By Derek Allmendinger
People have been drinking beer with pizza for hundreds of years. It’s a natural combination. Coincidentally, my first taste of beer was in a pizza joint. It was a Pizza Hut in Pipestone, Minnesota, in the late 1980s. I can’t tell you what brand it was, but knowing my dad it was probably PBR. And, hey, it was the 1980s so it all pretty much tasted the same, anyway. Point being, people drink beer with pizza. Fortunately, nowadays, we have much better beer options for pairing with our ‘za.
I had a Saturday to myself recently and decided to hit up one of my favorites, Punch Pizza. Punch has been making fantastic Neapolitan pies for years and has been doing a pretty good job of keeping a nice rotation of local craft beers on tap. Since I live in Eden Prairie, I most often frequent this particular location. It is where I fell in love with Harriet’s West Side, Brau Bros’ Hopsession and other great Minnesota beers. I must disclose that I used to work at this Punch location. I was a part-time dough and toppings guy back in 2009-10.
I recently acquired Garrett Oliver’s book, The Brewmaster’s Table. The book is an amazing reference guide to pairing food with beer and it has gotten me excited to explore the world of pairing. I like to eat and, like many of us, I’m sometimes guilty of wolfing down food so fast that I don’t taste it. It is the same as when I drank beer in college – of course, that beer didn’t have much taste. Since I began exploring the world of craft beer, I’ve stopped to smell the roses, so to speak, and the more aware I am of what I’m drinking, the more I enjoy and appreciate it. I am now starting to do the same with food.
So let’s get to the fun part. I ordered the Margherita pizza, a classic Neapolitan tradition. The only toppings besides the fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce are a few leaves of fresh basil. If I may quote one of my favorite movies, “The beauty of this is its simplicity.” However, simple does not mean boring. The fresh mozzarella has so much flavor. And the sauce doesn’t come from tomato paste, it’s simply crushed San Marzano tomatoes, so elegant and full of vibrant flavors. And the dough, like any good pizza, must also shine and all Punch pizzas deliver on this. I paired this with Day Tripper, an American Pale Ale from Indeed Brewing Company.
What did I think? First of all, the aromas of both were amazing. Fresh-baked bread and basil notes from the pizza and a huge dose of evergreen tree, fruity esters and caramel malt from the beer. What I liked was the way the fresh hops and fresh basil aromas played off each other. It was very inviting. The hoppy flavor in the beer, which also gave off massive Christmas tree scents, favorably contrasted the acidic tomato sauce. The pleasant bitterness of this beer cuts nicely through the cheese. One of the things I really found impressive about this pairing was that the beer really scrubbed the tongue, leaving it ready for the next flavor assault.
Overall, a good pairing with great individual flavors and aromas that married well. I loved the aroma of the beer. I mentioned evergreen and it is probably the most piney I’ve ever smelled. And I mean that in a good way. Cat pee and sweaty gym bag don’t sound very pleasant, either, but if they are shouting at you from your pint glass, it can be a great thing. As long as I don’t belch tree ornaments we’ll be okay. At another visit I would like to pair the Day Tripper with one of the more spicy pizzas like the Vesuvio with hot peppers and spicy salami; or the Bufalina with its flavorful arugula and earthy buffalo mozzarella. If I ordered the Margherita again I might try a more delicate beer like a pilsner or cream ale. Or, if I’m feeling particularly bold, perhaps a smoked beer to complement the charred blisters on the crust of every Punch pizza.
If this got you in the mood for a pie and a pint there are numerous places in the Twin Cities that offer amazing pizza and a good craft beer selection. Any of these spots are sure to get your mouth watering; Pizza Lucé , Black Sheep, Pizza Nea, Pizzaria Lola or any of the seven Punch Pizza locations. Salud!