A decade ago, the concept of a Michelin-lauded chef joining forces with a brewery might have seemed ludicrous. The image of a sommelier waxing poetic about notes of grass and green apple in a Sancerre was so synonymous with fine dining that anything else would have been unthinkable.
“I think beer has really taken a backseat to wine in fine dining programs forever. I happen to be a huge beer-drinker though,” says chef Jared Wentworth, the culinary wizard behind several Michelin-starred restaurants including Longman & Eagle. “When you look at the myriad beer styles, you’ll see there’s fruit, there’s acidity, there’s everything you need to really bring out the flavors of the food.”
Wentworth’s obsession with craft beer is part of what led him to team up with his longtime friend Jared Rouben, the brewmaster at Moody Tongue Brewery. Later this year, the brewery is opening a sprawling new space that will house two top-tier eateries. At The Dining Room at Moody Tongue, guests will be able to tuck into sophisticated 10-course tasting menus with beer pairings. Details of the menu are still being hashed out, but diners can look forward to dishes like king crab with cheung fun noodles tossed with peanut and XO sauce paired with a Sour Watermelon Saison. If you’re not hankering for the full-on dégustation, The Bar at Moody Tongue will offer suggested beer pairings for dishes like fried chicken served with maque choux and griddled corn cakes slathered with foie gras butter.
“Craft beer exploded and I think there’s a legitimacy now. For us, the timing seems right to try and elevate the experience of dining with beer,” Wentworth says. He’s already excited to experiment pairings that go beyond the wine bottle. “We can go from a crisp pilsner with lighter seafood courses and raw preparations, then maybe a Flanders Belgian-style dubbel or tripel, then come out the porters, barleywines, and stouts for your dessert courses.”
In addition to offering variety, Wentworth feels like the very nature of craft beer makes it especially amenable to food pairings. While vintners can play with grape varietals to draw out different notes in their wine, the process may take years to come to fruition. In contrast, a brewer can tailor his or her beers to complement the new menu. In the case of Moody Tongue Brewery, that means brewing up an Asian pear saison using fruit grown exclusively for them by a local farmer, or even a black truffle pilsner that costs $20,000 a batch to brew.
“It’s very much a collaborative effort and because I like drinking beer so much, it’s not a hard one. If there’s a certain flavor that I really like, I can ask him to develop a beer around that,” Wentworth says. “For me as a chef, that’s awesome. We’re talking about doing a black wine wit and next thing I know, we make it and it’s great.”
Rouben isn’t the only brewer to enlist the help of an A-list chef to take his taproom’s menu up a notch. Here are just a few of the breweries serving up serious eats.
Mikkeller Pop Up Portland, Portland, Oregon
The Danish brewing powerhouse has a long history of serving next-level food. Ramen to Bíiru, its ramen joint in Copenhagen’s trendy Nørrebro neighborhood, slings some of the best noodles outside of Tokyo and Upstairs Mikkeller, the tasting menu restaurant above the Bangkok taproom, has a Michelin star. So it came as no surprise earlier this year when the brewery announced that it intended to bring some serious culinary talent to its Portland pop-up brewpub. Shaun King, the former executive chef of Momofuku Las Vegas, is at the helm, which means dishes like slow-roasted pork shoulder, dry-aged duck with confit rice, and bone marrow dressed up with bacon XO sauce are flying out of this kitchen. Sadly, King is moving on to open his own restaurant toward the end of the year, which means you’ll have to hurry to grab a taste of these knockouts.
Rockwell Beer Co., St. Louis, Missouri
Be prepared to battle crowds for a bite of the already legendary Brasswell burger served at Rockwell’s taproom. These quarter-pound patties come smashed for extra-crispy, craggy edges and dripping with American cheese slicked with dijonaise. While the beer-cooked brats are no slouch and a platter of beignets with key lime dipping sauce are obligatory, it’s clear what the real star of the show is here. There’s a reason the grub here is a cut above: James Beard award-winning chef Gerard Craft adapted the signature burger at his Brasserie by Niche for a brewery setting.
Edmund's Oast, Charleston, South Carolina
Southern influences abound on chef Bob Cook’s menu, from the heirloom grains of Carolina Gold rice under the butter lamb to the baked grits under the tempura catfish and crawfish. Yet touches like bonito flakes on the collard greens keep it from being strictly Southern and labeling it fusion feels reductive. Much like the brewer Richard Horton’s impressive beers, the food is too innovative to classify and intensely pleasurable to consume. Cook has his own line of Korean glazes and mustards, not to mention a way of getting even squeamish diners to take a chance on something like fried tripe with Calabrian chilies. For the full gastro experience, reserve a seat at the Chef’s Counter, where cook serves up seven dishes for $80, plus the highly recommended beverage pairings.
Tasting Counter at Aeronaut Brewing Co., Somerville, Massachusetts
In recent years, Somerville has morphed into one of the Boston area’s best dining scenes, thanks to stalwarts like chef Ana Sortun’s Sarma. Even as the competition grows, one of the most ambitious places to eat in this restaurant-dense area is not a restaurant at all, but rather a brewery. First launched in 2015, Tasting Counter is an ongoing pop-up launched in 2015 by Peter and Ginhee Ungàr. Reservations for the 20 slots at the nine-course dinners, held during two nightly seatings Wednesday through Saturday, go fast. Given that Peter is an alum of Aujourd'hui, which was one of Boston’s most critically acclaimed fine dining establishments until it closed, it’s not hard to see why. Though the menu changes constantly, you can rest assured that at least half of all ingredients will come from Massachusetts and that the all-natural beer and wine pairings will be impeccable.
The Brewer's Table, Austin, Texas
Leave it to food-obsessed Austin to take pub grub and elevate it to delirious heights. Expect a bunch of the usual suspects here, but with a twist or two. Think: gochujang-glazed chicken wings with spent grain nuka zuka and toasted coconut crumble, or Akaushi beef tartare with toasted brewer’s yeast, fermented herbs, and heirloom grains. When owner Jake Maddux, a veteran of New Belgium and Anchor Steam, opened the joint in 2018, he envisioned a place that would all but obliterate the line between restaurant and brewery. More than a few dishes incorporate brewery elements, like a riff on a sundae with toasted barley ice cream, hop honey, and yeast caramel served in a beer grain waffle cone. On sunny Sunday afternoons, the 5,000-square-foot beer garden is ideal for a lager and a game of bocce ball.
Jack’s Abby, Framingham, Massachusetts
Beer-loving Bostonians tend to be reluctant to leave the city, but ever since Eric, Jack, and Sam Hendler opened this slick industrial brewpub, there’s been a steady mass-migration to the ‘burbs on weekend evenings. With 24 beers on tap, including a wide selection of lagers from Jack’s Abby and more experimental offerings from Springdale next door, the brothers didn’t need a top-notch food selection to get people in the door, but they did it anyway. The mussels steamed in Springdale’s Pearly Wit are killer, as are the wood-fired pizzas with toppings like house-made sausage with ricotta, pistachio pesto, cherry peppers, and broccolini. Note that while the space is cavernous, it’s still consistently mobbed. Go early to secure a seat at the bar and have a flight while you wait for your buddies to show up.