Vancouver’s best restaurants may have been slow to embrace craft beer, but there’s still plenty pouring at this year’s Dine Out Vancouver festival.
It’s an almost absurd premise. 280-plus restaurants all offering deeply-discounted prix fixe multi-course meals for 17 days straight. Thanks to Dine Out Vancouver, what was once the slowest time of year for many restaurants is now a non-stop gastronomic gauntlet.
But while Dine Out bills itself as “Canada’s largest food and drink festival,” the vast majority of fine dining restaurants taking part have been slow to embrace craft beer as legitimate culinary component.
Most restaurants in Vancouver barely acknowledge the existence of beer, with few bottle options and draught taps a rarity. While the recent resurgence in craft spirits and cocktails has found it way onto this city’s menus, beer, it seems, still can’t get any respect. So, unless the restaurant is specifically beer-focused (like, say, BierKraft or Tap and Barrel, both of which are taking part in Dine Out), your pickings are going to be slim.
And that’s a damn shame, because craft beer pairs with food just as well, if not better, than wine.
It’s true! But don’t take my word for it. Chester Carey is Canada’s first certified Cicerone, a certified sommelier, restaurant owner, craft brewer, and beverage educator at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Suffice it to say; he knows what’s up.
“Craft beer lends itself remarkably well to food paring,” says Carey (see, I told you so). “The carbonation aspect of beer is excellent for pairing, and the bread-like base flavours that are common across the board in beer pair well with all foods.”
There are some dishes that beer pairs with far better than wine; for example, anything with heavy cream, egg, or complex, spicy flavours, like those in South East Asian food.
“It’s all about the three Cs,” says Carey. “Does it compliment the food, does it contrast, and does it have the cutting effect.”
(The “cutting effect” is the ability of beer to cut through fatty or spicy foods, cleansing the palate and leaving the mouth refreshed.)
You would think in an industry that prides itself on innovation, supporting local artisans, and is always looking for the next big trend to jump on, that Vancouver restaurants would be all over local craft beer. But that’s really not happening, at least not yet.
“There’s not a lot of restaurants doing elevated cuisine that are thinking about beer, pairing it with beer, or even making beer an option,” says Carey. “It’s history and tradition, is what it comes down to. Our concept of fine dining is still mostly Euro- and French-centric, and we’re taught that restaurants have wine, not beer.”
Many sommeliers responsible for their restaurant’s beverage program know very little about craft beer, Carey adds, and that’s reflected on the beer list. Remember, Carey’s also a sommelier, so I’m going to trust him on this.
“It’s going to take a generation of chefs and restaurateurs who have grown up around craft beer to make that change,” he says.
I, for one, hope this could be an opportunity for local restaurants to explore the many creative possibilities of craft beer.
Thankfully, while Vancouver’s restaurant scene may be slow to embrace craft beer, the organizers at Dine Out Vancouver are totally on board, which is awesome! They’ve lined up a handful of events with craft beer drinkers in mind that look like they’re going to be a lot of fun.
Sample unique one-off and limited edition cask ales from some of Vancouver’s best breweries, all paired with a beer-forward three-course meal. Big Rock is brewing a special Vancouver Festival Ale just for Dine Out that’s only available at the brewery, so be sure to check that out (I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m sure it’s great). Also, live music! Should be a good time.
Jan. 21, 1-10pm; 310 West 4th.
Tacos and beer? Yeah, this one is a no-brainer. Vancouver Brewery Tours will pick you up from Waterfront Station for four hours of craft beer, tacos and behind-the-scenes brewery tours with stops at Big Rock Urban Brewery, Strathcona Beer Co. and Tacofino Gastown.
Jan. 20-22, Jan. 26-28, Feb. 1-3, 4-7:30pm; departs from Waterfront Station.
Roll up your sleeves and learn to make your own pizza at Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co., paired with a selection of beers from R&B Brewing. Dinner also includes an appetizer and dessert.
Jan. 24 (4186 Main), 5-8pm; Feb. 1 (1876 West 1st), 5-8pm.