The colors of Denver’s bursting restaurant scene shined brightly last night at the 2015 Chef and Brew Festival. The festival featured some of Colorado’s most prominent restaurants and breweries teaming up to form unique amalgamations of craft beer and fine food. From sour beers and ramen to pork belly and Gotlandsdrika, 21 local restaurants and breweries flexed their creative muscles to reinvent the art of food and drink pairing.
What made this event so unique was that it not only reflected the innovativeness of Colorado’s craft beer and food scenes, but also the daringness exhibited by the teams in pairing esoteric beer and exquisite food to accent the flavors of each.
Each restaurant offered both a savory and a sweet option, allowing for a variety of pairings with the breweries. The chefs and brewers flipped the conventional notion of food pairing on its head by meshing unlikely flavor profiles together, a stark contrast to the ever-so-predictable wine and cheese pairing.
While beer and food pairings are nothing new, Chef and Brew took the game to a whole new level by introducing uncommon approaches to highlighting taste. Darrell Jensen, Executive Chef of Samples World Bistro, exemplified this edgy experiment. Teaming up with the Great Divide Brewery, Jensen prepared a dashi-marinated shrimp lettuce wrap to pair with the brewery’s Titan IPA. It may sound like an odd pairing; a light and fresh dish with a hop-heavy IPA? But however odd it may seem, it worked! The hops accentuated the dashi broth in the shrimp while the crisp finish of the beer combined with the dish’s bib lettuce, pickles and carrot made for a truly delicious experience.
The pairing presented by Acorn and River North Brewery was the epitome of the night’s uniqueness, serving a chicken and pork belly ramen with the ‘Oud Bruin’ Belgian-style brown sour beer. Having won the contest last year, Chef Amos Watts and River North picked up where they left off by masterfully masking the dominant sour taste of the Oud Bruin with a hearty, savory ramen soup. Amos’ success in dismantling the structure of a sour beer with opposing, yet somehow complementary flavor profiles demonstrated the creativity illustrated at the event.
On tap were some of Denver’s most experimental and new-age beers. Jagged Mountain Brewery provided two of the most intriguing beers, a Swedish-style smoked-malt Gotlandsdrika called “Men Who Drink from Goats” and a Grizzly Peak session porter. Teaming up with Anthony Smith and CY Steak, Jagged Mountain accentuated Smith’s pork belly and arugula dish, delivering a powerful blow of lasting smoky richness when combined with the Gotlandsdrika.
The session porter, a prime example of the event’s innovative beer technique, reflected the dynamic world of Denver craft brewing by taking a traditionally heavy beer and transforming it into a light, low-alcohol-content session beer to be paired perfectly with Smith’s sweeter dessert.
The inventiveness displayed by all of the participating restaurants and breweries most definitely showcased the bountiful talent and enormous originality of Colorado’s food and brew scenes.
For me, the Chef and Brew Festival opened my eyes to the developing identity of Colorado’s food and beverage industry. With a vibrant craft brewing community rapidly taking root here in Colorado, the local restaurant industry is taking advantage and leveraging peoples’ propensity for unique beers by catering their tastes to match. Festivals such as this clearly demonstrate that this is what the future holds for the food and drink scene. As a Colorado resident, I am eager to see this trend continue and watch as the restaurant and brewing industries form a new and intertwined culture.