With a name like Bitter Brothers Brewing Company (4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho), one might think it a bit of a standoffish operation and think twice about attending its “family dinner” events. But taking part in one of these affairs is actually rather sweet. Company co-founder Bill Warnke was a professional chef for many years before getting into the beer-biz. Not only does all that experience mean he has chops in the kitchen. It also means he has a vast number of friends in kitchens all over San Diego County. It’s these very taste buds that help make Bitter Brothers’ Family Dinner series so special.
Each quarter, Bill invites several of his chef-friends to his brewery to put together a multi-course, beer-paired meal to be served to 50 ticket-wielding guests in his tasting room. That space is reconfigured to feature a long, pieced-together communal table from which patrons can converse between courses and take in explanatory orations from participating chefs and head brewer John Hunter. The most recent of these communal affairs took place last fall and included culinary contributions from Olivier Bioteau (A.R. Valentien, The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ vaunted white-linen restaurant), Steve Brown (Cosecha), Melissa Mayer (Martini Media) and beertender Travis Clifford, a chef best known in beer-circles for working food events at North Park’s Toronado.
Though cooking with limited equipment from the back-end of a brewery, all of the chefs were able to both bring and deliver their A-game. The meal started with a pair of dueling oysters plucked from West and East Coast waters, respectively, anointed with exotic accoutrements. The earthiness of toasted quinoa, basil and Thai chilies atop a Shigoku bivalve were provided needed acid from Bitter Brothers’ Family Tart Berliner weisse. Meanwhile, that same beer found harmony with yeast added in tandem with mushrooms and cuttlefish ink to a Puffer Wellfleet oyster. And that was just the first course.
Midway through the meal, the table was graced by duck served two-ways. A seared breast rubbed with Chinese five-spice and classic confited leg came across as autumn on a plate thanks to fried sage, purée of kombucha squash and a sweet, foresty huckleberry sauce. Bready in its malt-character, Extra Special Brother, the brewery’s English-style bitter, was perfectly suited for the dish and amplified the seasonality. Similarly, a beef cheek cooked to tender perfection over 72 hours in an immersion circulator was ideal for the brisk, chilly season, and its heartiness was complimented by another beer rich with dark malts, Brotherly Love dunkelweizen. Unlike the previous dish, however, kimchee and hop ash provided bright counterpoints to keep the dish from getting to heavy.
Hunter is known for what he calls “candy-bar beers”. While with Karl Strauss Brewing Company, he developed the recipe for its popular Peanut Butter Cup Porter. His latest confection-inspired creation, Aunt Joy—a riff on an Almond Joy bar—could have served as dessert all by itself. Instead, it came across as a bonus piece to a multi-component assortment of sweet treats assembled by Bioteau, who served up beer-soaked “baba” cake (a dessert typically moistened with rum), from-scratch marshmallows and more. It was a fun way to close things out with dinner-guests who by then felt more like friends…or family.
The next edition of this series will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 30. That affair will be based around a Baja theme. Tickets will go on-sale in early March and proceeds from the event will go to local non-profit Feeding San Diego. To keep abreast of future family dinners, follow Bitter Brothers’ social media. In the meantime, try your hand at “Bitter Bill’s” contribution from the aforementioned autumnal affair—risotto topped with seared sea scallops—which he’s been kind enough to share. May it reach “old family recipe” in your own household.
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and shallot and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Use a ladle to add 1 cup of the broth to the rice mixture. Cook the risotto, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Keep liquid at a simmer—do not boil. Begin adding the liquid, ½ a cup at a time, and cooking, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat as needed until the rice has softened, but the center of each grain of rice remains somewhat firm in the center, and its starches have been released to create a creamy consistency. Note: If you run out of stock, continue the process using hot water. Season with salt and stir in the cheese. To serve, ladle equal servings of the rice into bowls, top with scallops and microgreens, and serve immediately with the beer.
Yield: 4 scallops
Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over high heat. Place the scallops in the pan and sear until scallops is golden-brown on both sides and slightly opaque in the center, 1½ to 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and serve immediately.
—Recipes courtesy of Bill Warnke, owner, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company