Along with the proliferation of craft breweries in San Diego has come a proliferation of beer-pairing dinners, and even brunches. While fine-dining restaurants have long offered multi-course tasting menus paired with a sommeliers' choice of wine to match each dish, the notion of doing so with beer recommendations is relatively new. While beer-pairing dinners have certainly been taking place locally for years, an increasing number of breweries and restaurants are latching onto the concept these days, and any given week the county might see five such events on average.
1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido
Stone Brewing has led the way, particularly under the guidance of its titled Craft Beer Ambassador “Dr.” Bill Sysak. The longtime connoisseur says he's been hosting pairing dinners for more than 20 years, doing so at Stone World Bistro since 2009. Back then, he says there were maybe a couple dozen annually. "Now there are probably 250 beer dinners each year in San Diego" he says, "Every single brewery, once or twice a month, are doing a beer-pairing dinner."
16990 Via Tazon #123, Rancho Bernardo
Outside of Stone's Master Pairing Series, some significant restaurants and chefs have established coordinated beer dinners as regular, ticketed events, ranging from gastropubs like Waypoint Public and Toronado to elevated dining spots ranging from Kitchen 4140 to Cowboy Star. Rancho Bernardo restaurant the Cork the Craft houses Abnormal Brewing Company, so the on-premises beer-and-dinner pairings are already a natural fit. Executive chef Philip Esteban says the aim of these events is to "bridge the gap between the fine dining and craft beer worlds."
He also views the dinners as an opportunity for collaboration, as he hosts the region's top culinary talents to work together, selecting beers and coordinating a menu to go with them. "We go through a tasting of said brewery and choose the best beers based on flavor, style, and rarity,” he says. "We play on contrasting flavors to help bring out certain qualities of the beer and vice versa of the food." An upcoming Cork and Craft dinner pairs Lost Abbey beers with food prepared by Nine-Ten executive chef Jason Knibbs and pastry chef Rachel King.
Sysak, who teaches a course in food-and-beer pairing at San Diego State University, insists "Beer is the most versatile of all beverages to pair with food." He cites carbonation as an ideal palate cleanser. He adds that "Beer has bitterness, which cuts through fats and proteins, so it's great for cutting through chocolates, cheeses, and meats." He says the sweetness in beer malts mollifies heavy spice, both in the mouth and throat, but also suggests that spiced beer may do this without diminishing the lingering heat favored by spice lovers.
Karen Blair hosts beer-pairing brunches at her University Heights taphouse and restaurant Small Bar. "When you're pairing beer with food," she says, "I think it's always important to either complement or contrast the two. When you can bring out flavors you didn't taste before, you've succeeded."