2006: indulgences: Suds and pie, artfully done

By John Steinbreder

New York

The menu boasts just beer and pizza, the sort of fare often served as ballgames blare from big-screen televisions.

But this is no ordinary dinner, and there isn’t a Sony in sight. Rather, I am attending one of dozens of events held here each year by the James Beard Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the culinary ideals that made that marvelous chef an American icon.

The idea this evening is simple yet sublime: Pair the gourmet “pies” produced by Waldy Malouf at Waldy’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Penne in Chelsea with the “craft” beers of the Brooklyn Brewery. Pairing is the operative word here.

“Pizza and beer are very common foods,” Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn’s brew master, tells the 60-odd participants. “But they can also be art forms when taken to other ends of the spectrum, and that’s what we have tried to bring you tonight.”

Most think of pairing food and drink in its simplest terms – red wine with meat, white wine with fish – and rarely ponder the subject when it comes to beer.

“But the fact is, beer goes very well with food, and we have promoted that since we founded Brooklyn Brewery,” says Steve Hindy, the one-time foreign correspondent who first developed an interest in beer making while watching diplomats produce homemade brews in Saudi Arabia. “Actually, it works better with certain foods than wine and definitely has its place at the table.”

That was apparent from the first pairing, with the flagship Brooklyn Lager, made in the style of Viennese beer that was popular in that borough when it was home to more than 45 breweries in the late 1880s, accompanied by pizza topped with sweet and hot sausage and roasted peppers.

Next was a thin-crusted pie arrayed with braised lamb, roasted lemon and oregano, a tasty homage to Malouf’s Lebanese roots. It is a superb accompaniment to the Brooklyn Brown Ale, which is modeled after English beers with caramel, chocolate and coffee flavors. Even better was Brooklyn Fortitude, currently available only on tap and brewed in the style of the great Belgian beers. Its alcohol content of 9 percent was nearly double that of the night’s first two beers, and it went beautifully with a small slice of pizza featuring proscuitto, roasted asparagus and Parmesan cheese.

And so it went for nearly two hours. There was a pie with clams, garlic, bread crumbs and ricotta paired with Brooklyner Pilsner, brewed, as tradition would have it, from the finest German, two-row barley malts. The Brooklyn East India Pale Ale, inspired by the beers made for English troops in the early 1800s with extra malts and hops to prevent spoilage during long sea voyages, worked wonderfully with the shrimp, garlic and lemon pie that came with it. And the roasted eggplant, zucchini and olive pizza was an inspired choice to be served with the Brooklyner Weisse, a popular style of unfiltered wheat beer once brewed exclusively for the Bavarian royal family.

Just as there are dessert wines, our dinner ended with a dessert beer of sorts. The Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, a rendition of a brew once made for Catherine the Great, tastes much like cold espresso, and when accompanied by chocolate truffle cupcakes, it created perhaps the most intriguing pairing of the night. It perfectly capped a tasting that was fun and informative, but also affirmed my growing sense that beer can work as well as wine when properly paired with food.

Tequila to savor, not shoot

– Martin Kaufmann

Sofia Partida says that when she holds tastings of her family’s Partida tequilas, some attendees, almost by force of habit, shotgun their drinks before she can intervene. So she’ll pour them another drink, first issuing clear directions: Inhale the aroma and identify the flavors. Then sip it and let it rest on your tongue. Then exhale after you swallow to capture the end of the palate.

Partida tequilas have been available domestically for less than a year, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Sofia, president of Tequila Brands LLC and the public face of the family business, sometimes has to tutor Americans more accustomed to slamming than sipping their tequila.

The upstarts from near Amatitán, a village in Mexico’s Tequila region, already are making an impression. Writing in the December edition of his well-read publication Spirit Journal, Paul Pacult awarded each of Partida’s three tequilas – Blanco, Reposado and Añejo – his highest rating of five stars. Pacult turned almost lyrical in his review, referring to the Reposado as “the Bentley” of its type, and describing the palate entry of the Añejo as “unbelievably elegant.”

“The Partida tequilas are simply the finest line of tequilas that money can buy right now,” Pacult declared. “The bar has been raised to lofty new heights.”

That’s pretty heady praise for a family of farmers who used to grow and supply blue agave, the source of tequila, to spirits makers. About 15 years ago, the Partidas began making private-label tequila for other companies, but Sofia says family members had long dreamed of starting their own label. Sofia, the youngest of 11 children, returned to the family business five years ago and has overseen the Partida product launch.

“My uncle told me, ‘You’ve got tequila running through your veins,’ ” she recalls.

Partida tequila is available in eight states – including California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and New York – but Sofia hopes to have distribution in more than 40 states by fall.

While building a brand, she also hopes to change the way Americans view tequila. Most think of tequila as a shooter, and many, she says, suffer from “tequila trauma” – that is, memories of a bad experience with cheap tequila. Her message: Take your time and savor it.

“If it’s made well,” Partida says, “you should be able to sip it slowly.”

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