Source the highest quality ingredients. Understand how best to handle those ingredients to showcase their flavors and aromas. Know at what point during the brewing process to add those ingredients.
These are the three principles of Moody Tongue Brewing Company’s culinary brewing method. “Culinary brewing” sets this Chicago brewery apart with its extreme focus on ingredients and what flavors and aromas those ingredients yield.
You may be asking, “Wait, doesn’t all beer require a focus on ingredients, flavors, and aromas?” Right you are, smarty pants! However, there is a difference between even the most obsessive attention paid to the flavors and aromas of classic beer styles, and approaching beer like a Michelin-starred chef would approach a ten-course tasting menu. That difference is where Moody Tongue comes in.
Speaking of Michelin stars, Jared Rouben is the brewmaster and president of Moody Tongue, leading the brewery’s creative development. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America and worked at some of the country’s most prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants before attending the also-prestigious Siebel Institute to study brewing. Rouben’s culinary background translates into heightened versions of our favorite beer styles, each as complex as a whole meal can be and each also perfect to pair with different dishes.
At the Moody Tongue brewery, visitors can indulge in fine dining or a somewhat more relaxed experience. The menu is dreamed up by nine-time Michelin-starred chef Jared Wentworth, and every item pairs beautifully with Moody Tongue’s painstakingly thought out beers. We’re so fascinated by the amount of time, creativity, and innovation that goes into each of these brews, so we chatted with Rouben about his experience in the kitchen and how that applies to such special beers.
The culinary component of your career features quite a sterling resume. With such focus on the cooking and restaurant elements of food and beverage, how did you come to find and fall in love with craft beer? How and when did you start to see beer as something that could be approached with a culinary focus and connection?
Jared: I first fell in love with craft beer when I was a student in upstate New York at The Culinary Institute of America. I started a beer club called the Brew Club, and we started exploring beers from all over the country, from Dogfish Head to Sam Adams. And we were pairing these beers with food to explore those flavors, like having dunkels with chocolate ganache. I explored both domestic beers as well as international beers, from Germany, Belgium, and the UK. I started to see really the only difference between food and these beers was that one was a solid and one was a liquid. But both are things we make that bring people great joy. So, that was my “aha moment,” in culinary school.
From your time cooking at the Martini House in Napa Valley to expediting for Thomas Keller at Per Se, what did you learn that proved to be applicable to brewing and beer?
Jared: The attention to detail was really impactful for me working at those Michelin-starred restaurants. Also, I learned the importance of sourcing the absolute best possible ingredients. I was taught early on that you always start with good ingredients. When you’re starting with good ingredients, you’re just going to make a better product--you’re going to make the best dish, the best beer. Taking the time to explore chocolate, gingerbread spice, malt, hops--that’s the differentiating factor of following in the footsteps of great chefs.
What was it like to be able to focus your studies on beer at the Siebel Institute?
Jared: It was great, it was the culmination of taking all my culinary knowledge and being able to apply that to beer. There was a lot more science involved than I’d previously experienced in kitchens but otherwise, brewing is quite similar. Brewing uses bigger pots and you have to be a little more patient: beer takes three to six weeks and I’m not sure any other culinary dishes take that kind of time, other than maybe charcuterie. It might mean wearing a different uniform, but brewing applies the same thought processes as cooking and the same focus on ingredients, all to make something that makes people happy.
Considering how similar brewing and cooking are, we don’t often see a specifically, purposefully culinary approach from many breweries. How does this way of thinking set beer apart and in particular, how does this make Moody Tongue different from so many other breweries?
Jared: I think it makes Moody Tongue different because we do have such a strong connection to the culinary world, and so we do see that the practices are so similar. We know that great beer belongs on great menus, and I don’t think anyone’s complaining when you use a great ingredient to make a great beer.
We’re continuing to open our minds and be a little more flexible as to what beer is now, certainly compared to five to ten years ago. As beer becomes more and more present on dining menus, our job as Cicerones and brewers and chefs is to continue to educate the consumer. And we’re doing it from an approach that is not so foreign to people. You know, we’re eating since the day we’re born, and you can find a cooking show every time you turn on the TV. Culinary arts are very much a part of our day-to-day lives, and so with brewing, we’re just breaking down the walls between the culinary arts and beer.
What is the process like at Moody Tongue from brainstorming beers to serving them?
Jared: It happens a couple different ways. We may look at our portfolio and say, “Wow, we could really use a dark beer right now,” and then we make something like the Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter. It’s about finding balance in our offerings. Or, we’re inspired by different ingredients. Like, the Juiced Lychee IPA, that came from my experience in China when we were selling beer in Asia. I fell in love with the lychee’s juiciness and flavor profile.
In general, we’re always thinking about our menu at the moment, whether it’s in the dining room or the bar. Beer and food are always top of mind, sometimes from a style standpoint, sometimes from an ingredient standpoint.
How do you approach food pairings with beer at Moody Tongue and how does that factor into the restaurant experience?
Jared: In the dining room, you get 13 courses of beer and food pairings from caviar to foie gras to A5 steak. It’s a very elevated experience with beers that you might not otherwise get to enjoy in bottle or draft form, all curated for specific dishes. On the bar side, you can enjoy a burger, a whole fish--and with not only some special beers but our perennial beers, as well. We also just opened a delivery concept for barbecue, where you can order smoked meats and sandwiches and sides and we get to think about what beers pair best with all of that. As a brewer, it’s really fun.
Can you talk a bit about the restaurant’s famous 12-layer German cake as well as the Bourbon Barrel-Aged 12-Layer Cake Imperial Stout?
Jared: That cake is synonymous with Moody Tongue, and it gave us the opportunity to create a beer that models all the flavors after it, like chocolate, toasted coconut, and caramel. It’s great for the holidays.
What are some of your all-time favorite pairings when you think about different foods and beer styles and flavors?
Jared: Our Aperitif Pilsner with oysters, or English sharp cheddar. Our Juiced Lychee IPA is delicious with fish tacos, or lobster tacos with tropical salsa. The Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter is awesome with a double cheeseburger or brisket.
As many people are enjoying beer more at home for now, what are some sort of easy, accessible tips to start off with for elevating the beer experience with food pairings?Jared: Think about foods that you like to cook or that you enjoy eating. The easiest way to approach pairing is to start with what you love and build. Is it a cheese pizza? Then a lighter style like the Aperitif Pilsner or the Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison is great. Light-bodied foods work with light-bodied beers. Start from a place of comfort, and when you enjoy pairings or think about pairings you’ve liked in the past, write them down and try them out yourself, then try them on friends and loved ones, and slowly challenge yourself.