By: Erika Bolden
You don’t often see beer served alongside haute cuisine. While gastropubs and other midrange eateries have increased the range of their beverage programs to include local and regional craft beer, high-end establishments have been slow to do the same. Beer, historically a working-class beverage, is an afterthought.
The Club Bar at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills is one L.A. institution working to change that. Starting Aug. 1, it will offer a custom-made beer from Napa Valley nanobrewery Mad Fritz Brewing Co. Nanobreweries are the smallest of microbreweries, and the beer, called the Lion and the Mouse, is a 7.5 percent ABV abbey dubbel made with small-batch raw ingredients. It has more in common with wine than most beer — aged in French oak barrels and served in an elegant, large-format bottle. The beer's Full Pint malt from Mecca Grade Estate Malt in Madras, Oregon, and its organic Gargoyle hops from Hops-Meister in Clearlake make it unique — and extremely limited in quantity.
Mad Fritz beer is usually only for sale at the brewery in St. Helena and is available by exclusive membership. Needless to say, the wait list is long.
Owner and brewmaster Nile Zacherle is well versed in both the wine and beer industries. After earning a B.S. in fermentation science at UC Davis and graduating from the Master Brewers program, he worked for Anderson Valley Brewing Co. in Boonville before moving into the wine industry, where he continues winemaking under two labels. He operates Mad Fritz as a side project with his wife, vineyard manager Whitney Fisher.
To debut the Lion and the Mouse, Zacherle worked with Peninsula chef David Codney to build a beer-pairing dinner that showcased Mad Fritz beer in a fine-dining context.
There is an advantage that beer has over wine in terms of pairing: hops. “It sounds very simple, but the reality is that when you drink [a liquid that has] hops, it’s a palate cleanser," Codney says. "Wine will linger longer, whereas every time you sip with hops it cleanses your palate.”
In addition to crafting dishes such as pickled mackerel salad and pastrami-rubbed smoked pork belly, Codney is a prolific homebrewer. “It’s really taught me about yeast, the fermentation process, winemaking and distilling," he says. "I’ve really learned to fall in love with the beverage side of food more due to homebrewing.”
Beer-pairing dinners are not uncommon at L.A. restaurants, especially during L.A. Beer Week. But they typically are one-off events. Before the release of the Lion and the Mouse, the only beer options at the Club Bar were commercial imports such as Stella Artois. Beverage director Michael Ploetz initiated the Mad Fritz collaboration after meeting Zacherle through his winemaking.
After the Mad Fritz dinner, Zacherle and Ploetz retired to the bar for a nightcap. It took less than five minutes for a group of curious entrepreneurs and investors to spot a bottle of the Lion and the Mouse and order it. As the wine-looking bottle got dropped in front of them, Zacherle walked over and said, “Let me tell you about this beer.”