Thursday, September 06, 2012
ON THE AVENUES: Craft beer, BBQ and you.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
“Grilling, broiling, barbecuing - whatever you want to call it - is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”
-- James Beard
Why shouldn’t the same considerations that lie behind the composition of the food menu be applied to the beer list?
-- The Publican (me)
I confess to being a perpetual novice when it comes to barbecue, other than to observe that as one of the more glorious of the worldwide culinary arts, there are as many different methods of barbecuing as there are individuals in search of the perfect brisket.
In my book, Ryan Rogers is the prevailing local expert, one to whom I’ll defer under any normal, daily circumstance. His Feast BBQ restaurant on Main Street in New Albany has been in business only since July, and already it provides affirmation to one of Yogi Berra’s more enduring observations: No one goes there any more because it’s too crowded.
Apart from succulence in the cause of meat, Ryan already has endeared himself to quite a few of us through his recognition that one sort of excellence deserves a few more of them, which in Feast BBQ’s case is a gargantuan bourbon list accompanied by plenty of varied craft beers on draft.
Of course, lip service always has been paid to the notion that barbecue and beer should be brought together as often as possible to cohabit as a loving couple, joined together in Holy American-ness. The question has been, “Under what terms?”
Does barbecue necessarily plunge to the lowest common denominator of beery domains, filled to the icy, palate-numbing brim with light, yellow, mass-market lagers, or dare we entertain the subversive notion – gasp! – of “pairing” that slab of ribs with the exuberance of craft beer?
Happily, Feast BBQ rolls along, answering this question by voting overwhelmingly for the latter. A few negligible industrial swills may or (may not) be available to appease the timidity of the undiscerning, but primary emphasis is placed precisely on craft drafts, where it should be, and New Albany is the richer for Ryan’s common sense innovation.
By now, it should be axiomatic that given an ever-expanding range of colors, flavors, textures and styles in craft beer, there exist numerous “ideal” beers for consumption alongside any and all conceivable ways of smoking, grilling, rubbing, marinating, spicing and modifying appropriate animal parts in fulfillment of the barbecue aficionado’s personal tastes, and yet still I hear certain of them dismiss craft beer in this context, as though the essential nitty-gritty of their chosen passion somehow stands to be sullied by association with the considerable wonders of my own.
As the noted epicure and detective Nero Wolfe often said, “Pfui.”
While flavorless mass-market lager is plausible as a default thirst quencher, so is Gatorade, iced tea and the simplistic elegance of tap water, but offering only blasé lager as accompaniment to delectably smoked pork constitutes underachievement of a peculiarly low order. This beer lover’s mind fairly races in contemplation of the many craft beers boasting essential traits capable of enhancing and complementing barbecue, not merely washing it expeditiously down.
From hoppy American-style Brown to dark-hued Robust Porter, and from burnished Belgian-style Tripel to piney India Pale Ale; the craft beer list is huge, if too rarely exercised. In the most obvious of conceptual terms, perhaps the best match of all with barbecue is beer already incorporating smoked malt in the grist, including fairly common candidates like Smoked Porter and Smoked Marzen.
I’m hungry just thinking about simultaneous smoky flavor explosions utterly alien to Bud Light – unless one might choose to add two or three drams of Scotch whisky to each putrid glass of otherwise wet air.
There was never any doubt in my mind that Feast BBQ would get it right. Ryan made it clear upon his arrival in this town that he’d be setting Feast BBQ’s bar considerably higher than the traditional New Albany norm, and his initial success benefits us all, whether in the restaurant business or otherwise, by reinforcing the utility of doing exactly that.
At the same time, while craft beer sales are at an all-time high and rising, craft beer drinkers can’t always get what they want. In metropolitan Louisville, this state of affairs owes quite seldom to outright malice, but rather to simple ignorance of the options. Those of us who are in the craft beer business, whether as brewers, retailers or distributors, obviously spend much of our time educating, but we can’t do it alone.
The next time you’re at a restaurant or bar, or even attending an event – up to and including the occasional barbecue-themed charity event, because really, wouldn’t you like a real beer with your flesh, just like at Feast BBQ? – check and see if craft beer is represented, and if it is not, let the eatery’s management or the event’s organizers know about it. Do your important bit for the cause by serving notice of your presence, and of your expectations.
Is it dinnertime?