LITITZ, Pa., October 2, 2010 — When Paul Pendyck sits down at the end of a day’s work, he tends to reach for a glass of beer. Often, it’s a glass of cask-conditioned beer.
This may seem logical as cask-conditioned beer is his passion and he has been the leading importer of specialized equipment for serving such beer over the past 12 years. This includes handpumps, engines, shives, firkins, and spiles and all the things that most don’t know go into pouring a great glass of cask-conditioned beer.
But, when he’s not reaching for a glass of beer, he can be found sipping on one of his favorite styles of wines- Malbec.
I recently attended a prix fixe wine dinner at his General Sutter Inn in the charming downtown borough of Lititz, Pa. General Sutter, and its adjoining Bulls Head pub, has become a bit of a cask beer aficionado destination, with Paul constantly seeking out and serving some of the best that cask-conditioned beer offers.
As a bit of a brief and educational sidebar, “cask-conditioned beer” is beer that is sometimes referred to as “real ale”, particularly by the English. It is served approximately 10-15 degrees warmer than “traditional” beer and without the aid of forced carbonation. Rather, the natural carbonation found in beer is sufficient to give it some of its “life” and is typically dispensed either via gravity (on the bar top) or pulled via a specialized handpump/beer engine.
When I received notice of this wine dinner, my initial reaction was that it might provide good material for After Hours, mainly from the perspective of seeing how an establishment known for its beer selection would present a wine dinner. Plus, I figured it never hurts to keep an eye on how beverages other than beer are being positioned in the food and beverage world. Or perhaps an even better explanation is that I enjoy wine as well as beer. It just so happens that I enjoy beer much more than wine.
The wine dinner was scheduled for an early Sunday evening in September. This made for a nice lazy Sunday afternoon drive into Amish Country. In fact, it was a horse and buggy that took us from being 5 minutes early to instead being 10 minutes late for the start of dinner.
We were the last to be sat as the group was enjoying their ‘welcome wine’, a refreshingly sweet Pio Moscato. The four course meal made its way from course to course at a typical pace, with a slow spot in the middle that I tend to experience at most beer dinners as well.
Almost all beer dinners that I attend (and the last wine dinner as well) at various establishments, the host/presenter is almost never at a loss for words. This is a typically a good thing as attendees have come to expect some level of guidance through the pairing food with wine or beer. For this particular dinner, there was not much tutorial and more reserved and hushed tones, certainly a stereotypical difference between beer and wine events.
As we made our way through the dinner, I couldn’t help but try to play the role of a beer dinner menu architect attempting to exchange a beer that would do as good of a job, or better, than the glass of wine on the table with each course.
After dinner, we repaired to the Bulls Head Pub where we took the time to enjoy a properly poured cask-conditioned beer. On this particular night, it was a Hop Wallop from the local Victory Brewing Company that fit the bill.
I later caught up with Paul to discuss some of his thoughts on beer, wine, food, and the intersection of all three as he sees it playing out in the industry, in mainstream, and in his restaurant and new pub. In my conversation with Paul, I’ve noted my beer pairing suggestions along with his.
Bryan Kolesar: How long has it been since you began UK Brewing? How do you describe your work there?
Paul Pendyck: About 12 years now. I assist bars in cask setups and the handling of cask ale. Also, taking orders and organising shipments of goods from UK.
BK: How long have you been at General Sutter? What is your title as it relates to both the inn and the new pub?
PP: I’m a partner with no real day-to-day operational responsibilities other than supervising beer selection. I participate in weekly meetings with management staff to review financials, marketing, events, etc.
BK: How long have you had the cask program (Friday specials and other such events) at the General?
PP: I started the monthly cask program about 3 years ago. We’ve scaled it back to about 3-4 times a year. We also have two real ale festivals a year of about 20 casks.
BK: Describe how you’ve seen people’s taste for beer (esp. cask) change during this time.
PP: Beer-drinking customers have become far more adventurous and knowledgeable. There’s a definite increase in the consumption of cask ale. People are coming to understand that it is not warm and flat.
BK: How have you seen the drinking habits change over recent years at General Sutter?
PP: More drinkers over the past six months because of the pub opening.
BK: What is the most sold beer and/or style at the General?
BK: How much a hand did you have in planning the wine dinner?
PP: Only in so much as the discussion of a price point.
BK: When looking at the wine dinner’s menu, provide some beer substitution suggestions for each course. (note: see below for the entire menu)
PP: 1st course: Shipyard Chamberlain Pale Ale, 2nd course: Original Sin Cider, 3rd course: Ommegang Abbey Ale, 4th course: Cherish Raspberry Lambic
BK: That’s interesting, we have some similarities in either style or flavor. While I didn’t make specific brand choices, my choices by style were: 1st course: something lighter like a Kölsch or Pale Ale, 2nd course: something a little fruitier like a Belgian Wit or German Hefe Weizen, 3rd course: something with solid malt backbone like a Belgian dubbel, 4th course: something fruity and tart enough to cut through the cheesecake like a Lambic, perhaps a Kriek
BK: Talk just a bit about how you enjoy beer paired with food and, likewise, wine with food.
PP: I like both but tend to drink wine when having a more formal dinner.
BK: At the end of a day’s work (or in the middle of it) how likely are you to grab a beer versus wine? If a wine, what’s your “go-to” wine and why?
PP: 99% of the time, when I’m having a drink, I’m drinking a beer. If wine, then it’s usually a Malbec.
BK: Provide some thoughts about the relationship of beer and wine…..similarities and differences.
PP: Beer is still regarded by some as being a less serious beverage than wine but that is changing dramatically. Beer is now viewed by many in as high esteem as wine. Beer’s price point is more accessible to people.
BK: What do you personally like about each and what do you not like?
PP: I enjoy both but would opt for beer. I prefer the taste and the quaffability.
BK: Talk about something that still surprises or frustrates you about beer, even after all these years.
PP: When people say I don’t like beer. I think Michael Jackson said it is like saying “I don’t like food”. There are so many variations in flavour that in most cases people could find something to like.
BK: When talking with beer-curious wine drinkers, if asked, what advice do you give them for becoming more experienced with what beer has to offer?
PP: Go to a good beer bar with knowledgeable staff and taste test. Inform the staff what you like or don’t like and ask for their help.
BK: Are there slam-dunk “crossover” beers for wine drinkers, in your opinion?
PP: Not really. It will vary from person to person.
BK: I understand wine dinners may become monthly events at General Sutter. Are there any plans to do regularly recurring beer dinners?
PP: I would like to develop the beer dinners. We have done a few. The difficulty is coordinating with the brewers. I think having the brewer in attendance is an appealing part of the experience.
BK: If you had the power to bring one beer (or brewery) into either the PA market or more broadly the U.S. market for us all to experience, what would it be?
PP: Any good cask conditioned bitter from England. On my last visit, I really enjoyed St. Austell’s Tribute and Skinner’s Betty Stogs.
BK: On the other hand, which beer do you want to keep all to yourself?
PP: None. Let’s spread the joy.
BK: Is there anything new in your world–beer, cask, wine, food, the General, UK Brewing, etc–that you’d like to share?
PP: We are working with vendors to offer higher-end wines by the glass utilising a wine preservation system. Our goal is to create the same excitement that our beer program has. Introducing unique and exciting wines and rotating them on a regular basis.
BK: What are you drinking right now and have these questions made you thirsty for another?
PP: Oliver’s Best Bitter, cask of course!
BK: Thanks Paul. This has been fun. Cheers!
Wine Dinner Menu at General Sutter Inn, Lititz, Pa.
Apertif: Pio Moscato
First Course: Chilled Petit Fire Roasted Pepper stuffed with Smoked Trout and Truffle Potato Salad
paired with: Chardonnay, Hope Estate Hunter Valley, Australia
Second Course: Baby Spinach and Arugula Salad with Fresh Citrus Segments, Toasted Almonds, Grilled Shrimp, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
paired with: Sauvignon Blanc, Tortoise Creek Languedoc, France
Third Course: Prosciutto wrapped Lamb Loin with Butternut Squash Risotto, Port Wine Demi, Grilled Asparagus
paired with: Cabernet, Louis Martini, Napa Valley
Fourth Course: Chevre Cheesecake with Strawberries, Aged Balsamic reduction
paired with: Sparkling, Martini and Rossi Rose, Italy
Bryan J. Kolesar travels the world for great beer and food. He writes from his native Philadelphia region.