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Rey Knight, owner and brewmaster of Finest Made Ales, recommends pairing Alpine Beer Company’s McIlhenney’s Irish Red with a bacon cheeseburger from Anny’s Fine Burgers.

Rey Knight, owner and brewmaster of Finest Made Ales

This year, Knight rebranded his three-year-old Santee beer company, Butcher’s Brewing, and adopted a new name, Finest Made Ales. The reasons behind the change were twofold. First, he upgraded his brewing system to reduce oxidization and improve efficiency so he can deliver higher quality beer to his customers. Second, Knight is a Culinary Institute of America–trained chef and wants to turn people on to the ways beer integrates with our food culture.

“There are three areas I focus on when I pair the beers with food,” Knight explains. “The complement, things that work together; the contrast, things that offset each other and enhance a single component; and the cut, which is something that cuts the flavor or cleanses the palate.” Here are three beers he suggests go well with dinner.

Alpine Beer Company

McIlhenney’s Irish Red — 6.0%, paired with a bacon cheeseburger

Knight chooses Alpine’s red ale to go with a dish served by his also-fine Santee neighbor, Anny’s Fine Burgers. He chose the beer for its complementary flavors — toffee and toasted bread malts, and light herbal hop aromas. He points out the maltiness of the beer works with both the nuttiness of the cheddar and caramelization of the beef patty. Meanwhile, the toasted-bread flavor and hop aromas pair well with the smokiness of the bacon.

Groundswell Brewing Company

The Full Ginger — 6.9%, paired with steamed mussels

Groundswell’s dry, effervescent saison offers a nose of Belgian spice complemented by fresh ginger. Along with the ginger, it shows light fruit flavor and notes of bread and biscuit. Knight likes this with a dish of steamed black mussels from North Park’s Urban Solace, which is prepared with potatoes, bacon lardon, herbs, and a touch of cream. He likes how the beer’s spices and saison yeast complement the herbs, earthy potatoes, and briny mussels. But here he’s also going for the cut, adding, “The high effervescence of the beer cleanses the palate after each bite, cutting the fat from the bacon and cream.”

Finest Made Ales

Hoppy Pilsner #22 — 6.0%, paired with Korean barbecue

To highlight his own approach to crafting beer that pairs with food, Knight chooses a short-rib dish by Buga Korean Barbecue in Clairemont, made with raw garlic, toasted sesame oil, and romaine lettuce. While the crackery malts of his crisp pilsner complement the beef and toasted sesame, he likes the way the beer’s Mosaic-hop finish contrasts with the same ingredients, noting “the carbonation of the beer enhances the spice of the raw garlic that dances with hoppy floral notes on the palate.”

Abnormal Beer Co. expansion

Derek Gallanosa, head brewer, Abnormal Beer Co.

As beer curator for Cork & Craft, Gallanosa collaborates with some of the city’s best chefs and breweries to host monthly beer-pairing dinners at the restaurant (which is also home to the Abnormal brewhouse). Describing his approach to pairing, Gallanosa explains he and his chef partners select beer and food that work together without overpowering one another yet bring out favorable characteristics. “We try to produce flavor interactions that you can only experience when trying the pairing,” he notes, “versus just each component separately.”

Here, he describes the thought process behind a few pairings from these dinners, with specific dishes prepared by outgoing Cork & Craft chef Phil Esteban and rotating guest chefs.

The Lost Abbey

Framboise de Amarosa — 7.0%, paired with ice cream

This stellar sour ale by Lost Abbey gets three infusions of raspberry over the course of a year spent aging in red-wine barrels. For a dinner prepared with Nine-Ten chef Jason Knibb, Amarosa paired with a rhubarb and rosemary ice cream topped by vadouvan curry granola and basil blossoms. “The sweetness of the ice cream works to calm down the acidity of the beer,” Gallanosa explains, “to expose the flavor combinations of raspberries from the beer with the herbs and spices of the dish.”

Alpine Beer Company

Mostra the Great — 14%, paired with panna cotta

Chef and Mostra Coffee roaster Mike Arquines collaborated with the Cork & Craft kitchen for a dinner pairing with Alpine. He also worked with the brewery to fashion this hefty beer for the event. The English barleywine was aged 20 months in bourbon oak barrels, then blended with Mostra cold brew. Gallanosa paired the beer with a dessert by pastry chef Brenda Gonzales, a chocolate coconut panna cotta served with blackberries and black sesame powder. “We decided a complementary flavor would be chocolate and coconut,” Gallanosa explains. “Those flavors were very subtle in the beer and we felt we could use the food to emphasize those characteristics.”

Abnormal Beer Company

5pm Session IPA — 5.2%, paired with fish tacos

Gallanosa points out beer pairings for the same dish may change based on how the dish is prepared, due to variations in seasoning, or even relative fat content. However, when we asked him to name one of his own beers to pair with a common San Diego meal, he chose Abnormal’s session IPA with a regional classic — Baja-style fried-fish tacos in a corn tortilla with cabbage, cream sauce, and salsa. “This beer will not overpower the delicate flaky fish,” he says, “but has enough bitterness to cut through the cream sauce.” He also notes the moderate hops will enhance the chili spice of the salsa. “Our goal is for people to taste the beer, then the food, then the beer again, to see how the two play off each other.”

Carli Smith, head brewer, Rock Bottom La Jolla

While Rock Bottom hosts beer-pairing dinners for occasions like Beer Week, it serves food and beer to guests every night. Smith says that, in a brewpub environment, a brewer always has food-friendliness in mind when making a new beer, so many of her beers will match up to dishes on the restaurant’s menu. She also has a few intriguing ideas about a couple of classic San Diego brews.

Alesmith Brewing Company

Nut Brown — 5.0%, paired with butternut squash soup

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