When the label above started making the beer-blog rounds recently, a lot of people were asking the same question: Who the hell are those people?
If you’re as nerdy about NYC restaurants as you are about beer, though, you’ll recognize the crew as the team behind Blanca, the chef’s table attached to Roberta’s in Bushwick. We’re not sure what the nature of this collaboration is, but it’s indicative of the ever-evolving relationship between brewers and chefs.
It’s common practice for breweries to make signature beers for restaurants—Colicchio & Sons has the Shift Drink from Empire Brewing; Sixpoint makes an oyster stout for the John Dory; and Brooklyn Brewery created a brown ale to pair with the Nomad’s roasted chicken, just to name a few local examples. Sometimes, though, the relationship is more about collaboration than customization.
When the chefs themselves get involved in the creative process of beer-making, the results can be particularly interesting, marrying culinary ideas with brewing expertise. The results also reflect the unique pairing capabilities of beer, which can be tweaked far more than wine to fit super-specific cuisines—from the Szechuan peppercorn-heavy food at Mission Chinese, to Andy Ricker’s northern Thai cooking at Pok Pok.
To be clear, chef-driven beers are not a trend—Rogue has been making beers with Masaharu Morimoto since 2003. But they have become an intriguing niche of the craft-beer world, and one that will likely grow larger as more people open up to the idea of pairing beer with their meals.
Here’s a look back at some of the standout chef-brewery collaborations so far:
Sapporo x Joël Robuchon
Though this lager bears the name of a haute-cuisine legend, you can easily find it alongside more pedestrian offerings at convenience stores in Tokyo. Brewed with malts from the Champagne region, it’s designed to pair well with Robuchon’s French fare, and the can matches the red of his L’Atelier restaurants. (Photo: thedrinksbusiness.com)
Evil Twin x Andy Ricker
Since relocating to Brooklyn, the Danish gypsy brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø (the man behind Evil Twin) has teamed up with Andy Ricker to brew a black lager called The Darkness. So far, it’s available exclusively at Pok Pok NY. We’re assuming a similar spirit is behind the Berliner weisse for Blanca.
Rogue Ales x Masaharu Morimoto
Rogue could be credited with kicking off the era of chef-brewery collabos—or at least taking it mainstream—when it launched its Signature Series with Iron Chef’s Masaharu Morimoto. The Japanese-inspired beers—including the Soba Ale, brewed with buckwheat—have won countless awards and continue to be big sellers. (Photo: Rogue Ales)
Flying Dog x Bryan Voltaggio
Repping their shared roots in Maryland, Flying Dog teamed up with Voltaggio to create Backyard Ale, a smoked amber ale that plays well with all things BBQ. It’s sold in both 750ml bombers and 12-ounce bottles. (Photo: Flying Dog)
Brooklyn Brewery x Thomas Keller
It makes sense that a culinary titan like Keller would tap Garrett Oliver, perhaps the country’s most erudite brewer, to create a custom beer for Per Se and the French Laundry. The bottle-refermented Belgian-style ale bears the name Blue Apron—a nod to the kitchen at Per Se.
Half Acre Beer Co. x Grant Achatz and Dave Beran
Chicago’s Half Acre has made some one-off, draft-only offerings for Next, including the Haptera, a toasted rice ale brewed as a pairing for the restaurant’s Kyoto menu. Achatz has also worked with Evil Twin to create a series of barrel-aged beers for Aviary. (Photo: Untappd)
Mikkeller x Danny Bowien
At last summer’s MAD conference in Copenhagen, Mikkeller a series of beers to pair with specific meals at the symposium, including one cooked by chef Danny Bowien. Now, Bowien has his own Szechuan peppercorn-infused beer made specially for Mission Chinese Food. We’re not sure how involved he was in the process, but it has all the trappings of a proper collabo.
4Hands Brewing Co. x St. Louis’s James Beard Award-nominated chefs
In 2012, 4Hands paid homage to local chefs who had been nominate for James Beard Award by collaborating with them on Foundation, a blonde ale that fused ingredients representative of each of the chefs’ restaurants, including basil, ginger, and organic peach juice. (Photo: feaststl.com)
Goose Island x Chicago chefs
Goose Island ran an exciting Chefs Collaboration Series that included Chicago heavy-hitters like Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, and Paul Kahan. Former brewer Jared Rouben spearheaded the project, which involved working with chefs to create custom pairings for their cuisine. With Dirk Flanagan of The Gage, he made a Belgian red ale named Luciana, which deployed rye and roast malt to match the gaminess of the restaurant’s menu.
Estrella Damm x Ferran Adrià
Adrià teamed up with his sommeliers at ElBulli and the Spanish brewery Damm to come up with Inedit, a Belgian-style, orange peel-infused witbier meant to be paired with food. The sleek packaging was designed to overcome any perceived stigma of drinking beer at dinner—you can pop a bottle and put it on ice like champagne.