head brewer, Vilija Bizinkauskas, to talk beer nostalgia, Vermont beer culture and the unseen challenges of the brewing lifestyle
. Post-talk — and post-pints — I carried an armful of treasure home with me: a growler of Berlinner Weisse (the tart, off-sour pilsner way too flavorful for its 2.9 percent ABV) and a few freshly minted cans of milk stout called Fetchez La Vache.
Though it was noon on a Tuesday, I promptly called a few friends to help share my bounty come happy hour. Luckily, Bizinkauskas has ample knowledge of snacks to pair with Drop-In brews.
How to highlight a citrus-forward sour pils? Use its acidity to balance dishes high in spice or fat, such as long-braised meats, sausages and mustard or regional Thai or Indian cuisines. For cheese, focus on the milder ones with good tang or buttery insides; think fresh goat cheese or a decadent slab of triple crème.
What to pair with a hearty, coffee-scented milk stout that finishes dry and clear? Lean toward flavors that are briny or saline, such as oysters or smoked salmon; seared and smoky, like grilled steak or seared scallops; or earthy and deep — perhaps roasted mushrooms on sourdough or a knob of good blue cheese.
Bizinkauskas made time in her hustling brewing schedule to answer a few follow-up questions: which beers she pairs with much-loved food and what she brews for much-loved people.
SEVEN DAYS: Do you have a favorite food and beer pairing?
VILIJA BIZINKAUSKAS: We do a “beer appreciation” class at the American Brewers Guild
[Drop-In's well-known onsite brewing school] that includes beer and cheese pairings. My absolute favorite was the [Drop-In's] Imperial IPA with blue cheese from Blue Ledge Farm
. It was so good. I once paired a cherry-wheat beer with chocolate cake — that was memorable, as well.
Steve [Parkes, Drop-In founder and brewmaster] and I keep a continuing list going on our bulletin board of especially good beer pairings. Brewing is so mentally engaged, both with technique and with taste. [To be a brewer], you have to know flavor and have a good palate; you have to be constantly aware of what you're doing.
SD: What’s the worst beer you ever brewed?
VB: My first, right when I began home-brewing. I was so neurotic and paranoid about keeping everything sterile that I used distilled water. Nothing happened; I ended up with a big bucket of sugar water. As I found out later, distilled water has no oxygen. Yeast can’t survive if there’s no oxygen!
SD: And the best?
VB: There are two I’m especially proud of. I brewed my mom a clementine wheat beer years ago for Mother’s Day; I squeezed all those clementines by hand. I loved that one. The second is a beer I brewed for my best friend, Heather, when she graduated from college. I’m two years older than her, and by then I had already gotten into brewing. I made a “Heather Pale Ale” with different types of heather I bought from this organic plant nursery — two of the plants are still alive in my mom’s house. I used hops I knew she’d like based on the beers she likes to drink. I even built my own jockey box with a draft system so we could pour pints at her graduation party.
[Writer's note: If that’s not a loyal friend, I don’t know what is.]
I recently sat down with