A beer expert and a chef met a few years ago while the two were working for the same catering company. The two built a friendship while talking about beer's affinity for fine food. The beer expert was Mike Burns, who would go on to open Happy Leaf Kombucha, and the chef was Michael Long, most recently of Le Central (before the restaurant closed in September), but who made a name for himself with Opus in Littleton and later in Cherry Creek. Together the two founded Chef & Brew, Denver's only competitive beer-and-food-pairing festival, now about to kick off its fourth annual event on Thursday, November 19, at the Exdo Event Center.
"At the time, people still thought of beer as something that goes with pretzels, pizza and sausage," Long says of his early planning days with Burns. But times have changed, and a slew of local beers — with nearly twenty from the Denver/Boulder area alone — are being paired with the creations of nationally recognized chefs and restaurants, including Amos Watts of Acorn, Jorel Pierce of Stoic & Genuine and Kevin Morrison of Pinche Taqueria (one of last year's winners).
Long is a certified sommelier and longtime wine aficionado, but he points out that beer matches well with a greater variety of dishes than wine. "Most wines are rigid," he explains. "It's hard to pair with spicy food or asparagus or artichokes. Wine is made in France or California or New Zealand and put in glass bottles...and shipped here. Some of these beers are made a block and a half away."
While food-and-beer-pairing dinners and festivals are more common now than ever, Long stresses that Chef & Brew is unique because of the competition between breweries and between chefs. For that reason, you won't see a list of the dishes being prepared for the event. "The chefs tend to keep the dishes under their hats," he notes. "We take the competitive aspect very seriously."
"We also have a big audio-visual component," he adds, saying that big screens and a good sound system enhance the experience for ticket holders.
Tickets are still available for $65 per person for the fest, which runs from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursday night. For a complete list of participating restaurants and breweries or to buy tickets, see the Chef & Brew website. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to Project Angel Heart.