Lisa Orchard is a part time foodie and dedicated supporter of craft beer. On top of being an enthusiast for all kinds of dark or German beers, she's also a dedicated vegetarian. Unfortunately the area doesn't support her views when it comes to beer dinners. But let's see what she has to say on the subject.
As one with a love of both craft beer and amazing food, what's better than joining those two together for an evening of epicurean bliss? However, recent notices of upcoming beer dinners have this writer thinking about the complications that frequently arise in loving beer and being a vegetarian, when an average of 4 out of 5 paired dishes involve the formerly-breathing.
In general I would prefer to sit out a beer dinner, rather than ask a chef who has arranged an incredible food/beer pairing experience, to create a second one with potentially vastly different ingredients. But sometimes, I can't resist the opportunity to enjoy a fabulous meal and some ales from a favorite brewery. Although some restaurants have been extremely supportive of creating an alternate herbivore menu (some see it as a challenge worth taking), that is rarely the case.
Over the years I've been able to experience some incredibly paired dinners. Collins Pub has served up some delectable smoked cheese risottos, Portobello steaks, and pumpkin bisques, alongside rich Hair of the Dog or Stone brews. Ray's Boathouse regularly hosts beer dinners with a variety of Washington breweries and they have always been accommodating. I've had some of the best dinners of my life at Ray's Boathouse, with pairings that have been comparable to the meat versions (according to the omnivore husband).
So here is where I start calling people to task - I would rather be turned down completely than to receive a half-assed pairing, or none at all. I've made attempts to attend a dinner at Art of the Table, and have been rejected each time. I respect their right to make that decision, but I've heard these dinners are incredible, and I would love an opportunity to experience it someday. The RAM has failed me repeatedly. They host occasional release parties for members, and I've not had a positive food experience to go with their excellent beers. Each time I have RSVP'd with a note that I'm vegetarian, they confirm in advance but then fail to do so in a commensurate way. Instead of offering a vegetarian bratwurst with the Oktoberfest, I get to select something off the standard menu, which is ridiculously un-friendly to vegetarians as it is (as if I need more veggie burgers in my life). That is fairly standard for the pub scene in general, I will note.
Beer pairings don't have to be limited to the meat food group in order to be effective. Garrett Oliver, our favorite brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewing, provides a plethora of options in his book "The Brewmaster's Table". The earthiness of mushrooms or black beans can work well with smoked beers (like my favorite Schlenkerla). While that toasty-sweet bock with some lentils, Brussels sprouts, or figs. Paired with Mexican cuisine, the citrusy aromatics of pale ales and IPAs compliment the balance of cilantro, smoky black beans, and peppers. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan are fairly neutral and can be enhanced with vegetables and sauces to bring out a variety of flavors to match most any beer style. Additionally you can pair that squash ravioli with a dopplebock, mellow out that spicy curry with a refreshing pilsner, throw a pumpkin beer head-to-head against a pumpkin bisque, or serve up an amazing Biere de garde with that caramelized onion tart.
A vegetarian beer dinner could easily be accomplished in the Seattle area - Adam from Reuben's Brews, a local vegetarian brewer, would be a perfect partner for Café Flora or Sutra, for a night of animal-friendly indulgence. His experience with both the cuisine and the beer could help create an amazing menu. Portland has benefitted from vegetarian dinners in the past (for example Ninkasi has worked with Saraveza and Portobello Vegan Trattoria). But these are few and far between. For a region that has such a high density of vegans and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, I feel let down.
All this is just one girl's opinion on the beer dinner scene. What say you? Am I being overly sensitive? Should I just suck it up and accept that I'm a second-class foodie because of my food choices? What about those of you who are limited to a gluten-free diet - are you accepted into the circle of food pairings or similarly left out in the cold?
N.W. Beer Guide