Gordon Biersch, which operates four sites in the DC metro area at Navy Yard, Chinatown, Rockville, and Tysons Corner, is focusing on pairing its beers with food for the month of August. A new beer and food pairings guide, launched this month, is designed to help guests figure out which flavors pair best with which flagships. According to a press release, “The guide includes a descriptive infographic with beer and food icons to make the pairing process interactive, educational and simple.”
Tom Dargen, Senior Director of Brewery Operations at Gordon Biersch, said via press release, “We’re excited to debut our new beer and food pairings guide, which will enhance the dining experience for our guests and offer them insight into the Gordon Biersch brewing process and our signature flavor-packed brews.”
Beyond the flagships that are available at each Gordon Biersch, each location’s individual brewers will have the chance to pair their unique, in-house beers with food menu items. The new guide breaks pairings out into “hoppy,” “fruity & spicy,” “light & refreshing,” “malty,” & “dark” categories. These categories aren’t groundbreaking; indeed, most beer fans will have seen some variation of them on beer menus at their favorite watering hole. But for nascent craft beer drinkers who are easing into styles they may not have seen before, these categories aim to give them a frame of reference.
I recently had the chance to email with the Head Brewer at Gordon Biersch Navy Yard, Travis Tedrow, to get his thoughts about this month’s effort and other beer-related topics. His thoughts (lightly edited for clarity) are below.
DCBeer: What are some of your favorite beer and food pairings with the various categories being featured this month?
Travis Tedrow: I'm usually working through the lunch hour when I eat at GB, so I prefer items on the lighter side. My current favorite combination is the chicken and prosciutto sliders with the parmesan garlic sauce, paired with the keller version of the Czech Pils. Tender chicken, cured ham, and cheesy garlic sauce? Yes, please. Throw in a small side of garlic fries, and you'll thank me later. The keller pils has a nice balance of continental hops and light malt flavor with a crisp finish that holds its own against the garlic and prosciutto.
If you like rich savory food followed by few physical activities in the afternoon, try the Lobster and Shrimp Mac n’ Cheese with a Vintage Release, followed by a Netflix binge session on the couch. It's a fairly rich sauce, and the chunks of lobster meat make it flat-out decadent, but you have to treat yourself now and again. The Vintage Release is a new barrel-aged sour we just put on tap at Navy Yard. Seven months in French red wine barrels and a blend of Brett, Lacto, and Pedio yielded a very drinkable ale with the acidity to cut through the mac n’ cheese sauce.
DCBeer: How important do you think this kind of beer education still is for the average consumer, given beer's growing popularity? How does Gordon Biersch prepare staff to be beer educators?
TT: The new menu guide is not a novel approach to beer and food pairings for GB, but it reinforces the relationship between the kitchen and the brewery, both internally and for our guests. We host regular off-menu beer and food pairings to experiment with unique combinations and offer a fresh look at traditional pairings. Folks have been eating and drinking beer together for a very long time, but there's always a new perspective, an old style reinvented, or something new to learn. This requires constant education, even with a well-informed clientele.
DCBeer: How much collaboration do you get to do with your chef/kitchen team to suggest food and beer pairings, especially in light of this month?
TT: We're hosting a Witbier dinner on Wednesday, August 31st at Navy Yard. We're serving witbiers brewed at four different local GB's (Navy Yard, Annapolis, Rockville, and Tysons Corner). We have a new chef, Curtis Weaver, in the kitchen, and he crafted a really unique menu for the event. We're excited to let him flex his culinary muscles for this event.
DCBeer: Gordon Biersch, especially during baseball season, is a pretty high volume space. What do you think of the responsibility/weight of being a first craft beer for people? Do you think about that when you brew/release a beer?
TT: Baseball season is a great time to introduce our craft beers to a new audience that would otherwise not be in the neighborhood. Historically, GB has been at the forefront of converting traditional macro drinkers into craft beer consumers. One person called GB the “gateway drug” to craft beer. I'm not sure if this was meant as a compliment or not, but it does apply to certain beer drinkers. A number of stadium-/event-driven traffic wanders into a GB because we serve food and alcohol, not necessarily because we serve craft beer. That said, once someone walks in the door, we're ideally positioned to convert a macro beer drinker into a craft drinker. [We do this] by offering, for example, a sample of Golden Export instead of an adjunct-brewed lager, a malty Winterbock that's deceptively smooth for its alcohol content, or a Belgian-style spiced witbier brewed with an authentic yeast strain, instead of a mild ale with artificial flavorings.
Events near Navy Yard drive a lot of business, but that's only 85-90 days out of the year. We spend a lot of time during the season focusing on training and the quality of experience to make sure the local crowd enjoys their time as well. We operate as a high volume location and as a neighborhood restaurant, which is challenging on every level but lots of fun when managed professionally.
DCBeer: GB brewers have some leeway on what they brew in-house. What have been some of your personal favorites that you've crafted, and what are some of your favorites on now?
TT: My current favorite is the India Red Ale, AKA Red Headed Gymnast (nice hops, with great balance). It's a bit of a sleeper next to heavily hopped IPA's, but it's the beer I want to drink after already drinking a couple of them. It's a real interesting mix of body, dry finish, hop aroma, and malty flavor. The Saison currently on tap is a stripped-down version of the style. No dry hopping or additional spices, which highlights the yeast character and subtle malt flavors. I've really enjoyed the freedom to experiment and try newer styles at GB: barrel-aged blends, spiced ales, coffee beers etc., but I do want most of my beers to float in the "I'll have another" category. A guy that knows a lot more about making beer than me said, "You're not a good brewer just because someone bought your beer. You're a good brewer when that customer finishes the beer and comes back to buy another another." Nothing unique, but that comment hit a chord with me.
DCBeer: What's in your fridge right now outside of GB that you're finding tasty and/or what are some of your favorite area breweries?
TT: Genesee Cream Ale in the can, for poolside drinking, and Lord Chesterfield in the bottle, because it's good. I'm also looking at Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager and a couple bombers from friends at local breweries. I've never been very good at stockpiling beers in my basement. It's usually a seasonal, real-time inventory situation at my house. When I make it to a new brewery, I really enjoy drinking several pints of beer instead of nibbling at a storm of tiny sample glasses all over the bar. I drank several adult-sized glasses of beer at Ornery Beer Company the other day. It was delicious.
Thanks to Travis for taking the time to chat. Be sure to check out his beers, or some of his colleagues’, at the various Gordon Biersch outposts in the area.