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Marrying fall’s finest local brews and chews with Wilmington Brewing Company and PinPoint Restaurant.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mark Steelman

There’s never a wrong time to enjoy beer.

I don’t just mean that as in “it’s five o’clock somewhere” — although I do believe that day drinking could be the path to world peace. Whether it’s a citra-hop-worthy spring afternoon, a lemony saison sort-of-summer day, or a spiced ale by the bonfire night —seriously, is there any unsuitable season for cuddling up to a pint? I think not.

I personally dig fall’s lineup of malty, amber brews and I’m certainly not the only one matching my beer with the weather. The ritual of formulating sip-able flavor bombs based on seasonality began way back when. See: Oktoberfest. When the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese took place in Munich more than a century ago, citizens were invited to party alongside (i.e., the original Wedding Crashers). This tradition of harvest-time celebrations has not only prospered, but also continued to gain momentum over the years.

Thanks to beer-centric events like Oktoberfest (and the fact that dark beers are just so damn delicious), when the leaves begin to drop the pumpkin-flavored bottles start to pop. To school you on the old-school once again — think about why pumpkins might have been welcomed into the brewing process long ago. Back in the (colonial) day when superior malt wasn’t easy to come by, brewers turned to pumpkin as an alternative source of fermentable sugar.

Food and Beer Pairings with Wilmington Brewing CompanyFast forward to 2016.  Lucky for us, Wilmington’s heart pumps strong when it comes to barley-based beverages, and when the chilly air tickles our cheeks we have plenty of hop-tions to keep us warm.

But where there is drink, there must be food. So with so many fall flavors in the air, how does one successfully harmonize the notes in these brews and chews? I asked two local businesses at the top of their games how to eat and sip the best this season has to offer. It was a hell of a ride.

Licking spiced apple cake off my fingers. Shucking boiled peanuts. Gulping down breakfast stout not too long after breakfast. What do all of these things have in common?

This is how I researched my story. I know what you’re thinking, and, no, I will not switch jobs with you. When it comes to homebrew, Wilmington Brewing Company is synonymous with the term local. We all drink the magical nectar of John and Michelle Savard, but what in the world do we eat with it and when?

Food and Beer Pairings with Wilmington Brewing CompanyA cool-weather brew, WBC staple Blair’s Breakfast Stout, isn’t necessarily one you’ll only partake in during scarf season. This rich chocolaty brew — which Michelle claims is “Beer for Breakfast!” — is available year-round and on tap all over town. This makes the coffee-infused stout (which features locally sourced beans from Focal Coffee Co.) ideal at any time of day during whatever month you please.

To match a beer of this caliber, it was necessary to bring in the big guns. Enter PinPoint.

While sneaking slivers of hot smoked duck ham, I perched on a stubby stool at WBC and shucked boiled peanuts for Dean Neff, executive chef and owner of PinPoint Restaurant. As Dean elegantly draped fatty pieces of perfectly pink meat atop a fragrant herby salad, he paused to clink his plastic pint glass of Blair’s Breakfast Stout with mine. He explained that coffee and duck were match mates in heave, and that his careful selection of delicate microgreens and pickled mustard seeds were an intentional contrast to the beer’s creamy, dry finish. Also making appearances on the decorative plate were shaved radishes and muscadine grapes, funky chives, pickled chanterelle mushrooms, a swish of pink muscadine purée, and a boiled-peanut vinaigrette.

Once the salad had nailed its close up, it was my turn to get in on the action. My first bite was a strip of smoky duck, which blared with maple and salt and could have undoubtedly masqueraded as traditional pork ham. A few chews and a sip of Blair’s Breakfast Stout later, my palate was permeated with luscious espresso and oats. The light and crispy nuances of the fresh salad were an expert companion to the hearty beer. Mission accomplished.

You can’t get your fall fix without nosediving into a pumpkin paradise. John and Michelle’s answer to the orange-hued fruit craze? The adorably titled: Pretty Pumpkin Ale, which, if you hurry, you can find tapped in small batches around Wilmington. Borrowing a touch of local bakeshop Apple Annie’s spice blend, this crisp masterpiece is one of the prettiest products WBC has ever put out (not including new addition blue-eyed baby June). I was in search of an equally glorious partner for this full-bodied beer, and let’s face it — it screamed dessert. PinPoint to the rescue once again.

Food and Beer Pairings with Wilmington Brewing CompanyYou may have visited this downtown-based Southern-inspired coastal restaurant to slurp outrageous oysters or indulge in crispy catfish. But if you’ve never saved room for the last course, you’re missing out. Lydia Clopton is PinPoint’s pastry chef and Dean’s sweet half (in and out of the kitchen). Her humble personality is a recipe of gracious and lovely elements. One bite of her insanely bold ingredients, however, and you’ll realize that this modest chef is a pastry ninja in disguise. You know, the kind who carries a piping bag and makes a brittle so good you’ll cry.

Fanny Slater Food and Beer Pairings with Wilmington Brewing CompanyTo pair with WBC’s Pretty Pumpkin, Lydia constructed a doozy of a dessert: spiced apple cake laced with velvety cream cheese frosting surrounded by pumpkin ganache and sticky molasses caramel sauce. The inventive dish was almost too stunning to touch. Almost. From the first mouthful via bite and sip, I could tell that the fruitiness of the cake’s Stayman Winesap apples (from Hendersonville, N.C.) was enhanced by the beer’s lightly spiced notes of cinnamon and clove. As our shoot wrapped, Lydia searched for a utensil to clean the remaining bits and pieces from the plate. I swiped my last morsel through every lingering component (sugary candied pumpkin cubes, buttery brittle and fluffy ganache). Every layer blended into an edible work of art. The nutty, caramel notes from the Pumpkin Ale gave the dessert a smooth, balanced finish without being overly sweet.

You must be hungry and thirsty. Go on, you’re dismissed.

Happy drinking and eating, y’all!

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