WILL BEER ever edge out wine as the go-to beverage of gourmet cuisine?

That's the underlying theme this weekend in Washington, D.C., at Savor: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience. The highly anticipated, first-time event features 48 breweries from across the country, pairing their beers with small plates.

Allagash White and carrot ginger curry soup . . . Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron and pan-seared Pilsener sirloin tips with shiitake blue-cheese sauce . . . Flying Dog Kerberos Tripel with Peking duck purses . . . I'm drooling all over my keyboard!

In addition to all that good beer and food, several panels of experts will chat up the growing beer-and-food trend with a focus on how it compares with wine. Among the speakers is celebrity chef Dave Lieberman, host of the Food Network series "Good Deal with Dave Lieberman," and beer connoisseur at Anheuser-Busch's "Here's to Beer" campaign.

I caught up with Lieberman, a Philly guy who grew up at 19th and Pine streets, for a quick chat about beer and food. I had one hand on a pint glass while typing up the interview, so the following is a not-quite verbatim version:

Joe Sixpack: Your presentation is called "Pairing America's Favorite Dips." Is that like matching up George Bush with Paris Hilton?

David Lieberman: No . . . I wanted to do something fun and casual for the event, and I thought of dips. When you're starting out with beer and food pairings, it's easier to think about casual entertaining situations. So one of the things we'll be doing is a smoked salmon dip that I'll pair with a light American lager.

You don't want to pair something light like salmon or cream with something robust. A light American lager won't overpower the modest flavors of salmon.

J6: Where is the beer-and-food trend right now?

DL: I think we're in the very early stages of people's awareness and integration in our lives. Certainly, beer enthusiasts are well ahead of the curve, but if you talk to your average foodie or your average joe, he has yet to understand and explore the breadth and range of beer and food pairings.

J6: What's the potential for beer pairing?

DL: I think the sky's the limit. I think what we're trying to do with "Here's to Beer" is not necessarily to compete with wine or spirits, but make it a viable alternative. I like to pair food with wine, but I think food in some cases goes better with beer than wine. That's the next step: put beer on par with wine. That's the ultimate goal.

J6: Do you ever see a time when beer edges out wine as the go-to beverage for foodies?

DL: Not in the French, Michelin three-star-style restaurants. But what we consider fine dining today is changing. It's more about the food and less the atmosphere. It's becoming more casual, and in those settings people are more open to beer and food pairing and less caught up with the image of having a glass of wine . . . The old snobbish attitudes about food and wine won't necessarily change, but there will be a new guard coming on who will really push forward on beer and food.

J6: What would you rather drink with dinner: beer or wine?

DL: I think it depends on the situation. Last night, I had grilled turkey sausage, and I had a bock with it. It was the perfect thing. I wouldn't have wanted a red wine or a white wine. I wanted a Bavarian beer - there's no substitution. But if I were having beef Bourguignon, well, the natural pairing would be a Bordeaux.

J6: What style of beers do you turn to, to bring out the best in food?

DL: I really like wheat beers, a hefeweizen. It's complex, not overpowering, with floral and fruit notes, with some hoppiness and malt. It has all the things that you want from beer in harmony. And it pairs well with a lot of different foods.

J6: Can you tell me an unusual beer and food pairing you've encountered lately?

DL: I'm not huge into fruit beer, but I had a peach beer that was really nice as an aperitif with cheese. I thought it worked really well. That intense fruitiness of the beer, but with a light body - it worked well with goat cheese.

J6: Do your fellow celebrity chefs ever give you grief for pairing your dishes with beer instead of wine?

DL: Never. Anyone who knows food and drink knows beer is part of cuisine. To make fun of beer would be just ignorant.

Beer events

_ Tickets are still available for Savor tomorrow at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. For info, see www.beertown.org/events/savor.

_ Join Joe Sixpack tomorrow at the 8th Annual Brandywine Valley Craft Brewers Festival at Iron Hill Brewery, 30 E. State St., Media. Held on the street outside the brewpub, the event features craft beer from 25 of the region's top breweries and raises funds for the Media Youth Center.

Joe Sixpack will sign copies of his new book, "Joe Sixpack's Philly Beer Guide: A Reporter's Notes on the Best Beer-Drinking City of America."

Taps pour 1-5 p.m., $30/$35 at the door, 610-627-9000. *

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.