Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Alex Ganum wasn’t sure what Grain & Gristle’s head chef wanted to do with the plastic bag of hops he’d brought him from Upright Brewing — but chances were good that those Columbian cones would find their way into an exciting experimental dish at the Northeast Portland gastropub.
Turns out, Greg Smith did have grand plans for the hops. He was going to use them in a cold infusion of cream for a creme “brew”lee recipe he’d been working with for years. And that was just one creation on his ever-growing list of ideas that blend beer and food. There’s also beeramisu, wort barbecue sauce and beer-brined meat that he’ll get to at some point. So Ganum’s awe-inspired reaction to Smith’s efforts is understandable:
“You guys are crazy in the kitchen, man.”
And that’s a good thing for beer and food lovers in this town. Grain & Gristle is one of the best pubs you’re probably not going to.
“We definitely are under the radar,” Smith said.
But that could soon change as word spreads in the beer community that Grain & Gristle is undergoing a bit of a transition. These days, there are a lot more Upright beers on the handles and that’s not a coincidence. Grain & Gristle, owned in part by Upright founder and head brewer Ganum, has assumed the role of satellite taproom for the brewery. Smith is now using that reinforced bond to underscore the relationship between food and beer by cooking with Ganum’s brewing ingredients and beers in various stages of preparation.
Initially, Ganum was reluctant to load up the tap list with his own beer because it meant he’d need to abandon his original goal for the space. The varied selection of brews had been shaped by the fact that Ganum was kind of pissed off — specifically at local beer drinkers.
“As a brewer, I always felt like — well, fuck man. There’s all these really great beers that are being made year-round that are getting overlooked,” Ganum explained. “I was trying to sort of force people to re-appreciate those kinds of beers that are being made day in and day out that are really tasty.”
He eventually embraced Grain & Gristle becoming a de facto Upright outpost when demand to visit the brewery exceeded its hours of availability to the public.
“I felt bad turning those people away because they really wanted to come by,” Ganum said. “But during the week, we’re just really busy with our production stuff. We just can’t have visitors all the time. If we said yes to everybody, we wouldn’t be making any beer.”
While you won’t see any changes to the name or branding of the pub, you will continue to taste more of Ganum’s beverages in menu items. One example of that during a recent visit was Smith’s pub cheese served with a Fressen pretzel. The yam-hued mound with specks of bright red peppers is made with Upright’s Engelberg Pilsener. The sassy character of the cheese just might startle you if you’re used to one-note salt bomb versions that are often partnered with baked, twisted dough. The bitter heat of the garlic hits first, mingling with the tang of the cream cheese, spicy Dijon mustard and Mama Lil’s Peppers. Bitterness is mirrored in the pils, which also cuts through the cheese’s multilayered flavors and fattiness. Smith broke down why beer and cheese just make sense together.
“It’s the balance of fat and acid — you know, the acid being the pickled peppers and the beer and the fat being the two cheeses,” he said.
Smith also successfully incorporates Upright beer in other ways. He beams when talking about the pub’s kielbasa.
“The reason I’m so excited about this plate in particular is because it uses not only his beer, but the wort from the beer — the malt syrup that goes into defining how sweet [the beer is] and some of the characteristics of the beer itself,” Smith explained.
And working with wort presents its own challenges. For one thing, Ganum doesn’t always supply Smith with the same liquid. Each batch varies in its minerality, sweetness and viscosity. Hidden flavors are also revealed when Smith reduces the wort. This all means that the beer cream that goes with the kielbasa isn’t something he can simply make on auto-pilot. It requires presence of mind and repeated tastings.
“The one thing I’ve learned over the years is the food never lies,” Smith described. “Food never lies. It’s always right there. It shows where you’re at with your temperament, your mood, your palate, your attitude.”
Upright Saison Vert is the reduction in the beer cream that’s like a gentle and muted maple syrup with hints of caramel that enhances the sweetness from the charred Old Salt Marketplace beef sausages. Thinly sliced cabbage brings crunch and contrast to the buttery soft spaetzle, which soaks up the sauce. Smith recommends pairing the kielbasa with the Saison Vert in order to experience the beer that helps define the dish. Its sweetness is amplified by the cream reduction, but there are also soft floral notes and a citrus character due to the use of black limes — fruit that’s soaked in salt brine and dried.
More one-off, cask blends and small-batch brews will be tapped at Grain & Gristle, particularly now that Upright doubled its capacity for barrel aging by acquiring more room in the building it’s currently located in. Ganum described how they were practically tripping over barrels when making beer, so the additional storage was desperately needed.
“Having this extra space is like a dream for us because it’s sort of reenergized us creatively to do new things,” Ganum said.
You can check in on Smith's progress with his mental list of experimental dishes — including the creme “brew”lee — any old time at Grain & Gristle.
Paired with Upright Engelberg Pilsener
By Chef Greg Smith
16 ounces Tillamook white cheddar
4 ounces cream cheese (temper)
1.5 tablespoons Worcestershire
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup Upright Engelberg Pilsener
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Mama Lil’s Peppers
—Combine garlic, Worcestershire, dijon, peppers and beer in food processor and blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
—Add cream cheese in large chunks and then cheddar while the food processor is going.
—Chill for 2 hours, then serve with warm Fressen pretzel, crostini or slabs of grilled bread.
Kielbasa With Spaetzle in Beer Cream
Paired with Upright Saison Vert
28 ounces all-purpose flour
13 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup stone-ground mustard
1 tablespoon turmeric
3 tablespoons kosher salt
—Mix everything but flour until smooth and incorporated.
—Add to flour in large mixing bowl. Mix with spatula for 3 minutes, developing stiff dough.
—Bring kettle of water to 190 degrees, just below boiling.
—Using perforated pan or spaetzle press, push dough in small amounts through and into water. —Dumplings will poach 45 seconds to 1 minute. They will float and be swollen when finished. —Pull out using a strainer and cool.
For Beer Cream
1 quart wort
1 quart beer
1 quart heavy cream
1/2 cup dijon
3 bay leaves
3 allspice berries
For Beer Cream
—This is more of a method derived from reducing ingredients to a specific consistency and flavor.
—Put wort in stainless steel sauce pot and reduce by half.
—Add beer, bay and allspice and reduce by half.
—Add heavy cream and reduce by half.
—Sauce should be thick enough to coat back of spoon.
—Cool and whisk in dijon.
—Strain out bay and allspice.
To Finish Dish
4 Old Salt Marketplace kielbasa sausages
1 head savoy cabbage
2 bunches green onion
To Finish Dish
—Have grill hot and ready to grill kielbasa. They can also be sauteed or roasted off in oven.
—Cut cabbage and green onion thinly.
—Fry spaetzle in hot, nonstick saute pan with butter.
—When toasted and caramelized, move spatzle to one side of pan and add cabbage and green onion.
—Add a big pinch of salt and cook until wilted.
—Add beer cream and simmer until sauce reduces, becomes thicker and coats dumplings and vegetables.
—Season with salt and pepper.
—Serve sausages over spaetzle.
Grain & Gristle
1473 NE Prescott St., Portland