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Beer's got flavor: Portland's Beervana blogger Jeff Alworth on a new brewing trend that challenges wine's dominance at the dinner table.

SOMETHING IS HAPPENING at high-end brewpubs and gastropubs. Herbs, spices, exotic fruit, even vegetables like beets and mushrooms are making their way into sophisticated beers. Before you roll your eyes at another artisanal food trend gone too far, consider this: Using actual food ingredients in brews is part of a larger play to put beer on the dinner table, in a way that may even--apostasy!--rival wine.

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When you add food and spices into the brewing mix, the flavor possibilities become almost limitless (it has to do with beer's recipe of malts, hops, and yeast, but let's skip the science). Why does this matter? Well, aside from giving wine a run for its money on casserole night, this current crop of beers uses special ingredients that enhance beer's natural flavors. They aren't just novelty beers; many are better beers.

The West Coast leads the way, with folks like Rich Higgins of San Francisco's Social Kitchen & Brewery. Rich adds everything from lemongrass to mustard seed to his beer, and folds beets into a dark Belgian ale for an incredible earthy base note. And in possibly the weirdest/coolest pairing, Cody Morris of Epic Ales in Seattle uses shiitake mushrooms in his Terra-Saurus to give it a savory kick. "What's unusual here is you get an umami flavor."

To be clear, beer isn't going to replace wine anytime soon. But there are still some dishes that wine is helpless to match. "It's pretty hard to find wines that match up to barbecue or spicy Thai food or vinegary pickles the way beer does," says Greg Higgins, chef at Portland's revered Higgins Restaurant, which has perfected the art of beer/food pairing. And a new generation of brewers are eyeing exactly those gaps. There's a lavender peach saison they think would be just perfect.
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Title Annotation:The West at its best
Author:Alworth, Jeff
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:303
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