutes here.
And to prove that it’s not a farce, Widmer Brothers tests every batch: Both at the brewery, with their own staff of scientists, and through the aid of an independent lab, using the R5 Competitive ELISA test. This specific test insures that the detectable presence of gluten measures below the standard of 20 ppm (parts per million) or less so that it can be called “gluten-free.” Still not convinced? Every bottle of Omission beer contains a date on the label that when entered on Omissiontest.com reveals a photocopied result of the beer’s test with ELISA. There’s your revelation, right there—this beer you’re drinking has an almost untraceable amount of gluten.
The best is the explanation for the creation of this beer–not just because of the basic lack of decent and drinkable gluten-free brews—that’s self-explanatory. But for Widmer Brothers the reason was much more personal—Both the CEO of the Craft Brew Alliance, Terry Michaelson, and the wife of Widmer Bros’ brewmaster, Joe Casey, have been unable to drink beer for many years due to their own gluten-intolerance: This made the quest to create a GF beer brewed with traditional ingredients even more of an important issue and a project that took years to perfect.
And as more and more people are living gluten-free, the quest for a decent brew that meets their dietary restrictions will grow. My regular at the bar who shuns beer festivals and jealously eyes beer-drinkers at the bar? She can now drink this. No longer restricted to ciders, now everyone (of age) can enjoy a decent brew thanks to Widmer Brothers. Look for Omission at your favorite craft beer bar or store. Mission complete.