Baltimore Beer Baron: La Cuchara teams up with Union Craft

City Paper
Food is now beer, at least where the proprietors of La Cuchara are concerned.

Beer is food, some say. And now food is beer, at least where the proprietors at the Basque restaurant La Cuchara (3600 Clipper Mill Road, [443] 708-3838, lacucharabaltimore.com) in Woodberry are concerned. Late last month, La Cuchara co-owners Ben, Jake, and Amy Lefenfeld teamed up with Union Craft Brewing to produce exclusive firkins of Union brews with Mediterranean ingredients from the restaurant's dishes tossed in.

"We're coming full circle now because we've been using spent grains from Union in some of our breads, and now we're using some of our bread in Union beer," said head chef and co-owner Ben Lefenfeld. He made my mouth water with his description of the second release in the series, a Union Balt Altbier infused with house-made pumpernickel and smoked carrots, released on July 6. The starter of the series on launch night was a firkin of Old Pro Gose infused with saffron, preserved lemons, Spanish sparkling wine moscato, and a pinch of salt.

"The muscat really seemed to make sense with the Gose, because it does mimic the light sourness of the beer style," Lefenfeld said as he observed the milky yellow concoction in a pint glass emblazoned with the logos of the restaurant and the brewery. He went on to praise the "specialists" at Union for working with him to create a perfect balance between food and beer.

Moments later, Union co-founder Jon Zerivitz stood several feet back from the bar stools and took a big first sip of this inaugural weekly joint venture and pronounced, "It's very good!" He went on to describe his "two aces in the hole" for the project, lead cellar manager Lynn Pronobis and a former Foreman Wolf sous chef, assistant brewer Drew Lesoveck, as the reason for the collaboration's success. "I knew they'd do a great job raiding the pantry down here [at La Cuchara] to pick out the right ingredients," he said, "and they did."

Though the first few sips tasted a little like the actual Mediterranean to me, the beer's flavor profile grew on me and I had a second pint, a first for me when dealing in Gose. That was a bold opening salvo for the launch, but my palate really pines for the Union Anthem with charred corn and peaches that debuted last week, or the other beers containing ingredients such as local roasted cherry pits and sherry planned for future Monday nights. The restaurant offers a reduced price on a pint of the weekly offering each Monday during the 5 p.m. tapping.

The Beer Sampler

Huck's American Craft (3728 Hudson St., [443] 438-3380, hucksamericancraft.com in Brewers Hill celebrated the bar's grand opening earlier this month with American craft beers to complement its American comfort-food menu once the kitchen is in full swing (disclosure: I helped the owners, Charlie and Lori Gjerde and Charlie's sister-in-law Carrie Podles, file for a liquor license back in May). Also this month, Quarterhouse Tavern (801 S. Decker Ave., [667] 212-5888, quarterhousetavern.com opened in Canton with a small but respectable draft setup, including several local beers and steakhouse mainstay Palm.

On July 9, the Baltimore City Liquor License Board approved a new license for Oliver Brewing Company's Clifton Park 4,000-barrel brewery. Expect bottles and cans from Oliver this fall, according to Oliver partner Justin Dvorkin, who expects to throw a grand-opening celebration in September.

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