As the leaves begin to change color and the air becomes more brisk, some individuals start to indulge in pumpkin spice lattes, while others search out the flavors of Oktoberfest brews.
Russell Shearer, Senior Sous Chef of JW Marriott Chicago moved to Chicago, IL a little over four years ago.
Coming from Denver’s diverse and booming beer scene, Shearer has recognized the avid growth that has filtered into the Chicago area. “I arrived as Chicago was establishing a beer scene…The big names at the time were Revolution, Half Acre, and Goose Island, just to name a few,” Shearer explained.
But all that has changed, “Now you can see a ramp up of small breweries all over and they are skipping the ‘basic brewery model’ of having an Ale, Brown, IPA, and Lager, etc. by looking outside the traditional flavor profiles and jumping into Sours, Gose, and other experimental styles.”
According to Shearer, "This ties into the Chicago culinary scene to push boundaries.”
As a self-proclaimed lover of Marzen and Maibock German beer styles, Shearer gave his exclusive opinions on pairing items to ‘intrigue the palate’ during the Oktoberfest season. “Marzen is a great beer because it pairs well with so many items, and is not usually overly hopped.” For a traditional Oktoberfest meal his choice of Weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian white sausage that is a mix of veal and pork back bacon, brings in your fatty, salty components. This is often paired with an acidic item to balance the flavors, sauerkraut and mustards being the traditional go to. For Shearer, he enjoys incorporating elements of flavor traditionally seen in foods by bringing in those distinct beer flavor profiles. “Rather than getting the hint of caramelized char from your meats, why not prepare the Weisswurst differently and pair with a beer that has smokey, caramel notes. For the acidic portion, create a cooked down cabbage and apple dish while pairing it with a great sour or Berliner Weiss.” Pushing the boundaries while utilizing great craft beer is just the ticket that many are looking for as more casual ‘foodies’ join the ranks.
Chef Shearer’s cuisine comprehension goes much further than Oktoberfest though and he and JW Marriott Chicago’s Banquet and Catering team are able to elevate the experience of beer for guests from beer & cheese pairings to private tastings. Their team looks forward to helping you find the perfect pairings for your next meeting or event. If you will be visiting Chicago this Oktoberfest season and are looking for a great brew, try one of the aforementioned locations or if you are looking for hard to find brews, Shearer suggests you give Hopleaf and Villain’s Black Market Craft Chicago a try. Prost!