Turns out, somebody else came up with the brilliant idea.
Chef Tom Seefurth is the brains behind Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer, a light, 4.5%-alcohol beer, brewed using Christopher Ranch’s California heirloom garlic, fresh basil, oregano and tomatoes.
Hmm…I eat quite a bit of pizza and drink even more beer, but I couldn’t initially wrap my arms around the idea of a Pizza Beer. So, I asked the obvious question – do garlic, basil, oregano and tomatoes taste good in beer?
Surprisingly, delicious, said chef Tom.
“No one’s ever used these ingredients before; it’s the only garlic beer in the world,” chef Tom said of Pizza Beer, which became commercially available in March 2008. “When the batch came out, we weren’t expecting it to taste very good, but the garlic made it taste really cool. You know you’re drinking beer, but you get the garlic aroma.”
Chef Tom couldn’t tell me how much fresh garlic is brewed into the beer – trade secrets, of course – but he did say using California heirloom garlic – as opposed to Chinese garlic – made a significant difference in the flavor.
“It burns at first and is really harsh,” chef Tom said, when describing the flavor of raw Chinese garlic, which was used in the first four Pizza Beer batches. “We fell in love with California garlic – it was sweet, and something we wanted to put in our mouths straight. We knew it was going to change our beer – and for the better.”
Turns out, Pizza Beer is quite popular in the limited markets available, including Illinois – mainly Chicago – Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and a very slim California presence.
It’s primarily retail outlets, such as select Woodman’s Markets and Whole Foods Markets in Illinois and Indiana, and liquor stores, like Binny’s Beverage Depot in Illinois and Beverages 4 Less in Santee, Calif., carrying the beer. However, chef Tom hopes to expand into more independent markets and increase involvement with wine distributors, particularly in California.
“It’s more of the foodies who like it; or people who enjoy a good glass of wine, but don’t drink beer,” chef Tom said of Pizza Beer, which is considered a session beer, or a beer that one can drink consecutively – in a session – without becoming intoxicated.
Chef Tom’s brain child was originally intended to be a marinade, as he and his wife – Athena, better known as “Mamma Mia” – enjoy grilling – and cooking in general – and were constantly using beer as a marinade, while questioning why such marinades weren’t readily available.
Well, chef Tom, a realtor by trade, possessed a passionate idea and a homemade beer-making kit, so, about three years ago, he decided to grab every herb in his garden, and try his hand at brewing an herbal-infused beer. As luck would have it, it was a hit as a drinking beer, earning third-place honors at an amateur beer-brewing competition and entry in the Great American Beer Festival competition.
He now contracts with a brewer in Milwaukee – Sprecher Brewing Co. – to manufacture his beer, which had its fifth brew in October; this time with Christopher Ranch California heirloom garlic. For a peek into the process, see video.
Today, most consumers are purchasing his beer to be drunk, but about 30% buy for marinade purposes, he said. See chef Tom’s Pizza Beer Burgers clip.
He’s also found interest from pizza makers, such as Frank McCarron, chef/general manager, of Valley Center, Calif.-based Portino’s, who are using his beer as an ingredient in pizza crust. In fact, the beer blended so well into the crust of McCarron’s sausage-, garlic-, tomato-pie pizza that it took first place in the Western Region Division of the Best Traditional Pizza Competition – and fourth place in the International Division – at the 2009 International Pizza Expo. (Side note – McCarron’s winning pizza featured Christopher Ranch’s California heirloom garlic!)
McCarron, who’s been in the pizza business for 20 years, also said the garlic presence in Pizza Beer plays a major role in making Pizza Beer pizza so uniquely delicious.
“It’s mainly the garlic in there – beer and crust is no secret,” said McCarron, who’s used Christopher Ranch’s California heirloom garlic for a decade. “But it’s the basil, garlic, tomato and oregano, and it just does something to it. I haven’t figured out what it is yet.”
McCarron sees great potential in the Pizza Beer pizza-crust concept and intends to license the Portino’s name to interested operators, with Pizza Beer as the proprietary product, he said. For more information, click here.
Still, even though multiple people have picked up on the Pizza Beer idea – whether it’s for drinking or cooking – it’s still one of the best kept secrets out there.
Some cats, however, need to be let out of their bag – especially when concerning beer and fresh California heirloom garlic. To find out more about Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer, please visit the Web site.
Who knows? Pizza Beer could be the next Korean BBQ. Weirder things have happened.