Pizza and beer are a classic pairing, of course, but restaurateurs are not just serving the beverage and the flatbread together. They’re also adding the drink to the pies themselves.
“Our guests really enjoy it,” said James Cassidy, culinary and purchasing director of RAM Restaurant Group, based in Lakewood, Wash. Its 13-unit RAM Restaurant & Brewery offers a signature pizza crust made with the chain’s own Big Horn Hefeweizen instead of water. The crust also contains spent grain from its Big Red IPA, which is turned into a paste and blended into the crust “as more added flavor,” Cassidy said.
“It makes it unique and at the same time difficult to copy,” he added.
The beer also makes the crust crispier, he said, and the lemony banana accents of the hefeweizen add extra nuance.
RAM isn’t alone by any means. According to menu research firm Technomic, using its Ignite Menu platform, beer is the fastest-growing ingredient in pizza, up by 92.3% compared to last year. That includes beer in the crust, beer cheese on the pie, and proteins such as sausage or chicken cooked in beer as a pizza topping.
At Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, a 22-unit concept with locations in Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, the chain’s own Vienna Red Lager goes into the barbecue sauce that’s used to finish its Voodoo Chicken Pizza.
Regional chef Brendan Mullan said the pizza was developed at its Newark, Del., location and has become a signature item.
The Vienna Red Lager is a key ingredient. “That beer is a great food beer for us,” he said. “It has a little bit of breadiness and maltiness. … We use it to braise pork and do things like that.”
He makes the sauce by sautéing garlic, onion, and bell pepper, as well as a Cajun spice blend of cayenne pepper, black pepper, kosher salt, red pepper flakes, and dried thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Then he deglazes it with the beer and cooks it down into a sauce.
The pizza itself is made with smoked Gouda cheese topped with spiced roasted chicken thigh, shaved green pepper, red onion, mozzarella, bacon, the Voodoo Barbecue Sauce, and chives, and then it’s baked in the restaurants’ brick pizza oven.
Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, Mich., uses its beer in many of the menu items it serves in its adjacent pub, according to co-owner Leah Short. It’s an ingredient in sauces and dips, and some of the brewery’s spent grain goes into the pub’s pretzel.
The pizza crust is made with a light lager called Local Light, as well as malt flour from Short’s malt provider, “which is going to be a little bit darker than your all-purpose flour, so it has a unique flavor, whether it’s from the beer or the malt flour or both,” she said.
For Oktoberfest, the pub offered beer-braised bratwurst on its pies, Short said, adding that using beer as an ingredient is part of the brewery’s overall menu strategy.
Photo: Bratwurst is simmered in local Bierzeit beer for the Brewer’s Hill Slice from the Street-za food truck in Milwaukee, Wis.
Street-za, a food truck in Milwaukee, Wis., offers a Brewer’s Hill Slice, named for a neighborhood in the city and celebrating its beer-making tradition.
“It’s where the beer barons of Milwaukee lived,” founder Scott Baitinger said.
He said he enjoys working with local producers, including Johnsonville, located an hour north in Sheboygan Falls, Wis. Traditionally he has simmered that company’s bratwurst in local Blatz beer, but he’s currently using Bierzeit from Lakefront Brewery.
“Bierzeit, literally ‘beer time,’ is that moment to unwind after an honest day’s work,” he said. That particular beer balances Pilsner malt with sharp hops for an easy-drinking beer with a crisp finish, he added.
He also adds the beer to the crust, along with dark roasted spent grain, “which creates a unique flavor.”
That’s less true with the beer-braised brats on their own, he said.
“Even though we simmer the brats in beer and then I grill them, and we put a lot of the sausage on the pizza, it takes a lot to change the flavor of the pizza too much,” he said. Hence the additions of beer and spent grain to the crust.
Baitinger said the Brewer’s Hill Slice is particularly popular at weddings, which he tends to cater buffet-style, saying that it is unusual enough to get guests’ attention but not so weird that it’s a turn-off.
“They want something different but safe,” he said.
As Baitinger said, getting the beer flavor to actually come through in pizza can be tricky, and Home Run Inn, which has nine locations in Chicago as well as two concession stands in Wrigley Field, took a different approach for the Beer Pizza it offered this past summer.
“We infused our sauce with all-natural beer flavor,” said Gina Bolger, the chain’s senior vice president of marketing.
“It literally tastes like pizza and beer,” she added. “It’s just blending the two flavors in one bite.”
She said the concept sold the Beer Pizza at its restaurants for a few weeks around Father’s Day, adding that it performed really well, especially on Father’s Day weekend.
“We got great reviews,” she said. “We anticipate bringing it back next year.”
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]