A Sommelier’s Reflections on the Beer/Food Connection
Note from Peter: Alan Henkin is a partner at Pizzeria Basta and is also the restaurant’s beverage director. We were so impressed with his knowledge of both wine and beer, and his thoughtful list, that we filmed some special webisode segments with him, which we will show in the future when we run the Bruery Beer and Pizza Challenge series. But, as the time draws near for the Great American Beer Festival and the unveiling of both the Challenge Beer and the Pizza Quest/Basta pizza, we asked Alan to share some thoughts about the creative process he goes through in pairing food with beer. This is the first of what we hope will be more Guest Columns from him. Enjoy!
As a Sommelier, I have always been trained to use deductive reasoning when tasting wine, especially when blind tasting. By eliminating as many options as possible, you can sometimes identify the origin and make-up of a wine. For me, great beer is not as cerebral and feels more emotional and nostalgic…more like food. After all, beer is not capable nor is it trying to express the terroir of where the malts and hops are grown. This is not to say that beer can’t be linked to certain regions and producers through educated deduction, it is just not as specific. That being said, I now believe that great beer making more resembles the work I see happening in great kitchens, right down to the way both chefs and brewers organize their pantry and clean their equipment at the end of a shift. I see the same passion in the eyes of great brewers as I do in great chefs, and their ability to excite and inspire their staff is as important as any classic technique or encyclopedic knowledge of product.
There are many great brewers in America right now who have this passion and that is why there is so much great beer to choose from. At Pizzeria Basta we have only four beer taps and about eight bottles on our list, but we put a lot thought into each selection. Sometimes it can be hard to decide what to serve and, other times, certain beers are so highly allocated that you can’t get them even if you want them. This is all part of the process and choosing great beer to accompany our food is fun. One brewery that we have focused on since we opened is The Bruery, located in Orange County, CA. This relationship started as soon as we opened the doors of our restaurant. We knew we wanted to offer at least one large format, 750ml bottle of American craft beer, but there were so many to choose from that we were not sure where to start. We wanted something different than what other restaurants in Boulder were serving, and we wanted something new and fresh; something with balance that would go well with Chef Kelly Whitaker’s wood-fired cuisine.
The Bruery fit this mold perfectly. A young brewery, about 2 years old at the time we opened Basta, that only produces bottle conditioned, unfiltered, large format beers. After sampling a few of their bottles I was instantly impressed. The beers were impeccably made so that you could taste the craft behind the product. On the nose they displayed a beautiful malt-driven sweetness with an underlying yeast component. Even though most of their ales were over 8% abv, you could barely tell, and they wore their alchohol content like a suede jacket. The hops were there, but were used in a way as to not dominate the rest of the beer. In other words, the ales were perfectly balanced and tasted like they had been made by people who love the craft of brewing. This was the kind of beer I wanted to drink, and the kind of beer I wanted to serve to our guests. We eventually devoted an entire tap handle to The Bruery and have served a large portion of their portfolio. The similarities between their company and ours would later become very apparent to me when we visited them, as you will read in some of the other posts by Peter and Brad on Pizza Quest. I hope to write more about that in future Guest Columns.
Alan Henkin, Boulder, CO
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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.
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