By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jan 19, 2012 at 9:03 AM

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'd be hard-pressed not to have noticed that the Brew City has stepped up the game with regard to beer and food pairings. Area restaurants, including Bacchus, Sanford, Roots, Café Centraal, Triskele's, INdustri Café and Tess have all hosted beer dinners in recent months. And the trend isn't letting up.

The explosive nature of the craft beer market has everything to do with this growing movement. According to, over 95 percent of the more than 1,800 breweries in the U.S. are small, independent operations. And area beer aficionados have taken notice.

Take John Lavelle, for instance. This Whitefish Bay native could be described as a typical Milwaukeean. After graduating from Marquette University, he spent a number of years in retail management, eventually starting up his own retail consulting firm. But, all the while, he couldn't suppress his growing interest in the craft beer movement. What started out as a recreational interest soon became an obsession.

"Having spent my entire time in college drinking pale yellow light lagers, I was amazed to find what was out there and it became my mission to spread awareness of craft beer as far as I could."

Lavelle spent a number of months reading and researching, attending beer festivals, drinking beer and gaining expertise. He began pulling together the concepts for a website, which he hoped would make craft beer more accessible to the average drinker. In the meantime, he also began thinking about ways to combine his interest in craft beer with a growing appreciation for locally produced foods.

"I am a huge proponent of sourcing locally, supporting local farms, farmers markets and certainly supporting our local chefs and the amazing work they are doing," Lavelle says. "As I was thinking of ways to marry my love for craft brews, food and Milwaukee, it occurred to me that doing a beer dinner to feature the best of food and beer would be an absolutely phenomenal way to showcase both."

So Lavelle began contacting area chefs and brewers to see if there was interest in pulling together a series of dinners pairing some of the best Midwestern beers with locally inspired dishes. His inquiries met with a great deal of enthusiasm, and the idea for the Best of Milwaukee Beer Dinners was born.

The first of five dinners, to take place over the next year or so, will be held at Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub Tuesday, Feb. 7. Tickets are currently on sale at $95 per person, with limited seating.

Chefs for all five dinners will include Milwaukee favorites Justin Aprahamian of Sanford, Minerva Benzonan of Tess, Dan van Rite of Hinterland, Andrew Ruiz from Rumpus Room and Daniel Jacobs of Roots. Each chef will be paired with one of five breweries — Goose Island, Bell's, Hinterland, Three Floyds and Founders Brewing — and challenged to create the ultimate pairing using both seasonal beers and ingredients.

"We always start with the beer before thinking of the dish," says Chef Aprahamian as he describes the process of creating a pairing. "A lot of times we'll try the beer and brainstorm what would be good with it. Even just start trying any mise en place we have a round the restaurant to get a good idea of combinations that pull out different aspects of the beer."

To make the experience even more enjoyable and educational, Lavelle says that both chefs and brewery representatives will be on hand to introduce each of the five courses and tell the full story behind each pairing. And, based on the caliber of product being used, attendees have every reason to be excited about what they'll experience.

"We have a few beers coming in that will be making an extremely rare appearance in Wisconsin," Lavelle reports. "It has been awesome to see that the breweries are rising up to meet the level of food that is going to be served."

Those who can't make the February event can look forward to the next Best of Milwaukee dinner, which will be held at Sanford. Lavelle also reports that he's working with Chef John Raymond on the possibility of holding a future dinner at the Roots' farm in Grafton.

To reserve a ticket for the Best of Milwaukee Beer Dinner, please contact Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub at (414) 727-9300 or email For more information, visit

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.