Beer At/Is Fancy Food

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For the third straight year, beer had a bigger presence at the Winter Fancy Food Show, held each January in San Francisco. The Brewers Association once again had a booth pouring beer from a variety of craft brewers, through their Export Development Program (EDP). I went the first year, too, and this year it again appeared to be one of the most popular booths at the giant food show that features high-end, specialty foods. Hopefully not by coincidence, the BA’s craft beer booth was located next to most of the cheese, which made finding divine pairings quite easy. There are few things better than great beer and cheese together.

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In talking with Bob Pease, COO of the BA and head of EDP, it was clear this was the right crowd to help build craft beer. Attendees were by and large retailers who carry not just ordinary grocery fare, but high-end, specialty foods. Craft beer, of course, is a high-end, specialty food and these days, any specialty food retailer carrying better cheese, bread, chocolate, charcuterie, etc. but not craft beer, is missing out. And many people there seemed to understand that.

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People lined up to try the beers, and unlike your average beer festival, most asked good questions not just about the beer, but what foods it went with, how to market it, etc. In several conversations I eavesdropped on, retailers admitted not knowing much about craft beer, but seemed to understand it was now part of the specialty food world and were eager to learn more and understand how it could fit into their own businesses.

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Nancy Johnson, Event Director for the BA, sampling people on Dogfish Head’s beer.

Having had most of the beers from the dozen breweries at the BA’s booth, I wanted to see what else was being featured at the show, so I spent a few hours walking the aisles and stuffing my face with countless delicious samples being offered at nearly every booth.

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I was in heaven with all the different cheese available for sampling. I must have eaten at least a pound or more of cheese in the aggregate.

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There was an entire area devoted to Japan’s cuisine, and among those booths I discovered that Hitachino Nest Beer was sampling people on three of their beers.

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I also noticed this clever carrying-case to transport a twelve-pack to your next tasting.

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Not surprisingly, they were also pouring beer — Spaten — in the German cuisine area.

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And last, though in this case possibly least, there was also a booth featuring beer salt. Though I suppose if you’re stuck drinking Corona, with a wedge of lime and some beer salt, you’d have the makings of a beer margarita.

Anyway, the Fancy Food Show was great fun, and it was amazing to see so many innovative foods, and the way they were being presented. There was food from a dizzying number of countries, and many new ways of eating more traditional fare. But what was really terrific to witness, is how many people were so accepting of beer as a part of the great panoply of food. I don’t so much like the word “fancy” as a way of describing either craft beer or most of the foods at the show, and I suspect that’s a name with a history that they’re somewhat stuck with now. The Fancy Food Show is put on by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, and that’s a much better way of looking at it. Because none of the food there could be considered ordinary, it was all pretty special. And that’s one way to look at beer, too. There’s ordinary beer — well-made but fairly bland without much flavor — and then there’s craft beer — loaded with flavor and in endless variety. Give me the specialty beer every time. Life’s just too short to settle for the ordinary.

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