Local Restaurants Spice Up the Culinary Arts with Maine Craft Beer
Beer is food. It sounds strange, but it’s true. In fact, beer and bread were invented concurrently when humans pivoted from being a hunting and gathering bunch to an agrarian people cultivating cereal grains. Lore has it that the first beer was “brewed” by mistake when an Egyptian peasant left a clay pot filled with grains out in a rainstorm. The grains got soaked, wild yeast settled in the mixture and fermented the sugars from the grains, and our unwitting peasant got buzzed one morning off hard oatmeal.
For centuries, beer remained in this gruel form that I imagine ancient beer writers described as “chewy” and “full-bodied.”
Though beer has come a long way from its humble serf beginnings, in foodie cities such as Portland, it hasn’t veered far from the culinary world. Beer dinners at esteemed restaurants commonly match local ales with delicate cuisine.
It’s only fitting that chefs have been using beer as an ingredient in their recipes for years, bringing beer back to its earliest roots as sustenance. In Portland, the acclaimed restaurant Terlingua uses Ishmael, a copper ale from Rising Tide Brewing Company, in their short rib glaze. In western Maine, Oxbow Brewing includes fresh beer in a number of recipes at their Beer Garden, including a sourdough culture infused with their signature farmhouse yeast.
One brewery leading the way in the mashup of zymurgy and the culinary arts is Allagash Brewing Company. From beer cheese to beer-battered fish, their world-class witbier, Allagash White, shows off its versatility in a number of recipes at local restaurants.
When asked why chefs are drawn to using White in their recipes, brewmaster, Jason Perkins, explained, “We can’t say for certain, but there’s probably something to the fact that Allagash White just pairs really nicely with a lot of different foods like burgers, oysters, fish and chips, and lobster. So it’s not a huge leap to go from pairing the beer with something like mussels, to just cooking with it as an ingredient.”
The most intriguing use of Allagash White for my palate is its common use in broth for mussels and steamers at Maine restaurants.
On a cold evening, I set out with a deep hunger for beer-soaked Maine mussels. The Tuscan Table on the Maine Mall campus in South Portland boasts an unassuming locale for the toothsome menu and stunning décor hidden inside its walls.
The chefs at the Tuscan Table use Allagash White in the creamy broth covering fresh Maine mussels. When the bartender slides a bowl of mussels and crusty bread along with a pint of Allagash White in front of me, my response is Pavlovian.
Easing a tender steamer from its shell and smothering it in broth, I’m first hit with spicy notes of pepper and briny cream. The second wave of flavor has swaths of lemon and garlic, finally settling on those quintessential notes of coriander from the Allagash White. Following this up with a quaff from my cold pint of White is divine. The recipe is simple, yet the flavors are complex and striking—which is how I’d describe Allagash White itself.
So raise a glass—and a fork—to the movement of bringing beer back to its nosh roots as local chefs reach for Maine beer to liven up their recipes. You can find more mussels and steamers made with Allagash White at Ri-Ra in Portland, Roberts Maine Grill in Kittery, and the Publick House in Brookline, Massachusetts.
— Text & Photos: Dave Patterson. Dave is a novelist and freelance writer with a mighty thirst for craft beer. His debut novel, Soon the Light Will be Perfect, is available at all major booksellers.
Note from the publisher: This article was written prior to the pandemic and is published now in support of Maine’s restaurant industry and their safe return in 2021.