Napa Valley’s First Beer vs. Wine Throwdown, Part 1

By Ashley Routson

“It takes a lot of good beer to make a lot of good wine.”

This phrase is constantly echoed amongst the winemakers and industry professionals in Napa Valley. Although there are times when beer flows more abundantly than wine, beer is still viewed as the second-best and inferior beverage in California’s wine country. It is not uncommon to find selections from U.S. craft brewers on most beverage menus, but it still doesn’t often find its rightful place on the dinner table next to the food—yet.

Beer vs. Winee BallotThere are exceptions to the completely wine-centric restaurateurs in Napa. Thomas Keller’s, prestigious Yountville restaurants, The French Laundry, Ad Hoc and Bouchon exclusively carry White Apron by Russian River Brewing Company and Blue Apron by Brooklyn Brewery. Iron Chef Morimoto’s new namesake restaurant serves his personal line of Rogue beers specifically designed to pair with Japanese cuisine. But, even these restaurants lack a true beer and food pairing program.

Wine dinners are plentiful in Napa. But, outside of the rare event hosted by Napa resident Sean Paxton (The Hombrew Chef), beer dinners are virtually non-existent. And a dinner where beer challenges wine as the fairer food pairing companion has never happened—until now.

A relatively new trend, the beer vs. wine dinner, is a unique way to engage, educate, and provide guests with an amazing food and beverage experience in a fun, unique and relaxed setting. On December 8th, I had the rare opportunity and honor to co-host Napa’s first of beer vs. wine dinner at Yountville’s Michelin star-awarded restaurant, Bistro Jeanty.

I truly believe that, if there is any region in the U.S. that can truly appreciate the complexity and the nuances of craft beer, it’s wine country. It is hard to believe that no one has tried to pave the way for craft beer here, but for some reason I have been able to establish myself as a top resource for all things beer in the valley, which is both a gift and a curse.

I’m not going to lie; I was a little overzealous in planning the dinner. Prior to pitching the concept to Bistro Jeanty, I gauged interest from wine industry personnel, wine enthusiasts, and friends from across the valley. In my opinion, Napa is a food and beverage mecca. It is home to some of the finest restaurants and most discerning palates in the world. I thought that surely its residents would jump all over the opportunity to attend this type of dinner.

We limited the dinner to 60 people, and for some crazy reason, I thought we would sell out the event. After all, four courses each paired with generous pours of both beer and wine at a top tier restaurant for $70, including tax and tip, is a steal. Unfortunately, I was a bit too optimistic for my own good.

I’m not sure if it was due to the approaching holiday season, the price, the hesitation of the residents, or a combination of all three, but the turnout was only one-fourth of what was anticipated. I was disappointed at first, but it ended up being a blessing, as it made the dinner much more intimate and gave me the opportunity to interact with each guest on a more personal level, which I believe increased the value of the experience.

And guests seemed to feel the same way. “It was a magical evening of pairing wonderful flavors of wine and beer with savory delights. Each pairing worked so perfectly it was hard to judge, but it certainly proved the point that a well chosen beer goes as well with fine food as a nice glass of vino,” said diner Malcom Boyes.

Visit CraftBeer.com tomorrow for a detailed description of the dinner courses and pairings in Part 2 of this post. Most importantly we will see how the beverages fared in wine-centric Napa Valley.

Ashley Routson, known amongst the craft beer community as The Beer Wench, is a self-proclaimed craft beer evangelist and social media maven on a mission to advance the craft beer industry through education, inspiration and advocacy. She is currently the “Director of Awesomeness” at Bison Brewing in Berkeley, Calif., as well as the founding editor of DrinkWithTheWench.com, BeerMixology.com and IPADay.org.

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