Suds and Sun
Beer goes with a great many things, and top of that list is, naturally, food. Many would say that great company shares top honors, but let’s not forget sunshine, too. Beer sales surge in the summer months (Nielsen scans show the Fourth of July is consistently the peak) and the opportunity to soak up rays and hops simultaneously is a key driver for restaurants that provide for dining, and imbibing, al fresco.
Few places appreciate the combo of sun and suds more than Portland, Oregon, where craft beer consumption per capita outpaces every other U.S. city, according to the Brewers Association—but warm, sunny patios are in short supply a good chunk of the year. Marcus Chase, general manager at Portland’s Produce Row Cafe, seizes the season when the back patio sheds the compulsory clear canopy.
Produce Row became one of the first better beer hot spots in this city, nicknamed Beervana, when it opened in 1974. Today, Chase manages 23 taps plus an additional three beers that aren’t carbonated but served on nitro taps. He arranges his beer list not by ABV or SRM but by IBU or, really, what he calls a “hop thermometer.” Many such lists start with beers at the light end of Alcohol by Volume, listing a 4 percent alcohol pale lager at the top and a 10 percent imperial stout last. Or the SRM—Standard Reference Method—scale where that same pale lager ranks as a 2, and finish with that same imperial stout with SRM 40. But Chase, with 10 years of restaurant experience, believes that IBU, International Bitterness Units, is the food-friendlier way to organize beers.
“My beer list—when I talk to our chef, anybody can do an IPA and a burger—it’s classic,” says Chase. But the chef is just as likely to suggest pairing Produce Row’s earthy black bean burger with an amber or lager. “Ninkasi Dawn of the Red,” says Chase, referring to the Eugene, Oregon, brewery’s toffee-driven India Red Ale, which has a complementary “malty profile [that goes with the] beets in the burger so you get that earthiness.”
Ultimately, Chase’s goal is “to put beers in front of people that they can enjoy over conversation, with a meal, and with friends over a board game for a long period of time.” To him, that means the restaurant’s hummus plate with the classic Belgian witbier, Blanche du Chambly. He’s also a huge fan of lagers such as Trumer Pils, the Berkeley-by-way-of-Austria pilsner, that weighs in at 4.9 percent ABV and is pleasantly spiced with noble hops at 26 IBU. And he’d gladly steer patrons to a pint of Victory Pils at a sessionable 5.4 percent ABV, to pair with another Philadelphia fave, the house-specialty sandwich Rocky’s Favorite, made with a plethora of Italian meats including house-smoked coppa.
While Produce Row takes its grilling and smoking seriously—meaning any of the grass-fed beef burgers pair beautifully with the most in-demand grassy IPAs such as Boneyard RPM and Breakside IPA (from two of Oregon’s most beloved breweries)—Chase admires the interplay of hoppy beers that accentuate the flower’s citrusy notes along with light summer fare. He points to the salmon, with a suggested pairing of Migration Glisan Street Dry Hop Pale, or the vegetarian risotto with a bigger IPA like Barley Brown’s Pallet Jack.
Stone and Glass
A thousand miles south in Escondido, California, where San Diego County is sunny almost year-round, one of the biggest breweries operates two of the biggest brewpubs. In fact, to refer to them as brewpubs doesn’t capture their magnitude. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens opened in Escondido in 2006, and the restaurant and gardens stretch out over a verdantly landscaped acre. The second location at Liberty Station, which opened in San Diego’s Point Loma neighborhood in 2013, is even larger. In discussing the beer program, Stone Craft Beer Ambassador “Dr.” Bill Sysak, with over three decades of beer service under his belt, outlines his approach to the 36 taps—mostly local beers—in Escondido. And that’s not counting the hundred bottles from around the world. “I don’t hold too much about tradition,” Sysak says. “We serve good beer and if it fits in the right glass, great. We use English-style nonic pint glasses. I just want it to feel good in my hand. We serve all 12-ounce pours in brandy snifters.”
Sysak notes that, naturally, as you get into the warmer months, you want lighter fare and lighter beers. Some optimal styles to feature include Belgian Witbiers, German Hefeweizens, French Saisons, and the increasingly in-demand low-alcohol but still pleasantly hopped ales and lagers. Besides simply being tasty, these beer styles are known for their wonderful aromatics—clove-accented yeast or floral hops. In summer temps, beers warm faster and release more of those great phenolics. As for hop volatility—it’s true that beer becomes lightstruck or skunky when irradiated by UV light—and even though some brewers cringe at the sight of their beautiful IPAs sitting in the sun, Sysak says not to worry.
“I’ve done tests. In 45 minutes you may develop off-flavors,” he says. Of course, cold beer on a hot day rarely sits around that long. “When we pour beer it comes out of our taps at 38 degrees. It warms to 48 degrees by the time it reaches the customer. Low 50s is the perfect temp for, say, an IPA.” As for bottled beer, the key for sun-soaked enjoyment is that the beer is packaged in UV-blocking brown glass; clear or green bottles are prone to skunking. “We present bottles like wine service,” Sysak adds. “Our staff opens it at the table, but we don’t chill bottles down in the bucket afterward. You get to appreciate the beer as it warms up.”
With service on the patio and at the sprawling garden’s mezzanine bar, Stone’s summer menu is led by its Baja-inspired ceviche. Sysak likes to pair it with tart Berliner Weisses that complement the lime, such as The Bruery’s Hottenroth or Bear Republic’s Tartare.
With about 10 of its taps devoted to IPAs, Sysak notes how bitterness cuts through richness in fats; which is where the grilled steak with sautéed greens or beer-brined heirloom pork served with barley risotto comes in. One June highlight is the restaurant’s annual Hoppy Father’s Day, focusing on barbecue and IPAs, with smoke swirling through the patio.
Not all restaurant patios are surrounded by trees or offer rustic vistas. In Detroit, Townhouse finds its home in the One Detroit Center. With living walls and a greenhouse-style atrium, nice weather still attracts diners to the open-air patio. The 7,000-square-foot restaurant offers 18 draft beers plus a nitro and a cider tap.
Bar manager Ian Ross has a special affinity for Blake’s Cider, since the native Michigander says Blake’s Orchard was part of his childhood and its new line of hard ciders are perfect summer sippers. He points to the dry-hopped cider as one for beer lovers and recommends pairing it with pork dishes. In fact, in lieu of a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary, Ross thinks cider is the ideal brunch drink, and he would serve it alongside Townhouse’s chilaquiles with duck confit.
Having said that, Ross refers to Bell’s Oberon, an unfiltered wheat beer that almost smacks of OJ, as “the king of summer beer,” at least in the states where the Kalamazoo, Michigan, brewery is distributed. Countless diners have enjoyed it with the 28-day-aged, house-ground Wagyu burger. To that end, Ross also recommends Short’s Bellaire Brown Ale. “It’s malt-forward, with some hop flavor that swirls through and goes well with red meat.”
On the flipside, Executive Chef Michael Barrera emphasizes fresh fish on his summer menu, where Ross brings in equally light beers such as New Holland’s Full Circle Kölsh because “nothing says sun like bright, yellow beer.”
Mirroring that sentiment, Chase from Produce Row concludes, “If you can get a sunburn before you get drunk, you’ve enjoyed your time in the sun.”