In the Deschutes Brewery pub, beer is deconstructed and rebuilt on the plate.
You know brewpub cooking: beer-attered fish-and-chips, cheddar-beer soup, ploughman’s lunch with some beer-spiked mustard? Think again. At Deschutes Brewery & Public House, with a location in Bend and in Portland, Oregon, there’s venison chili made with stout, porter barbecued salmon and a pale ale granite for the oysters. Not only that, but beer ingredients and byproducts are also used: spent grain in the house breads, hops in the cheesecake, wort in the wild mushroom ragout.
"People’s notion of beer has really changed,” says Gary Fish, who founded Deschutes Brewery in Bend in 1988 and celebrated the brewpub’s 20th anniversary by opening a second, larger place in Portland earlier this year. “It used to be something pale yellow, fizzy and pretty subdued in flavor, and so was the food that went with it.”
For its beers, Deschutes has been part of the revolution, producing highly regarded craft beers including flagship Mirror Pond Pale Ale and rich Black Butter Porter, hoppy Inversion IPA and four other regular brews, plus dozens of seasonal specialties. And the food, which started fairly simply with the Bend location, has been ratcheted up considerably in Portland, with the hiring of executive chef Jeff Usinowicz and the construction of a purpose-built kitchen with full capabilities for a broad, beer-friendly menu.
Befitting the local image of the pubs themselves, the menu has always emphasized local products including Coleman Ranch naturally raised beef. And even here, Deschutes is expanding what it does with its beer: the cows are fed spent grain from the brewery. “It’s a closed system,” notes Fish with some pride. “We also use the spent grain in the hamburger rolls.”
Using spent grains (the barley, wheat and other grains left over from the brewing process which is still loaded with flavor) to cook with is indicative of the level of detail in Deschutes’ kitchens, where it’s used to bake breads and rolls and to craft pizza dough, as well as in the house veggie burger. Its rough, hearty texture also works well with things like carrot cake and rustic cookies.
“It’s a real creative boost to be able to walk across the kitchen into the brewery and grab some freshly brewed beer or a batch of wort,” says Fish.
About that wort—which is the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer—it contains the grain, malt and sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohol, but the hops which add pleasing bitterness to the finished beer have yet to be added. Wort is also very useful for bringing the flavor of beer—without the bitterness—to desserts and other sweetness-tinged foods, or creating a sauce where reduction would accentuate the hoppy bitterness of beer itself.
Hops are another beer ingredient that is used in food at Deschutes. Even with the rising price of hops, all it takes is a little of the distinctively flavored flower cones to impart a touch of herbaciousness to the housemade hummus or a subtle floral quality to Cherry Hop Cheesecake. “Different kinds of hops have different flavor characteristics, and we’re lucky to live right in the middle of hop country,” says Fish.
He has also been pleasantly surprised by the degree to which the beer itself can be used in cooking—to add flavor and leavening to batters; as a brine for meat with salt, sugar and other flavorings; stirred into glazes and basting sauces; used as a liquid for steaming and braising.
The fact that virtually all brewers—even large commercial ones—have driven bitter, hoppy notes to higher and higher extremes has only served to heighten the culinary challenge; so, too, has the increasing popularity of specialty beers like pumpkin ale and some of the more sour brews. “There is an incredible spectrum of beer that’s available today,” says Fish, “and that really stretches a chef’s creativity.
“One of my jobs is to push the team harder to experiment.” he adds. “If it doesn’t work, the worst thing that happens is you throw it into the trash. But when a recipe works, you’ve created something that the customer can’t get anywhere else.”