Reminder Note: The blog text is by Peter and the photos and captions are Brad's. Enjoy!
Yes, the pizza and the beer were each, individually, everything we had hoped for; unique, delicious, memorable, and even the difficult logistics were falling into place. The mobile wood-fired oven just barely fit into the small space at the curb by the stage door of the Summit Beer Garden, a polka music band was playing in the background on the Beer Garden stage (well, depending on where you were standing, we may have been the background for the band to those who came to see and hear them but, to us, they were our back drop, a nice, atmospheric touch, whose enjoyable sounds you may hear when we show the videos); the dough balls, with their sweet, malty finish, showed up just in the nick of time; the beer was a one of a kinder, not just a variation of something familiar, but way beyond the realm of familiarity. Yet how would it taste with the pizza and how would the pizza taste with the beer? After all, this whole crazy challenge, dreamed up by Brad six months ago, was to see if a beer could be created specifically to match with a special, signature pizza and that meant, could a brewery, even The Bruery, craft a beer that would make the pizza taste even better, and would our pizza heighten the flavors of the beer?
From the first taste of the Birra Basta we all sensed that this was a beer meant for drinking along with food. The wort, brewed weeks ago, contained ingredients purposefully matched to the signature pizza, including flame grilled zucchini inspired by the squash blossoms nestled in the creamy, oozy burrata cheese, fennel seed to match the fennel pollen salt sprinkled on the topping ingredients, lemon peel to pair with Kelly's preserved lemons, and an array of hops and malts to stand up to the silver anchovies (these weren't salty anchovies, like those found in the little flat cans, but sweet, plump, sardine-like white anchovies marinated in a touch of vinegar). But, just because the ingredients matched on paper, mightn't they cancel each other out rather than magnify each other in the synergistic display we all desired? No one could predict until this very moment when, at last, all theory would meet the test of taste bud and olfactory reality.
The moment seemed pretty dramatic to me, but that might have been a result of the multiple flights of Birra Basta I'd already consumed. But here's how I experienced the flavors when I had them all together: they worked! What I mean, and I'll try to describe this without hyperbole or fake gastronomic melodrama, the beer really did change, and so did the pizza, when we had them together. The best way I can describe it is that they both took on a new degree of depth, as if the flavors of one filled in the blanks of the other and a wholly new level of completeness revealed itself. It really was the Big Reveal, though I see that only now, as I write these words.
Like most food professionals, I'm always in search for a "greater than the sum of its parts" experience when tasting foods paired with beverages or even with other foods. The blending and transforming of ingredients is at the heart of all cooking, which means that if you're going to combine ingredients the only reason to do so is to create something that surpasses what each ingredient individually brings to the dish -- otherwise, we might as well just eat each ingredient in its most ripe and perfect form by itself, the way that Alice Waters sometimes ends a meal at Chez Panisse with a simple peach or nectarine, picked at its peak of ripeness, knowing that it's already perfect and needs no further transforming. But, once we introduce the notion of cooking or baking, it's always about creating something that works in concert and goes beyond the ingredients, or at least showcases them in a way in which they could never be experienced as soloists. This is why, in my opinion, pizza really is the most perfect of all foods, because it signifies this very act of transformational art on an edible canvas.
So, as I quaffed and chewed I noticed that while the flavor palettes of both the beer and the pizza were similar and evoked each other, when taken together they kind of rounded out and took on another level of dimensionality. Neither product, the pizza nor the beer, was simple and one or even two dimensional -- each was totally satisfying in its own right and fully three dimensional. But taken together they seemed to unfold another layer (not a fourth dimension, which would take us into the realm of time or timelessness) but rather an umami, a richness, that neither completely possessed on its own. I'm writing this in recall, you must understand, trying to find words to describe a fleeting ephemeralness that existed within an evening flush with many pints of beer, in an oompah driven music hall, during the largest beer festival in the USA, surrounded by many lit up, happy people reaching in for a slice of a very special pizza and a tulip glass of a one of a kind farmhouse ale. All these flavor descriptors are working their way to the surface of my brain only after a week of reflection and remembrance, which means there may be a wee bit of impressionistic soft focus and romance involved. But I think not totally, because I remember having these very impressions in the actual moment of the tasting, but had no idea how I would express them when the time came to attach words to the impressions. So this is my best shot, and I hope I did the night justice. We set out to create and document a creative collaboration, a super session so to speak. Sometimes such sessions don't live up to the hype and sometimes something extraordinary happens. Was this the greatest pizza or the greatest beer ever created? That's not a question that could ever be answered and really shouldn't even be asked, as it wasn't our goal. But, did the effort to push ourselves into a new frontier, to challenge ourselves and our fellow artisans to go beyond our previous limits, bear any fruit? Time will tell, but the fact that I can actually ask the question, or that each of us present at The Big Reveal were driven deeper into our own self reflection, well, maybe that's what this was really about, maybe that's what, in the end, was revealed, and maybe it was, in fact, big.
Perhaps it will be easier to tell when we look at the videos in a few months with the benefit of time, space, and distance -- ah, the fourth dimension....