On Billings’ Montana Avenue in Billings, Brewmaster Michael Uhrich of Carter’s Brewing and Executive Chef Jeremy Engebretson of Lilac are brewing new flavors. While many think of pairing food with wine, the duo is partnering beer with food, beyond the ballpark hot dogs and mass produced aluminum canned libations advertised with frogs and beautiful women.
Michael Uhrich opened Carter’s Brewing nearly 10 years ago. After graduating with a degree in journalism, he was unable to find employment. Uhrich’s father-in-law gifted him a home beer making kit that ignited his interest in making beer. He then worked for George Moncure at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company for several years building his fermentation resume before opening his own place.
Fat Tire Amber Ale Beer was Uhrich’s first beer he drank that left a memorable impression. Even at 15 years old, his elevated palate already appreciated artisan crafted beer.
“I fell in love with Fat Tire,” Uhrich confessed.
When asked what his favorite beer is these days, he responded, “Usually the beer right in front of me.”
When going to dinner with friends or hanging out at a bar, he prefers a pint of beer over a glass of wine or a cocktail.
By drinking beers made by others, he learns about what other are concocting. To further his knowledge, he seeks out other brewmasters to talk to. He values the information they share.
“If you do not take advantage of what you are exposed to, you miss out,” Uhrich said. “You need to look at what other people do. It is not stealing or copying, but inspiring.”
Uhrich tries to take advantage of opportunities for networking with other beer makers. “I am not a big fan of regret,” he said of not making an effort to take advantage of talking to someone with more and different experiences. “Any information I can get for my own is good. The worst thing is I make a new friend,” he said. “I am constantly trying new things."
It took a family to build Carter’s Brewing, proving his family loyalty by naming his new enterprise after his firstborn. In his first year of production in 2007, he brewed 500 barrels. These days he is up to 1,500 barrels and 17 different styles.
“We are probably the most diverse in the state,” he said.
His beer style: “We make them dry and drinkable.”
About his partnership with Jeremy Engebretson, Uhrich believes his chef friend from across the street on Montana Avenue harbors an amazing palate. He credits Engebretson for picking up nuances in food and being able to unite varied flavors together. They have collaborated on dinners showcasing Carter’s beers. The relationship has allowed both to learn from each other. Uhrich has gained knowledge about new foods and food combinations, while he has taught Engebretson to enjoy beer, and to appreciate its versatility with food.
Jeremy Engebretson has owned Lilac for five years. The restaurant’s motto is “Local from scratch, responsible cooking. Modern American food with a fistful of approachability.”
“We cook fancy farm food from our region,” Engebretson said.
He sources locally and incorporates all parts of the animal and produce he secures. He claims to have used an entire pig for menu items. In Billings, he procures from Kate’s Garden located in the Heights and the Montana Fish Company in Bozeman.
At Lilac, Engebretson has collaborated with Uhrich to make what he currently has on the menu called “Collaboration Sour,” a hibiscus sour, a beer made with hibiscus and wild yeast. The result is an intense tartness that makes for good pairing with food. At an event at the Depot, for Taste of Billings, Engebretson served a liver mousse for dessert that converted naysayers for sours and for mousse. The biting acidity cuts into the richness of the dessert.
Engebretson believes beer has more food-friendly characteristics than wine, especially when partnering with spicy foods. In the case of wine, spice can destroy the nice flavors. Beer’s bubbles, sometimes bitter notes and crisp, fresh nuances pair well with many different types of food. Some of his food pairings include ales with seafood – cooked and raw lagers with pork, and a stout combined with framboise, a raspberry liqueur.
In Billings, the variety and cooking levels of restaurant food continue to elevate as do the production and availability of craft beer. The partnership between Engebretson and Uhrich demonstrates how working together can create great flavors and a good friendship. While they are having fun bringing wine and beer together, their customers and clients will reap the delicious benefits.