Food Meets Beer Finds Hearty Fare at the Butcher & the Boar
By John Garland, Heavy Table
It’s hard to imagine two things going together much better than grilled sausage and cold beer. So it’s no surprise that Butcher & The Boar, the instant-classic steakhouse on Hennepin Avenue, features such a thoughtful and thorough craft beer program.
Opened in March 2012, the restaurant has become well known as chef Jack Riebel’s love letter to carnivorism—with prehistoric-sized pork chops and fresh, nuanced sausages served in a warm and modern setting. Though it was the design of an upscale urban beer garden that anchored the restaurant’s concept from the beginning.
It has quickly become one of downtown’s most inviting spots to grab a pint. The back patio is spacious and elegant in its simplicity. It’s where the business crowd effortlessly mingles with Twins pre-gamers as the intoxicating smell from the kitchen’s exhaust fan wafts overhead.
The Better Beer Society’s Rob Shellman recently chose Butcher’s patio as the site of his second blind-tasting extravaganza. The so-called “Palate Trip” featured twenty-eight beers in all, served in flights according to style, matched with one or two a la carte menu items prepared specifically for the event.
The pairings included regional classics like bratwurst and sauerkraut with German lagers, and more unique contrasts as in the interplay of acidic elements between fried green tomatoes and Belgian-style farmhouse ales. The menu’s beer-centricity was so pronounced that it included a Chinook hop-infused aioli.
“We wanted the theme for Series #2 to be more food focused, and focus on pairings with the flavors of summer, specifically barbecue,” Shellman tells me. “We were pretty impressed with what chef Riebel and his staff are doing with their charcuterie program, but equally impressed that they hired someone exclusively to run their beer program, and he does it really well.”
He speaks of Butcher’s Beer Director, 26-year-old Ben Knutson. We met him at the bar early on a Tuesday morning, and found him reading Garret Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table while anxiously awaiting the results of his cicerone exam. Our chat left little doubt in his bourgeoning expertise.
“I got lucky enough to make a full time job out of my favorite hobby,” says Knutson, who honed his passion for beer with Riebel during a five-year stint at The Dakota. “It wasn’t until I started working with Jack that I was asking questions, understanding flavor and really falling in love with food.”
Knutson features 30 draught beers at Butcher, all domestics. “American Craft is essentially the identity of the restaurant,” explains Knutson. “It all started with making artisanal sausages in a high-end beer garden. As the idea of the restaurant progressed, it was in everything from the interior, to the way we prepare food, to the bourbon—one of America’s original culinary crafts—and down to the beer.”
All of Butcher’s beers must accomplish one of two things. They must be a bourbon substitute, with a fuller body and hints of sweetness to counteract the levels of spice and heat coming from the kitchen. Knutson is excited for autumn, as the seasonal Märzens and Oktoberfests fit this bill beautifully.
Or, they can be stand-alone sips meant for enjoying in the garden. In the current summer swelter, that means more sessionable ales. Lucid Air, for example, a gossamer brew from Minnetonka, is sold at Butcher like a gateway craft beer. “A lot of people come in and ask for Coors Light and we suggest trying Air. We’ll bring them a sample and more often than not, they’ll like it and be excited to be partaking in this craft beer camaraderie.”
Once tapped, kegs last no more than a week at Butcher, so patrons need not worry about even unique beers going stale. “I won’t order things that I know won’t be fresh,” says Knutson. “Especially with special releases and our hoppier beers, I’ll get them in quickly so they won’t lose their edge.” Lines are cleaned biweekly.
Knutson is currently working to add a couple unique facets to his program. “We’re looking into, perhaps, creating some gourmet syrups to add to the beer,” he explains, “which is often how it’s traditionally served in Germany. The older crowd might like a dash of lingonberry syrup to add to a Berliner Weisse to nullify the tartness.”
He’s also looking to augment his bottle list, which currently features a few interesting Belgians, to read more like a wine list. He’d like to feature more high-end, large format bottles designed specifically to pair with certain menu items. For now, his taps do a great job of complementing Riebel’s fare. For the ultimate expression of their cohesiveness, Knutson suggests the following:
Ben Knutson’s Killer Beer Pairing Dinner For Two at Butcher & The Boar:
Wood Grilled Oysters ($11) + Lindemans Cuvée René ($13)
There’s perhaps no wine and food pairing more classic or revered than oysters with Champagne. Here, the Cuvée René steps in admirably. It is a gueuze—a blend of young and matured lambics left to ferment and age in the bottle, very much in the Champenois style.
Cuvée René delivers the effervescence of a sparkling wine and its sour acidity acts like a squeeze of lemon. Its slightly funky characteristics also match the Parmesan-garlic butter—truly a perfect pairing for Riebel’s smoky oysters.
“From The Butcher” Sample Platter ($18) and/or Maine Blue Mussels ($14) + Goose Island Matilda ($7)
“I know it’s been said a million times, but [Matilda] is such a great food beer,” says Knutson. “It’s a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, brewed with Brettanomyces, so there’s all this complexity—every flavor from sweet to salty and even a little sour. So with the charcuterie sampler that has all these different preparations, each one brings out a different character in the beer. The wild boar sausage with truffle brings out those funk and spice notes. With the Braunschweiger, the sweet and almost fruity flavor of the beer will cut through the richness and elevate them both.”
The same is true of Matilda with the mussels. Both the beer and the shellfish feature a complementary note of sweetness, and the more gamey flavors in Matilda work wonders bridging that sweetness with the savory vermouth and bleu cheese reduction.
Smoked Beef Long Rib ($34) + Founder’s Dirty Bastard ($6)
The house’s signature cut of meat is a Tabasco- and molasses-coated beef long rib. Tremendous in both size and flavor, its sticky glaze seals in achingly tender shreds of meat. It may seem at first blush that one needs a stiff Manhattan to cut through all the fat, smoke and spice the rib delivers.
“The Dirty Bastard is a real strong Scotch Ale,” says Knutson. “It’s got these nice caramelized flavors, a little bit of toffee, but then there’s a subtle smoke quality to it as well. The sweetness kind of soothes the heat from the rib and the actual juicy qualities of the ale just sing with the wonderful rib meat.” Upon tasting this match, I couldn’t agree more.
John Garland writes about food and drink for the Heavy Table (heavytable.com)