Eater's Tastemakers series is back by popular demand. During this year's Great American Beer Festival, we asked the experts about pairing food and beer. Now we continue our Tastemakers series with the heralded Brian Smith of The Squeaky Bean.
Smith's career began in wine. Now, he is an omni-drinker with ease. After living in Fort Collins for eight years, he is a seasoned veteran of local and independent craft beer. He also understands the value of pairing a hot dog and pilsner. To Smith, the value of committing to quality beers and knowing what he likes is paramount. But beware of his exercise advice (read on for details).
Tell me a bit more about how you got to be where you are now. My career started in wine; actually it started as a dishwasher and prep cook for a company called Pulcinella whose owners also imported Italian wine. From there, I have been blessed to manage some high profile bars where the tastings seem to crop up several times a week. Learning how to taste and discuss wine while still young among middle-aged white men with lots of money meant I came to rely heavily on nostalgia and my own instincts.
Generically speaking, what are some classic beer and food pairings you like to work with? For my money, good fish and chips with tartar sauce and a solid, malty low-carb bitter can't be beat. I also really like how no-brainer pairings precede us; why turn against the formulaic just to seem smarter or better than tradition? There is nothing wrong with a hot dog and a pilsner, a pizza and a light lager, or a cheeseburger and an amber ale.
How do you explain pairings to your guests? Pairing from my side of the bar is about making people happy. I learned to lose the clever-pairing shtick ten years ago when I first tried it on. It takes two questions— what do you like to eat and what do you like to drink? I love to hear "surprise me," not because I get to nerd out or spotlight my idea of a pairing, but because I've earned someone's trust and get to really make them feel welcome.
What is your most memorable beer-and-food pairing experience? Honestly, it dates back to the first time I finished a whole beer. I was 23; it was Odell's 90 Shilling, and the only thing that made it happen in the end was the spiciness of the Super Bowl Sunday seven-layer dip that accompanied it. I had always been a whiskey or wine guy, so began a six-pack-a-week odyssey soon after in order to educate myself.
With that, what's your favorite beer-and-cheese pairing? Haystack Mountain Herbes-de-Provence Chèvre and Chimay Red... or really anything crisp and low malt with Belgian yeast, so that it cleans up after itself and the chevre without blanketing that goaty, herbal intrigue. An example of the old mantra, "drink what you like with what you like to eat."
How have you seen the brewing/restaurant industry change in the past 10 years? I lived in Fort Collins for eight years during and after college. On my part, growing up at the epicenter of craft brewing's identity crisis, I saw some brewers dedicate themselves to making good beer while others dedicated to themselves to trying to take over the world. To me, making money is imperative in either industry— but making people happy every day is how you succeed.
What's a favorite pairing that breaks all the rules and shouldn't work, but does? Exercise and beer. You would think that you want water or electrolytes or food more than anything when you finish a long bike ride, but you don't. You want beer of any kind, and what's worse is you convince yourself that you've earned a second.
Where are the beer-friendly menus and the lists to match? I prefer restaurants with more focused and funky lists, and Choice City Deli in Fort Collins takes the cake for me. In Denver, Euclid Hall comes to mind.
What's one of your favorite beers this season to drop on the table/see on the menu? We've recently brought on Bull and Bush's Man Beer, a great autumnal American IPA with an English pedigree. I love how well loved it is despite how unfamiliar folks are with the brewery, the beer, or even the style. I like seeing Asher Greenade on others' taps, as well as Odell IPA because it means a manager or buyer is committed to quality beers and not catching some microbrew or IBU wave.
Brian Smith [Photo: barmoire.com]