Draft Magazine

Bugging Out: Brewed Food Rewrites the Rules of Culinary Fermentation

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography

For Draft magazine I profile Jensen Cummings, a Denver chef that deploys brewing yeast to ferment his kimchi, hot sauces and so much more. He's broadening the concept of what beer and food can be.


As a journalist obsessed with inbox zero, I delete an email onslaught daily. But, every now and then, a ray of sunshine illuminates Gmail’s abyss, like last summer’s invite to experience Denver chef Jensen Cummings’ sensory tasting panel at Brooklyn Brewery.

Cummings is the mind behind Brewed Food, founded in 2014 as a call to arms to blow beer’s relationship with grub to smithereens. He utilizes beer’s building blocks (yeast, malt, hops) and brewing processes to fashion thrilling foodstuffs that blur the line between ales and edibles. Working with a revolving cast of chefs and brewing collaborators like New Belgium and Jester King, the chef ferments yogurt with brewing yeast, adds crystal malt to sauerkraut, creates hop vinegar and makes beef jerky with malt extract. It’s both a scientific and gastronomic endeavor to connect cooking and brewing.

“Our lens is looking at brewing techniques and ingredients as culinary ingredients,” Cummings says. “Yeast is the center of that conversation. We want to say that yeast is a culinary ingredient.”

My Bia Hoi Honeymoon in Vietnam

Bia Hoi_Bernstein

In Hanoi, about 25 cents buys you a tall, cool glass of fresh, and refreshing, bia hoi. Photo: my Instagram feed.

It merely took me 33 years, but back in August 2011 I joined the ranks of married men. Our wedding in seafaring Portland, Maine, was a raucous affair, with my wife and I turning our rehearsal dinner into a booze cruise and holding our party in a dive bar with two light-up disco dance floors. (We love you, Bubba's Sulky Lounge.) And there was beer. Oh, so much beer!

Given my hops-soaked line of work, I wanted beer to play key role in our honeymoon. In lieu of Brussels, we booked a flight to Hanoi, where the local specialty is bia hoi—fresh, low-alcohol, rice-driven beer. The cost: about a quarter a glass. In other words, heaven.

For Draft, I recently penned a story on our beer-filled honeymoon. Check out the story right about...here.

At the Table: The Rise of Food-Friendly Beers

tablebeer Last year, an Arizona mom eating at a pizzeria made headlines when she allegedly filled her son’s sippy cup with beer. Outrage was immediate. So was her arrest. While we’re not advocating getting a toddler trashed, it’s interesting how one nation’s indignation is another country’s tradition.

French families often pour their children watered-down wine, educating them about respecting alcohol and its polite place in everyday life. While neighboring Belgium is not so wild for wine, families also teach their offspring a similar lesson with tafelbier—Flemish for “table beer.” Traditionally served with meals, tafelbiers are light-bodied and low in alcohol (usually less than 3% ABV), yet still remain flavorful. While table beers were so prevalent that they used to be served to Belgian schoolchildren in lieu of milk, the lightly boozy tradition has waned in recent years due to the rise of bottled water and, more prevalently, soft drinks.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, American brewers have begun to take a keen interest in crafting low-ABV tafelbiers. They’re affable companions to lunch, dinner or whenever you crave a beer but not a buzz. In Indiana, New Albanian offers Tafelbier, while California’s Heretic makes the slightly stronger Tafelbully with Brettanomyces. The wild yeast also appears in Stillwater Artisanal Ales’ earthy, refreshing Beer Table Table Beer, while Massachusetts’ session beer–focused Notch Brewing dials up Belgian yeast and European hops for its Tafelbier. It’s a style-appropriate 2.8% ABV, a low number that appeals to Notch’s brewer, Chris Lohring.

“For me, it’s the ultimate anytime beer,” says Lohring, who sees tafelbier as an ideal accompaniment to outdoor sports or daylong barbecuing. While his dry, thirst-quenching Tafelbier packs flavor aplenty, the dainty ABV means “you have to drink serious volume to get inebriated.”

Curious? Check out the rest of my article in Draft magazine.