How To Pair Craft Beer And Delectable Eats, With Urban Chestnut In St. Louis’ Andrew Fair

Uncovering the perfect pairing of craft beer and delicious food—two of the best things in life—can be tricky business, especially if you take said craft beer and eats seriously. Luckily, Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (UCBC) in St. Louis has your back. Next month, the award-winning craft brewery is hosting the next installment of its speaker series, with a talk breaking down exactly how to successfully pair beer and cheese, led by executive chef Andrew Fair.

Fair knows a thing or two about successfully combining food and beer, and not just because he is a lifelong chef, or because he worked as a volunteer farmhand in Italy, learning how to grill anything he could get his hands on. Fair was instrumental in developing the current UCBC menu, which features mouthwatering, German-inspired pub eats like pretzels, schnitzel and knackwurst. European influences and Fair’s tendency to honor age-old traditions are self-evident. We sat down with him to discuss his inspiration, process and what to look for when choosing your next draft.

What has been your experience working as an Executive Chef for one of the hottest craft breweries in the city?
Honestly, when I took this job my knowledge of beer was minimal. I knew about Urban Chestnut—I knew what they were doing, and the idea behind their brewing philosophy. It was really appealing to me. With my cooking, I try to honor history and tradition. That’s one of the things we do here with our “Reverence” series of beers, by paying homage to traditional European recipes for how to make it. It’s one of the many things that we do really well here.

You’re the architect behind the entire UCBC menu. What is your kitchen philosophy?
The concept and original execution of the menu was mine. I try to guide my team in the direction I want the food to go, but I still like to get my hands dirty in the kitchen. When I develop ideas for the tasteroom, I take older, European-inspired recipes and try to put an American twist on them. But there’s so much complexity there. When you look at beer and food, and just how to go about making pairings, there are so many flavors happening. Beer is so food-friendly. Light, effervescent beer goes really well with fried foods and spicy foods. And you can pair richer and sweeter foods with some of the richer, maltier beers.

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Why do beer and food go so well together? What’s the magic happening there?
Beer is incredible. It consists of four basic ingredients, and a limitless number of ways those ingredients can be manipulated to create flavor. Take barley malt, for example. The level that it’s been toasted is going to affect the flavor dramatically. Lighter toasting brings out the crackery, bread-inspired kinds of notes, while darker toastings will draw comparisons along the lines of coffee or chocolate, opening up a lot of flavor pairings. And that’s just the malt. When you get into how the beer is actually made, the varieties of hops, the types of yeasts; the number of permutations you can get from one drink out of the same basic ingredients is mind-boggling. For those reasons alone, beer is incredibly easy to pair with food because of its versatility.

What should beer and food enthusiasts look for when pairing the two?
First and foremost, remember that it should be fun. I think often people get caught up and want to take it too seriously, but the more you do it and the more relaxed you are about it, the more you’re going to learn. It really just boils down to experience. There are some basic ideas of how things work: for example, lighter beers and pilsners tend to go well with fries, or anything crispy and fried. They can also go really well with certain cheeses, like fresh goat’s milk cheese or a triple cream bloomy rind cheese. Anything that’s going to cut your palate, or have a little bit of richness to it. Just think about complementary versus contrasting flavors, and work from either one of those avenues.

What flavor combinations do you tend to gravitate towards?
One of my all-time favorite pairings is our Schnickelfritz and schnitzel sandwich. The schnitzel has pickled slaw on top with house made Dusseldorf mustard, and the clove notes from the yeast go really well with the slaw. The beer helps tamper down the house-made mustard and refresh the palate.  The wheat malt pairs well with the toastiness of the bread crumbs on the schnitzel, and the banana notes from the yeast tend to balance out the spiciness of the mustard and the sharpness of the slaw. Of course, you can always grab pizza from the Urban Research Brewery. Pizza and beer is a match made in heaven.

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