Jeff Usinowicz of Deschutes Brewery on Pairing Beer With Food

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Jeff, first of all, thank you for sitting down with us – it’s such an honor for us and our readers!  Let’s start with an obvious first question: where did your passion for craft brews and foods start from?

I grew up in a large family through my cousin’s wife and my time with them on the holidays started the beginning of my love for food. My Mom was a great cook as well, so I got a lot from her as well.

How did you end up at Deschutes as a chef, and what makes Deschutes special to you, personally?

The owner of Deschutes Brewery is a friend of one of my mentors and that’s where I got connected to Deschutes Brewery.  From the day I came to Oregon in 1994, I fell in love with Mirror Pond Pale Ale sitting in a small jazz club in my new city.

We all appreciate fine craft beer – is it a challenge to find and pick the just right food to pair it with a Deschutes beer?

Not at all! I always recommend the same thought process you use in picking out a wine.  Lighter bodied beers usually tend to be better with white fish and poultry whereas the heavier and complex beer will go nicely with meats, cheeses, and chocolates.

What is your absolute favorite food-brew pairing? Can you walk us through the process a bit and explain how you determine what tastes should be paired? 

I’m a huge fan of English Pale Ales, Amber Ales and Red Ales paired with Aged Cheddar, Aged Gouda, and hard goat cheeses. I think the rich malt build with a medium level of bitterness compliments the creaminess of the cheese and sweeter malt build is great with the sharpness of aged cheeses.  And a pairing that is one of my favorites is our crab roll with our Fresh Squeezed IPA.  The crab roll is modeled after your lobster roll with the grilled bun (I had my mom send me some from Cape Cod to teach my bakers how to do the bread right) and it also won best crab sandwich in Oregon last year by USA Today.

Deschutes’s Fresh Squeezed IPA paired with crab roll.

What are some of your specialty beers for the people who follow specific diets (i.e. gluten-free, vegan-friendly, etc.)? How important do you think it is to cater to these new trends?

We are working on a gluten-free beer that we serve in our pubs, yet have not found one we are ready to bottle. We feel all dietary needs are very important and feel if we can offer something we think is delicious we will serve it.

And, congratulations on the new Roanoke Facility! Any plans to expand further into New England once this one has taken off?

Absolutely! My mother lives on Cape Cod and I promised her we will be for sale in New England ASAP!

Do you have any plans for a trip to the Boston area to showcase your fine beer-food pairings? Could we at least get a vague promise for a “Street Pub” event sometime in the future (haha)?

I can’t say anything about Street Pub and its potential tour dates. I will say that it is possible once we open up the facility in Roanoke. As far as any other events, I have nothing scheduled but I’ll look you up when I plan on coming out to visit my Mom.

Finally, and this is the most important question of them all: if you could have a superhero represent your brand – who would you choose?

Right now I would say Flash. It feels like our world is going a million miles an hour as we look to introduce our beer in cans this spring and all that is happening on the East coast.

We at Maker’s Almanac were so psyched to even get this chance to speak with Jeff and share our interview with you – thank you again, Jeff!  Please visit Deschutes Brewery if you’re in Oregon (Portland or Bend), as well as follow them on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram!

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