I love it when awesome things come together to make something even more awesome. That just happened with R&B Brewing Co. and a handful of local chefs. You already know this award-winning brewery from such hits as the Raven Cream Ale, Red Devil Pale Ale and East Side Bitter but head brewer Todd Graham wanted to make a line of beer designed to be paired with food and he did this in collaboration with local chefs he chose because of their work with local and foraged ingredients.
For the first season those chefs are Brian Skinner (The Acorn), Andrea Carlson (Burdock & Co.), Robert Belcham (Campagnolo), Chris Whittaker (Forage), and Owen Lightly (Butter on the Endive) we met to sample the first run of each of their beers. Sadly Owen Lightly was too ill to attend and passed away shortly after this launch. He contributed much to the Vancouver food community and anyone who knew him and will be truly missed.
The idea behind the Chef Series is that the chef would choose the ingredients – relevant to them and their style of cooking – as well as the type of beer. Todd Graham would make it at R&B and then chefs would serve it in their restaurant and suggest food pairings. “The variety of beer styles now available in restaurants encourages diners to choose beer as an accompaniment with their meal,” said Todd Graham in the press release. “The Chef Series is intended to further stimulate one’s curiosity for beer and food pairing.”
The first beer to be launched is a Nettle, Mint & Ginger California Common style ale from Chef Whittaker made with 15 pounds of locally harvested nettle, organic mint and fresh ginger root. He uses a lot of nettles in his cooking so it will pair well with many dishes at Forage and Graham says he couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. We sampled it with some halibut arancini rice balls. It is available now in 650 ml bottles at specialty stores around town and on tap at the restaurant.
Because of the nature of using local, often foraged ingredients, the releases will happen throughout the summer and into the fall with a new one coming out every six weeks. Next to come are a burdock, sunchoke and mugwort saison in collaboration with Chef Andrea Carlson, a spruce tip ale with Chef Brian Skinner, and a burnt orange bitter with Chef Robert Belcham. Owen Lightly’s beer is still in progress but will be ale reminiscent of the sea made with oyster shells, blow-torched beach driftwood and seaweed from his home town of Gabriola Island.
Andrea Carlson’s saison is very earthy and required a lot of aging for the flavours to mellow but she paired it brilliantly with a nutty spring salad. Brian Skinner wanted an easy-drinking beer and the spruce tip ale does exactly that. I could have had several more, especially paired with the cauliflower balls and spruce on juniper aioli. One of Robert Belcham’s favourite beers is the R&B ESB so he wanted something in that style. Typical of Belcham, he also wanted to create his own charcoal for filtering – with pig bones! This was the standout beer for me and I also thought the pork meatballs and romesco sauce was a great pairing.
Owen Lightly’s sablefish croquette with seaweed from Gabriola was paired with the R&B pale ale for the purpose of the tasting but Todd Graham is continuing to refine the recipe for the sea beer so I am really looking forward to trying that when it comes out.
Look for the beers at select stores and participating restaurants. They are a perfect match for farmer’s markets so hopefully we’ll be seeing them there soon too. These are such thoughtful, creative and meaningful beers that they are worth seeking out and I will be making room in my fridge for all of them.