A BBQ with beer is without doubt one of life’s simple pleasures, but a gourmet BBQ with local craft beer and the expertise of a chef and brewmaster at the helm takes things up a few notches.

Last night I enjoyed a four course menu featuring Russell Brewing’s craft beers at Memphis Blues BBQ on Commercial Drive, as part of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. The event was packed and with good reason: The restaurant is already a popular destination (the owners had to hold off patrons who wanted to dine there prior to and after the event) and its simple, down-to-earth delicious BBQ menu is a natural pairing for quality brews.

Communal tables made for shared experiences with other beer and food lovers. I didn’t know anyone at this event which is rare for me, but it wasn’t hard to start a conversation with my table mates, all in for a good evening of fun, beer, food (and in last night’s case, catching glimpses of an exciting playoff hockey game on the overhead screens)!

Jason and Jack of Russell Brewing
[Jason and Jack of Russell Brewing]

Before each course, Jack Bensley (Head Brewer) and Jason Hope (Territory Manager) of Russell Brewing Company, introduced each kind of beer and defined its characteristics. Chef George Siu followed with a brief explanation of each course, how it used a particular Russell beer in its recipe, and the tastes that we could expect to enjoy when married with the beer.

Gulf Shrimp sauteed with Russell Lager and butter rub sauce

Our first course was plump gulf shrimp sautéed with Russell’s Extra Special Lager and butter rub sauce served with Memphis’ own divine cornbread.

Memphis Blues famous cornbread
[Oh, that tasty cornbread!]

Russell Extra Special Lager served with gulf shrimp

The beer was specifically chosen to compliment the garlicky, buttery flavour of that delicious rub sauce and the texture of the large shrimp. The beer was a light and refreshing way to start off the dinner.

Russell Pale Ale served with pulled pork

The next pour was Russell’s Pale Ale, to be married with a dish of pulled pork, Memphis BBQ sauce, a mustard potato salad and smoked pit beans. Seems simple, right? George explained that the pulled pork shoulder can only get that tender and flavourful after being smoked on applewood for 14 hours.

Memphis Blues signature pulled pork

The pit beans were smoked along with the pork and all the drippings (and to my delight, tiny bits of pork) went into the beans! The mustard potato salad cut through the BBQ sauce and together with the Pale Ale made for a rich combination of flavours on the palette. As well, the red BBQ sauce toned down the sweetness of the Pale Ale.

Blood Alley Bitter paired with spicy pork ribs

Next up was Russell’s Blood Alley Bitter (about twice as bitter than the previously served pale ale) that was paired with slow-cooked (four 1/2 hours on alder wood) ribs. A portion of tangy slaw and dry rubbed fries came along with the spicy ribs. The cole slaw’s tanginess worked really well with the beer’s bitterness.

Spicy pork ribs with dry rubbed fries

I did find the fries a bit too salty. Luckily our table insisted on keeping the remaining lager butter rub sauce bowl which was a perfect dip for the fries.

Certified Angus Beef (CAB) Beef Brisket

Our final course was Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brisket that spent 14 hours in the pit. Chef Siu explained that the black outer crust is its “bark” and where all the flavour is to be found. The spice and smokiness in the brisket come from all that time spent in the pit.

Brisket is an active muscle and is therefore tougher, meaning that 14-15 hours is what it needs for the melt in your mouth tenderness that we experienced when paired with a glass of A Wee Angry Scotch Ale. Lean ends tend to be thinner, so when you order that cut of brisket, expect it will be lean but dry. The thicker, fattier end would make for a very rich brisket. Memphis uses the middle pieces in its brisket, so it’s just right.

Russell A Wee Angry Scotch Ale served with beef brisket

The Scotch Ale had that smoky, chocolate taste to work perfectly with the brisket. A few organic greens with house made vinaigrette accompanied the dish.


  • Comment by leo — May 11, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

    Nice review of what looked like an awesome event. This day was a hard one for me to choose tickets for because you had the Upright+Driftwood dinner at Alibi, Red Ruck dinner at Au Petit Chavignol, The Brooklyn Crawl, The Howe Sound at Central Cistro and your event. In the end I decided to go with the Hapa Umi Driftwood dinner because of all the things I heard last year about the Hapa dinner. I had fun at Hapa but your photos and descriptions are making me jealous of not going to Memphis. Cheers!

  • Comment by arianec — May 11, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

    I know, it’s hard to be in two places at once! I saw some photos of the Hapa Umi event; also looked like a great selection of dishes and beer.

  • Pingback by Vancouver Craft Beer Week 2011 | Vancouver Beer Blog — May 17, 2011 @ 8:37 am

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