Giving chefs, brewers, and local food producers a chance to work together to create new riffs on a timeless pairing, the seventh annual Burgers & Brew filled Capital Brewery's bier garten Saturday with a scene to welcome summer. Framed by billows of smoke rising through the intense heat, tents were filled with diners making their selections among an amazing number of burger and beer options.
Presented by REAP Food Group, one ticket yields three beer samples and three slider-sized burgers. Pairings are suggested and offered together at each table, each served by a representative from a Wisconsin brewery, Madison-area restaurant, and regional farm or producer.
"In many cases the brewery and the chef already have a relationship and like working together," says Bowen Close, REAP's communications director. Proceeds from Burgers & Brew benefit the group's Buy Fresh Buy Local program, which helps bring southern Wisconsin farmers and chefs together.
As a first beer of the evening, Minion IPA from Rush River Brewing was a fine antidote to the heat. Lush and balanced, with citrusâ€“honeyed hops and just a kiss of resin on the finish, this IPA showcases Mosaic hops from the Yakima Valley. The small-batch offering from the River Falls brewery was matched up with the 100 Mile Burger from Monty's; my server gave me the black-bean vegetarian version, and it was a good, light starter. Though the thick ciabatta and likewise thick black bean patty were somewhat drying together, but a slather of caramelized onions, Hook's five-year cheddar, and the famous 100 Mile barbecue sauce added moisture and a slam-dunk flavor pairing for the IPA. The burgerâ€™s kick married with the touch of sweetness in the IPA for a very refreshing combination.
Of course, the beer belle of the ball at this event was Fishin' in the Dark, the first beer designed by a woman for Capital Brewery. Assistant brewer Ashley Kinart was on hand to discuss her imperial schwarzbier, which was paired with the Lamb Kafta burger from Bunky's.
Fishin' in the Dark is aptly named; if this beer was a song, it would be Bob Seger's "Night Moves." With a gorgeous malt bill that provides just enough sugar in its cafe-au-lait profile to stand up to the crisp hops and hint of smoke that come together in the long finish, this is an ideal after-dark Wisconsin summer night sipper. The very subtle roast found the Mediterranean-spiced lamb in Bunky's burger and ran away to Greece with it. The burger's stellar spicy hummus and perfectly toasted, buttery rosemary brioche roll brought additional depth to the pairing. This was both the beer of the day and the most perfect beer/burger pairing I tasted.
Finally, it takes moxie to bring an imperial chocolate stout to an outdoor event when the high is 90 degrees, but Sand Creek Brewing of Black River Falls took the risk and brought their special reserve Oscar's Double Chocolate Oatmeal Stout to dance with El Tejano from Dayton Street Grille. The brew is sweet and creamy, with the chocolate present but kept well in check. With the fruity smoke of El Tejano's grilled corn salsa and generous helping of jalapeno havarti, this beef burger packs some heat, and thus the stout acts as a calming force -- the effect is rather like chocolate ice cream after a spicy Tex-Mex meal.
With outstanding ingredients, fairly sized portions, good crowd control, and a fantastic selection, it's easy to see why both servers and diners were in good spirits at this festival. Any chance to bring brewers and chefs together, especially over a dish with as much creative potential as the humble burger, is bound to be fun for both parties, and lucky attendees enjoyed tasting the results.