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Beer party!

Dinners pairing beer with food are a growing trend in Jackson and the rest of the country

Move over wine snobs; beer drinkers are going upscale with a burgeoning number of craft breweries offering more variety. Dinners pairing beer with food dishes are showcasing the versatility and compatibility of beer.  In Jackson, these dinners began about three years ago at Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint.

Co-owner Jeff Good said, “We are known for the quality of the experience. Real beer makers and/or brewery top-level officers come and talk about their products. Then these beers are paired with excellent food from our kitchen. We serve family style and consistently get comments that the dinners are fun, informative and wonderful.”

He says the beer-pairing dinners are the baby of Andrew Robertson, the service manager at Sal & Mookie’s.

Robertson was inspired to begin the events because of his passion for great beers.

“I am a beer lover and I do not feel beer gets the respect it deserves,” he said. “My original training came when I was the manager of Bravo! Italian restaurant and got to see first hand how sommeliers and chefs pair different styles of foods with different styles of wine.

“It was interesting to see how the taste of certain foods and wines can change or be accentuated when the right wine is pared with the right food. So I decided to do the same with beers.”

Tastings for beer as a dinner pair are the new in thing in Jackson and across the country.

Tastings for beer as a dinner pair are the new in thing in Jackson and across the country.

He finds that people love to learn new things. That’s why bringing the brewery owners and brew masters to host the dinners is such a hit.

“Sure there have been beer tastings at other places, but usually they are done with a representative of the distribution company and normally do not involve dinner. By having the actual company here, our customers can ask questions about brewing styles and tasting,” Robertson said.

Capital City Beverages, a major beer distributor in Central Mississippi, participates by inviting brewery owners and brew masters to attend the dinners. Vice president Brian Drennan agrees this adds to the success of the events. “The popularity of craft beer in Mississippi has exploded in the past few years. People are looking to try new and different styles of beer,” he said, “but what makes the beer dinners a success is the opportunity for beer enthusiaists to interact with the owners and brew masters. I have never been at a dinner where someone simply read from a note card or the back of a bottle.

“You hear from the people who quit their jobs to brew beer why they chose to brew a certain beer and whose picture is on the packaging and why. So much of the presentation is the story behind the beer.”

Robertson and Drennan say the dinners are also a great value. Held on a night when the restaurant is closed, diners enjoy beer with five or six food creations by chef Dan Blumenthal along with education and entertainment at a reasonable price.

“Our guests are diners ages 21 to 60. Everyone loves what we do with the beer dinners,” Robertson said. “The dinners are a fun time when anywhere from 80 to 100 guests can come and socialize. I have noticed that beer is less intimidating than wine and liquor. A lot of people are afraid of wine because they feel they don’t know enough and don’t want to be embarrassed by this lack of knowledge. With liquor, many people are intimidated because they can’t differentiate between brands. With beer, people are more open. It can be a thing of class, or just a way to enjoy a beverage with dinner.”

Drennan says Capital City Beverages got involved because the dinners are a great opportunity to showcase the craft beers it distributes. “The people who attend are generally craft beer drinkers, but they often have not tried all offered by the brewery. It is a great sampling opportunity,” he said. “We want people to leave more educated about the beer offered at the dinners and beer styles in general. There are many ways to compliment your meal with a beer.”

Beer drinkers may be surprised to learn that beer goes with foods other than wings and hamburgers. Like wine, beer can be paired with a dish, such as brown ale with beef or a sweet stout with a chocolate dessert.

“Sometimes it’s hard pairing beer with food, but it just depends on what beer you’re working with. For instance, a stout porter is a good rich, dark, coffee-tasting beer. You would not want to pair this beer with a light sea bass dish,” Robertson said. “The beer would over power the cleanness of the sea bass and the flavor would be lost. This would go great with meat dishes with gravy or barbecue.

“Just as all Merlots do not taste the same, the same thing goes with beer. Each beer company has its own way of creating a style of beer. Because of this, the food pairings can vary from company to company. It is an exciting adventure to see the different styles that are out there and fun to see what others have to offer.”

The first beer events at Sal & Mookie’s were beer tastings with light appetizers. These usually sold out at 20 to 40 guests. The organizers noticed guests were having so much fun they wanted more and were asking questions about foods to serve with beers. Now the beer dinners accommodate from 80 to 120 guests and are always sold out.

“One of the things I would like to see in the future is more new and interesting beers. Other states have more relaxed beer laws concerning the alcohol content of the beer, which allows them to carry even more beers than what are currently offered here in Mississippi,” Robertson said. “Our customers are constantly asking for beers they have gotten in nearby states and we can not offer them due to the alcohol volume laws set by the state.”

A group called Raise Your Pints is trying to change that state law and has established a website, raiseyourpints.com/.

Drennan notes that beer dinners and craft beers are growing trends across the country.

“Go to most craft beer websites and they provide food and beer-pairing suggestions,” he said. “Most promote the dinners via blogs and websites. As more people discover good beer and appreciate the complex flavors, beers are being paired with everything from salads to lamb, duck and desserts. Beer is more versatile than wine, so the chefs can pair many different dishes.”

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About Lynn Lofton

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