Last month, I attended the 2nd Annual NorCal Session Beer Festival in the Jack London Square neighborhood of Oakland. This massive event, with over 30 breweries, was organized by Drake’s Brewing Company and Bike East Bay with all proceeds going towards safer biking in the East Bay.
Before I begin, you may be wondering what a “Session Beer” is. According to Beer Advocate it is “Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability.” Session Beers are ideal for drinking at BBQ’s, general day drinking or just wanting to consume a higher volume without getting intoxicated. Which is why they’re perfect for these types of daytime, outdoor events and are easier to pair with a wider variety of foods.
If you’ve gone to any craft beer festival or even visited your local craft brewery, you may have noticed that you are seeing more and more gourmet food trucks teaming up with breweries and pairing their menu items. People, like me, want great food to go with their palette popping craft beers!
The Session Festival provided me with a great opportunity to photograph and write about two of my passions; craft beer and food. I corralled my friends who were also attending and asked them to each select a menu item and find a session beer that they felt paired well with what they were eating.
First up was Jessica. She ordered the Meatball Sandwich from Lungomare Oakland and paired it with Hottenroth Berliner Weisse from the Bruery, with an ABV of 3.1%. We were able to speak with Craig, the Chef at Lungomare and he informed us that the meatballs are made from Veal, Pork Butt, Brisket & Chuck. He browns them first, then braises them in a homemade Pomodoro sauce for a few hours, then lets them sit in the sauce for 24 hours. Jessica said that these were probably the best meatballs she has ever had. She then chose a sour style of beer that had hints of lemon, strawberry and a touch of cherry which went well with the flavour of the meats and the zestiness of the Pomodoro sauce. A fresh and simple ciabatta roll was also served with it, which helped to balance the flavors as well.
Next was Bobby, he ordered a Margherita pizza from Fist of Flour, whose truck contains a wood fired oven full of seasoned Almond firewood that is used at all of their events across Central Valley, CA. Their crust is a simple thin-crust made from local unbleached flour without additives or preservatives. The Margherita is made with their homemade red sauce, fresh and aged Mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and a garlic-basil olive oil. Bobby didn’t want to overpower the simplicity of the Margherita, so he paired it with the very light Grey Whale American Pale Ale by Pacific Coast Brewing Company that has an ABV of 4.6%. He was able to enjoy the flavors of fresh basil and Mozzarella cheese yet still get a hint of bitterness, hoppiness and sweetness from his beer of choice.
Donovan and Claire both ordered from Bicycle Banh Mi, a mother and daughter business that specializes in simple and authentic Vietnamese sandwiches. They also provide bicycle delivery service throughout the SF Bay Area. Donovan ordered the Lemongrass Curry Chicken Banh Mi Sandwich with cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots, daikon and jalapeno peppers on a toasted baguette. To pair with, he chose the Mini Saison from Berryessa Brewing Company which has an ABV of 3.9%. A lot of flavors going on here, but the beer was light enough and had a bit of a wheat flavor and a hint of banana that seemed to pair quite well with the curried chicken and fresh veggies on his sandwich.
Claire had the Vegetarian Fresh Spring Rolls that were loaded with mixed greens, pickled carrots & daikon, butternut squash, mint and cilantro. The beer she chose to pair with her meal was Blue Bell Bitter by Magnolia Brewing which has an ABV of 4.5%. The beer had a caramel, nutty and slightly fruity flavour that she said went really well with her vegetarian dish. She was still able to really get the full flavours of the pickled & fresh veggies without having the earthiness of the beer overpower her palate.
Last ,but not least, was Ian. He ordered the grassfed burger from FiveTen burger which came with lettuce, tomato, housemade pickles, onions, mayo, ketchup and mustard while adding applewood bacon and cheddar cheese. These guys seriously make one of the best burgers in the Bay Area. For his beer pairing, he chose the Keebarlin’ American Pale Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company, with an ABV of 4.2%. Ian described the pairing by stating,“This light gold glass of deity worthy well carbonated nectar bathed my burning tongue in such sweet citrusy delight that I could barely decide what to do. Eat? Drink? Both? In the end I did… alternating between delicious burger and crisp brew; noting the dank hops that crept like a welcome ray of shade over my sunburned mouth. The grapefruity notes and carbonation helped to cleanse my palate for each next delicious bite of my decadent burger.”
And there you have it! This concludes my coverage of the impromptu food & beer pairing event my friends and I held at the 2nd Annual Session Festival. I’m very excited to a part of an era where craft beer & gourmet food trucks go pretty much hand in hand.