The first annual Chef n’ Brew Festival was held at the Oriental Theater on Saturday night. The purpose of the event was to highlight the complementary flavors of locally brewed beer with dishes from some of Denver’s finest chefs. In total, twelve breweries and twelve restaurants were present, several of whom were offering two pairings each. Said pairings ranged from average to divine (our favorites are listed below), but I’ll get to them in a minute.
In one of the poorer run events I’ve attended in quite some time, the layout and overall flow stifled what the chefs and brewers had worked so hard on. When we arrived, there was a line out the door and down the street. Initially, I was excited. After all, it is typically a great sign when so many people show up for an event. We made it through the doors a few minutes later, grabbed our souvenir glasses, and picked the nearest line. Twenty five minutes later we had our first dish.
Normally I’m incredibly tolerant of waiting in lines for beer. Years of practice at GABF and countless other festivals have honed my skills and my patience. What happened on Saturday was far worse than even the most rain-drenched and overpriced festival one could imagine. After the first hour, anarchy set in. Many people were skipping the lines altogether leading to numerous confrontations. Then tables began to run out of food halfway through the allotted time. The bar must have made a pretty penny as more and more people chose to carry around PBR tall-boys so they’d have something to sip on while waiting in line. The sad thing is all could have been prevented. While the Oriental Theater is a very unique venue, it is not equipped for a beer festival. Narrow hallways and limited sitting/standing room forced patrons to devour their beer and food pairing while waiting in line for the next. All could have been alleviated if they’d picked, say, Mile High Station (or pretty much any other non-theater) as their venue.
Was the whole experience a bust? Of course not. Plenty of positive notes are to be had. Here were a few of our favorite pairings:
Elise Wiggins of Panzano’s Pastiche (baked pasta dish with handmade meatballs, cheese tortellini, cinnamon custard and savory pie crust) – paired with Prost Brewing’s Dunkel.
Taylor Drew of Russell’s Smokehouse’s Spiced Carrot Cake with “First Cast” macerated golden raisins and cream cheese frosting – paired with Elevation ”First Cast” IPA
And here was the crowd favorite (so good I wasn’t able to snag any before they ran out):
Jensen Cummings of Row 14 - The Power Rangers Meatball: (each ingredient represents a different power ranger’s color) – paired with Caution: Brewing’s The Green Tease infused with tea and fermented with sake yeast.
Caution: Brewing’s The Green Tease also took home some hardware as the most creative beer of the night.
I hope this becomes an annual event and I really hope they take the time to improve it next year. Chef n’ Brew could be a fantastic event if given the right venue and a little bit more planning. Here’s to hoping it succeeds.
Check out the slideshow for more photos: