Joe Sixpack: Big-name chefs embrace lowly brews: Is it just a fad?

Posted: June 26, 2009

ANOTHER CELEBRITY chef has seen the light.

This time it's Iron Chef and 2009 James Beard Award-winner Michael Symon who's embracing beer in a big way, partnering with Pilsner Urquell to promote the lager's compatibility with food.

"I think beer is becoming more and more accepted" as a part of gourmet cuisine, Symon told me in a telephone interview from New York, where he was preparing for a live cooking demonstration featuring Pilsner Urquell in his recipes. "And as beer gets better, that's only going to continue to grow."

Symon joins the likes of chefs Daniel Boulud, Todd English and Dave Lieberman, who've all climbed aboard the beer wagon. Suds are such a darling these days that even Spain's Ferran AdriĆ , described as "the world's greatest cook," created his own wheat beer to complement his dishes.

None of these big-name chefs, of course, are abandoning wine as a vital accompaniment to gourmet cuisine, but their endorsements are further evidence of the continuing evolution of beer from can-crushing Everyman's Drink to welcome guest at the finest of tables.

Call me a skeptic, but I'm not tucking in my shirttail, yet.

First, I can't help but think that, for some of these guys, beer is just the flavor of the week. Last year it was mojitos; next year, it'll be sake.

Second, we all know that brand-name chefs are notorious for endorsing pretty much anyone with a checkbook. Cookware, ovens, coffee, jewelry - you name it, a celebrity spatula-slinger will put his or her name on it. It did not go without notice a few years ago when TV chef English, who had previously endorsed Samuel Adams craft beer, suddenly started shilling for mainstream Michelob. The flip-flop prompted to label him a "beer slut."

Third, having hung out in bars my entire adult life, I get the distinct feeling that some of these big-name gourmets are just slumming with the cheesesteak crowd. I mean, does Daniel Boulud - whose restaurant in Las Vegas charges $32 for a hamburger - even know which end of the tap handle to pull? We'll see, now that he's opened his new DBGB beer-centric bistro in Manhattan.

While beer's newfound appearance at white tablecloth joints is certainly welcome, it's at least partly the product of tough times. A nicely corked bottle of craft-brewed ale is a convenient, cheaper alternative to a $100 bottle of grape juice.

Still, foie gras fanciers can't help but sound condescending whenever they begin waxing poetic about these mah-velous food-and-beer pairings.

The most annoying tripe comes from the makers of Estrella Damm Inedit, the designer beer from chef AdriĆ , whose famed elBulli restaurant charges an average of $350 per dinner.

According to the press release, Inedit is the "first beer specifically created to accompany food" (which is nonsense; 1,000 years ago, beer was known as "liquid bread"), and it is "the fruit of more than a year and a half and 400 trial iterations . . . ," which seems like an awful lot of wasted effort to reinvent what is, at best, an average Belgian-style witbier.

"To deliver the best . . . ," the brewery's insufferable advice continues, "we suggest keeping Estrella Damm Inedit in a wine cooler while it is being served in white wine glasses. It is important not to fill the glass more than half full so as to appreciate all its virtues."

And so the winofication of beer continues. Can Martha Stewart Lite be far behind?

Beer drinkers and their families will have a fun chance to enjoy fresh ales and support Philly's Finest on Sunday when Yards Brewing hosts Hops & Cops at its brewery (901 N. Delaware Ave., Northern Liberties).

The event features food from Dietz & Watson and City Tavern, music and a carnival atmosphere for the kids.

Taps pour: 1-5 p.m. Tix: $25 ($15 for minors). Proceeds benefit the FOP Survivors Fund. Info: *

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit Send e-mail to

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