Last week I reported on our recent quest and pizza/beer challenge at The Bruery in Orange County (Placentia, to be more precise--their tap room is open to the public on weekends if you happen to be in the neighborhood!). I just want to add a few words this week on one aspect of our experience there, something I addressed on film during the taping but, since it won't run for awhile, I thought I'd write about it now while it's still fresh in my mind.
As we learned more about the art and craft of beer making during our tour of The Bruery facility, I kept thinking of the old saying that "beer is liquid bread." I've always taken that seriously because there are such obvious parallels, mainly, the proper fermentation of grain to evoke its full potential of flavor. But what I realized perhaps for the first time, even though I've toured breweries before, is how much more difficult beer making is than bread baking, how much more complex it is, how many subtle choices the brewmeister has to make, gets to make, in manipulating the ingredients to create, hopefully, amazing flavors. We''re all flavorists, those of us who cook, and it's also a truism that the primary purpose of serious cooking, aside from delivering nutrition so that we can stay alive and thrive, is to deliver flavor. This is what culinarians pay all that money for when they go to expensive culinary schools--to learn how to deliver flavor. I've joked before about the reason pizza is the most popular food in the world is because it is the perfect flavor delivery system -- dough with something on it -- and I still believe that. But artisan beer making functions and delivers flavor on a whole other level, one that is dependent on
precision and sensitivity to the subtleties that each ingredient contributes, and how each ingredient must be handled deftly so that it can deliver its proper contribution -- not too much, not too little -- to the final brew. A beer maker is a flavorist functioning on a narrow tightrope. Bread is tolerant and forgiving of errors, but not so beer. One degree of temperature difference during the making of the wort (the liquid grain-tea that eventually ferments and becomes beer) can throw the whole batch off or can allow an invasive organism or enzyme to survive and foul up everything. Making high quality beer (sure, anyone can make beer, but I'm talking about the world class stuff now) requires a lot of knowledge and science but also a lot of imagination.
So, what struck me, and I think our whole Pizza Quest crew, was how much thought goes into the creation of these "new generation" artisan brewskies. I know there are dozens of similar artisan breweries and brewmeisters all over the country, playing with these same skills and crafting never before seen beers, as well as excellent renditions of classics that follow time-honored methods. Sometimes they fail, sometimes the beer gets thrown out before anyone outside the brewery knew it was ever made. But every once in a while something magical happens and a strange, whimsical concoction emerges made of grains, flowers, herbs, maybe some spices, a whole slew of micro-organisms digesting sugars and burping out carbon dioxide and sweating out alcohol and flavor esters.
I don't drink a lot of beer but I'm beginning to develop a taste for it as I experience this new generation liquid bread. I'm really looking forward to sampling some of the award winners at The Great American Beer Festival in Denver at the end of September, where we'll unveil our Pizza Quest Challenge Pizza along with the Bruery's new matching Pizza Quest beer. But I also can't wait to discover how other creative beer makers approach this delicate art and craft of blending and brewing their fanciful malted grains and crazy hops and spices, gathered from around the world. I think it will not only be fun but will also make me a better bread baker and, who knows, maybe even a better pizza maker. After all, we're on a pizza quest, not a beer quest, but hey, it's all connected and, let's face it, a quest is a quest is a quest.