It’s almost impossible to eat out in California these days without being offered wine to pair with your meal, but can you imagine the day when cream stout usurps cabernet sauvignon as the preferred libation for washing down your filet mignon? Given the decade-long rise of craft brewing—a tasty trend that’s resulted in more beer flavors and styles on the market than ever before in human history—this ale-trumps-wine reality is much closer than you realize. “Craft beer is hands-down the best thing to pair with food,” said “Dr.” Bill Sysak, who’s been pairing beer, wine, and spirits with food for 25-plus years and is the beverage supervisor and certified cicerone for Stone Brewing Company in Escondido. “It has carbonation, which is a natural palate cleanser. It has caramelization from the roasted malts, which complements grilled meats. It has bitterness, which cuts right through the fat. And it has sweetness, which goes against the heat. … Beer can match up with every single flavor profile.”
This collision of fine food and brilliant brew is the focus of the first-ever Salute! A Festival to Celebrate Finely Crafted Beer & Food, where Sysak will be joining 40 breweries and 20-plus restaurants serving more than 300 beers and 100 dishes down at San Buenaventura State Beach on Saturday, June 19. For all the lager-swilling dads out there, it’s a perfect party for Father’s Day weekend and, with proceeds going straight to FOOD Share of Ventura County, we can enjoy it all guilt-free knowing that our $60 ticket price is helping to feed 55,000 of our less-fortunate neighbors every month.
The event is the brainchild of Ojai-based event producer Christine Hansen and Joby Yobe, who owns the Ojai Beverage Company with his cousin Jorge Alen. “The idea came over a beer, just like this,” explained Yobe recently while sipping a draft ale in his establishment, which is equal parts bottleshop (more than 800 beers, 1,000 wines, and countless specialty liquors), pub, and restaurant. After Yobe later added with a laugh that “actually, she was drinking wine—she didn’t drink beer back then,” Hansen admitted she is “now a student” of craft brews ever since meeting Yobe back in the spring of 2009. That’s when she immediately saw the potential for Yobe’s vision of a beer-and-food festival, and began working in earnest to make it happen. Said Yobe, “There are very few, if any, events in this region where you can have a food sampling and beer tasting in one place.”
Though she had moved to Ojai to slow down her life, Hansen realized that she had the experience necessary to throw such a major event together. Among the events she helped produce across the globe, Hansen put on Nelson Mandela’s first “46664” event on World AIDS Day in South Africa, which brought more than 60,000 people together for a world-class benefit concert. Thanks to the FOOD Share connection, Salute! perfectly fits Hansen’s desire to pair good times with a cause. “The event element is just the centerpiece for a larger social campaign,” she explained.
They initially considered putting it on in June 2009, but realized that two months of planning wouldn’t be enough. So they spent the past year assembling an all-star roster of breweries and restaurants. There’s ample local presence in both categories—Telegraph Brewing Company, The Brewhouse, Firestone, S.B. Brew Co., Brophy’s, and McConnell’s Ice Cream, to name a few—but the globe’s most renowned brewing stars just might steal the show, from Dogfish Head out of Maryland and Red Hook from Seattle to Belgium’s Westmalle Trappist and Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery from Yorkshire, England. Plus, promised Yobe, “Everyone is bringing at least a five-gallon keg of their reserve beer,” meaning that attendees will have the chance to taste each brewery’s most special concoction.
While these breweries will be on hand all day long, the hardcore beer lovers who want to ensure they get those reserve tastes of such rarities as Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron and Ladyface Ale Companie’s Cheseboro Double IPA should consider buying the $135 VIP “Tastemaker” ticket, which includes reserve tastings from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., features pairing sessions throughout the day, and allows an hour jump-start on the rest of the fest. “It’s an event within the event,” said Hansen, who explained that this is where fest-goers can meet the likes of Sysak and other beer celebrities, such as Dan Kahn of Buckbean Brewing, Michael Bowe of Angel City Brewing, Doug Martin of Einhorn Beer, Anat Baron, director of the documentary Beer Wars, and Global Beer Network founders Jonny Fincioen and Claudine van Massenhove.
Rounding out the event, which takes place on the almost always pleasant Ventura shoreline, will be musical performances from Davy Knowles, Jade Hendrix, Skyler Stonestreet, Terra Incognita, Vinyl Candy, and Lee Coulter. Altogether, Salute! should go down in history as a new beer-lover’s holiday, all while raising as much as $100,000 for charity.
If successful, Hansen and Yobe are ready to make it an annual affair, which makes people like Sysak smile. “There will be such a wide spectrum of flavors that hit the palate—you’ll find beers that taste like smoked bacon or the best raspberries or chocolate or the finest coffee—that you get to experiment with them all,” said Sysak, “and anyone with an active imagination can think of food that would go with them and then try it at home.”
Salute! A Festival to Celebrate Finely Crafted Beer & Food goes down on Saturday, June 19, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura. For tickets ($60 general, $135 VIP), see salutebeerfestival.com or visit the Ojai Beverage Company, 655 East Ojai Avenue in Ojai.