Note: Blog text by Peter Reinhart; Photos and captions by Brad English
Okay, so we were already full of great Denver pizza from both Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria, and also Brava Pizzeria della Strada. Now it was our turn to make pizza, out on the sidewalk of 19th St., by the stage door of The Summit Beer Garden, a music hall that was hosting number of bands and events in the shadows of The Great American Beer Festival. As Brad English and our Director of Photography, David Wilson were running around figuring out how to shoot the event at this dark, noisy music hall, Kelly and Erika Whitaker, along with Alan Henkin and Kelly's young pizza protege named Ben, pulled up with their mobile wood-fired oven hooked to the back of their car (yes, another beauty from The Fire Within). Within minutes, the wood went in and the oven began its 90 minute fire-up. Joseph Pergolizzi, the owner of The Fire Within, offered to pick up and bring us the Challenge pizza dough, mixed and balled for us the previous day at The Whole Foods Bake House in Aurora (near the Denver airport). We wanted to bake the first couple of pizzas, the test pies, at around 5 PM, as the official party and "Big Reveal" was to begin at 6. But as 5 PM approached, I got a call from Joseph, who had gotten caught in a major construction jam near the bake house. By this time the day had already been so magical and full of unexpected delights that we all felt kind of protected and unworried (well, maybe not Brad since he is the producer of Pizza Quest which makes him the designated worrier, so I just told him the doughs were on their way).
Fortunately, the pressurized keg of Birra Basta was waiting in the VIP Lounge of The Summit Beer Garden. The Bruery folks had not yet arrived, but Brad "produced" us into tapping the keg and got the cameras rolling. Besides, we decided we couldn't wait for Patrick and just had to try it, so someone turned the key, released the pressure, and a few seconds later we each had a creamy mug of rich golden ale, cloudy with foam (normal for the first pull, soon to clarify as we watched it settle-out in the glass). I took a swig and, really, it was the most unusual beer I've ever tasted, but I wasn't sure if it was just me, a relatively unsophisticated drinker, or whether the others were equally stunned. Alan, who knows his stuff (he's the sommelier and beverage director at Pizzeria Basta), finally broke the ice and said, "This is amazing -- I love it!"
I said, "It tastes thick, almost like soup, like pea soup with a ham bone in it, but yet it's refreshing--my mind is sort of boggled by the complexity." Usually, when I think of complexity in a beer I ascribe it to the hops and, to a lesser degree, to the malts, but this time there was only an undertone of hoppiness, very subtle, and the five malts (refer to my previous post last week about their names) were totally smooth and in support of some other flavor I've never experienced in a beer before. It was the fire roasted zucchini, I'm sure, with just a hint of lemon peel and fennel seed, and maybe a mist of cedar chips breathing through it. No, it was definitely the zucchini, for sure, a flavor I've never associated with beer (this was, of course, a biere de garde, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, so why not some roasted zukes?), that, for me, evoked the split pea/ham bone image. No one else used that analogy so maybe it was just my own associations, but it made me feel quenched and fed at the same time -- this beer was a meal unto itself. The more I drank, the more I wanted. I couldn't wait to try it with our pizza.
Just then, Patrick Rue showed up and joined us, and we all tapped glasses in a toast and, pretty soon, the cameras were rolling again and we caught a lot of the ensuing conversation on tape, which you will eventually see. I think all of us (though maybe not Patrick, since he's tasted more types of beer than most people who ever lived) were still trying to find the right words, the language, to place this flavor within the context of our taste memories, but we all agreed that we loved it. So we went outside to the oven and, as if on cue, Joseph pulled up with the boxes of dough balls, having sweated bullets and dodged traffic to get it to us. Yes, the day was still magic.
The dough was made for us, to the specs of the same recipe that we used at The Bruery when we issued the original challenge three and a half months earlier, by Safa Hamze and his baking team at Whole Foods under the direction of head baker Andy Clark (a founding member of "Boulder's Secret Pizza Society" and an experienced appreciator of serious beer who was, regrettably, out of town at a Bread Baker's Guild of America Board meeting -- I know he would have totally flipped out at what was about to happen and, naturally, I'll never let him forget that he missed this night). The dough had a pleasant light caramel tone, maybe cafe au lais-ish, because it was infused with barley malt crystal (4% ratio to the flour; the recipe is in an earlier posting). The Germania flour from Central Milling, with its touch of pumpernickel, was the perfect choice, an American flour blend that performed like a cross between the Italian Double Zero flour we'd had earlier that day at Marco's, and the Colorado grown high-protein flour we'd had in the pizzas that morning at Brava Pizzeria della Strada. We were ready to roll.
Kelly started assembling the first pizza, the "hero" as it's called in photo sessions, the one for the camera, and for our first combined taste with the Birra Basta. The dough was then baked in the now 800 degree owood-fired oven, with freshly made, super creamy burrata cheese from the legendary Gioia Cheese Company in Los Angeles, and also with beautiful yellow squash blossoms, sliced chiffonnade style into slivers. Ninety seconds later, when it emerged from the oven, Kelly finished it off with a topping of baby arugula, sweet and tangy silver anchovies, lemon preserves (slow cooked in Kelly's sous vide water bath cooker), and a dusting of fennel pollen salt. We brought the pizza to a table just inside the stage door of the Beer Garden because we were told the Denver police would arrest us if we drank our beers out on the sidewalk (probably a necessary law in beer-crazed Denver). There, Patrick, Alan, Kelly, me, and eventually our whole crew and growing entourage, with cameras rolling, put the birra and the pizza together for the first time.
I hate to do this to you, but I'll pick up the story tomorrow and do my best to describe how the flavors took on a whole new direction when they all came together....