Colorado brings the height of pairings to Great American Beer Festival

Paired, a foodie extension of Great American Beer Festival, invites chefs from all over the country, plus a few international appearances, to partner up with breweries to create two small dishes that highlight both craft industries. Typically, there are both sweet and savory options where the endless possibilities of food and beer combinations can be put on display. Paired is hands down our favorite part of GABF and RMFR snags a ticket to the exclusive Friday session on October 6, at the Colorado Convention Center.

Naturally, we try practically everything. But just like our beer selections at this year’s coverage, we aim to focus our energy and our taste buds on the enthusiastic presentation that Colorado eateries bring to the special event.

Chef Kelly Whitaker from Basta in Boulder, Colorado, makes beer-friendly, finger foods like a mortadella hot dog topped with a slice of pickled, salted plum and Napa cabbage with a Sans Pagaie, a sour blonde ale aged in oak barrels with cherries from Bruery Terreux in Anaheim, California.

The sporty vibe plays on with Aspen Moon heirloom Dutch butter popcorn topped with maitake furikake (a mushroom based, dried, Japanese seasoning) and smoked butter next to Goses are Red, a sour wheat ale brewed with salt, coriander and the addition of grapes. The movie theater treat is an unexpected surprise and both dishes are easy to enjoy as we balance and bend our way through the hungry crowd.

Androit Theory Brewing Company out of Purcellville, Virginia, finds a home team advantage with chef Alex Seidel of Mercantile Dining & Provision in Denver. A New England style double IPA, triple dry-hopped with galaxy, comet and mosaic compliment the fresh Alaskan king crab with coconut curry and cauliflower kimchi. Simply stellar.

For the sweeter side, we have a brunch-inspired cup of Palisade peach preserves, spent grain ice cream, torn malted cake and puffed grains with a Somnambulist saison, made with rye and honey.

The crispy clam roll with hatch green chili aioli from Sidney Street Cafe based in St. Louis, Missouri, proves to be a crowd pleaser. Fresh, toasty bread with generous salt seems to be clutch with Ghost Lantern, a Baltic porter from Medusa Brewing Company out of Hudson, Massachusetts. Eager guests wait at length to grab a fresh pull from the oven. James Beard award-winning chef Kevin Nashan catches our attention and shares with RMFR that he’s ready to open a seafood eatery in Denver this fall. So circle back for “Maine meets Louisiana” cuisine to set up shop here in the very near future.

Lost Highway Brewing Company based in Centennial, Colorado, couples up with Alla Spina from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their Raspberry Beret, a berlinerweiss, is perfect alongside poached shrimp ceviche with lime, lemon and grapefruit juice, raspberry infused honey, torn mint, chopped red onion and a sea salt rim.

They skip dessert and come up with a solid fall pairing with casoncelli, amaretti and raisins next to Bad Moon Rising, a Belgian dirty blond.

Next we find spoonfuls of gorgonzola terrine, rye, walnuts and grapes by chef Paul Reilly of Denver’s Beast + Bottle. They’re the perfect bite to go with Schrute Farms beet beer from Right Brain Brewery out of Traverse City, Michigan.

Right Brain is also responsible for one of the most interesting beers we try during the evening. Their Thai peanut brown ale balances a plump, jumbo gulf shrimp on top of popcorn grits with kaffir lime and a halved grape tomato.

The only full-up Colorado coupling comes from chef Kyle Mendenhall of Arcana in Boulder, Colorado, and Odell Brewing Company from Fort Collins, Colorado. A cured Colorado pork heart katsuobushi shaved on top of anasazi refried beans with dried oregano stands up to the barrel aged mountain standard, a double black IPA that weighs in at over 10 percent ABV. One of our favorites is the peach froyo with pie crust crumble and anise hyssop accompanied by Green Coyote, a tomatillo sour ale. Green is good.

We stroll out to the white tents that dress the patio and blue lights beam down across the swanky exterior setup. It gives a tone to Jax Fish House as they shuck oysters on the spot and display the half shells on ice for patrons to customize with lemon, horseradish and cocktail sauce. A lambic from Paradise Creek Brewery in Pullman, Washington, is a great way to wash it all down. They also share a peach saison with Jax’s autumn squash bisque that’s full of chopped, spiced blue crab.

We work our way back inside to find creations by chef Sean Clark of El Moro Tavern in Durango, Colorado, with Brew Bus Brewing out of Tampa, Florida. We start off with a sous vide bourbon barrel-smoked pork belly atop pureed butternut squash circled with a molasses demi paired same-same style next to a bourbon barrel-aged Curb Check imperial porter.

Dessert doesn’t disappoint with honey, lavender, chèvre profiteroles full of Palisade peach curd and topped with a fantastical blueberry dust. We appreciate the comedic reference and the beer behind You’re my boy Blue! a blueberry wheat ale that contains the perfect nuance of fruit flavor to pleasantly complete the last course.

The plating, creativity and intentionality behind the collaborations at Paired is a clear sign of the innovation happening right here in Colorado. We notice that this year has an even stronger representation of the local culinary momentum that’s well underway. It signifies that “The Centennial  State” pushes the envelope as a leader in both the craft beverage scene as well as in the world of gastronomy.