Having both grown up in an environment where our parents cooked, we helped in the kitchen, and sit-down family meals were valued, Matt and I have both always had a deep love of and respect for food. This shared background was a huge influence for us in deciding to work together to go into the beverage industry. In terms of general influence for The Brew Gentlemen, we’ve probably taken more cues from restaurants and bars than we have from other breweries. When we travel, our excitement peaks when we find a place that nails both food and drink. As I previously noted in our introduction to our newest flagship, Table Beer – even though we don’t have a kitchen at the brewery, food has always been central to our company culture.
The halcyon summer between our junior and senior years of college was full of dinners cooked outside on the porch, always featuring either a fastidiously selected six-pack from the beer cave at D’s or a case of low-fills from the then-fledgling Full Pint Brewing at which Matt briefly interned. The company was still very much in the planning stages, and appeasing our rampant curiosity for beer and brewing was far higher on the priority list than whatever other menial obligations we had that summer. And thus, the first summer of our company’s unofficial existence was spent chasing those simple pleasures, the exact types of experiences we eventually wanted to be able to provide to others.
The real work towards building a foundation for the company began once we became seniors, and food remained a running theme. Pairing became a field of study which required hands-on practice. Matt and his girlfriend attended beer dinners and toted beer along to BYOB restaurants. I tasted everything I could get my hands on while working at Mad Mex and burned through books on beer and food.
Then, during a second-semester entrepreneurship class, we were assigned a project to turn $150 of seed money into as much profit as possible in two weeks; after our first real research blitz into food pairing, we planned, cooked and served a two-sitting, four-course beer dinner. We ended up losing the competition, and therefore all $1800 of our profits, to a group sold their old textbooks online. But, you know, we’re most definitely not still bitter about that or anything.
Less than a month later, we were already part of our first public, ticketed beer dinner with an actual establishment: the gorgeous Hartwood Restaurant just north of the city. A second dinner at Hartwood and a few events with our good friends at Bar Marco provided further opportunities for practical application. This series of experiences, combined with field trips to gorgeous, classy, beer-focused bars and restaurants in other cities, further fueled our desire to create an establishment that treated beer with the same level of sophistication and elegance with which the fine dining world treats wine.
By late 2013, we began studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, which meant formalizing all of our self-taught knowledge about pairings. A large part of the program focuses on beer’s relationship with food, teaching the central tenets of matching intensities, finding resonance, and creating contrast. For myself in particular, especially as the least technically-focused member of our team, this was the most compelling part of the syllabus. We were both quite happy when one of the exam questions was an essay on choosing a beer for a specific dish based on its ingredients and preparation.
All of this is to say, we have a passionate romance with beer and food. Even though our taproom doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to install a kitchen, we think about it all the time. When people visit the taproom, we try to recommend specific taco/burger/bbq/gyro and beer combinations from whomever’s posted up outside. We celebrate beer and dessert with our Beer & Ice Cream Sandwiches events. We sneak our way into events (in exchange for kitchen beers, of course) just to be around good people cooking amazing food.
Now, after years of hard work, we have finally built the infrastructure to be able to partner with a chef, host a dinner in our taproom, and provide the beer for each and every course. When you look at where all this started, you can imagine how much this means to us. We hope you can join us this Sunday as we team up with Keith Fuller of Root 174 to bring you Strange Root, our inaugural taproom beer dinner.
Hopefully this will be the first of a long-running series of taproom dinners. If there’s a particular chef or restaurant that you think might be a good collaboration for us, let us know in the comments or on social media. The amazing momentum that the Pittsburgh food scene has developed since we moved here in 2008 is incredible to see and even more incredible to now be a part of, and we’re proud of all of our friends who’ve kept that momentum going.