Batman and Robin. Tom and Jerry. Han Solo and Chewbacca. There’s a reason certain duos go down in history as icons: Alone they’re great; together they become unstoppable.
Pizza and beer is no exception. Long laughed off as the lazy late-night combination of the unimaginative everyman, modern tastes have given rise to a new level of enlightenment. Suddenly a simple margherita and light lager isn’t just relegated to staying in on a Saturday and binge-watching your Netflix queue. No. With a bit of knowledge this simple meal can become an experience.
“To me, beer lends itself to pairing with food so much better than wine simply because of the endless combinations of styles, flavors, aromas and mouthfeel,” Derek Fritts, Night Shift Brewing’s in-house tasting expert, tells me. “No matter what dish you’re thinking of, there is a beer, if not multiple beers, that will not only pair, but can open up a whole new experience you wouldn’t even expect.”
Fritts has been pairing food with beer for a long time, parlaying a bartending job at Night Shift in 2014 into a career there focused on exposing guests to unique flavor combinations they never thought possible. Here are his favorite pairings when it comes to a good brew and your favorite pie.
To me, a good gooey cheese pizza just screams for a light, hoppy pale ale. The light malt bill won’t get in the way, and the slight bitterness from the hops will balance the sweetness of the tomato sauce, accentuate the saltiness of the cheese, and help to cleanse the palate between slices.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, Whirlpool; Wormtown Brewery, Bottle Rocket; Mystic Brewery, Saturation.
When going for a classic ‘roni pie, pick a hefty double IPA. The beefier malt bill, when compared to a pale ale or pilsner, will more deftly play off the subtle sweetness, the aggressive hop presence will help to bring out the spice in the pepperoni, and the higher alcohol content will help to cut through the grease leaving you ready for another slice.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, The 87; Fiddlehead Brewing, Second Fiddle; Kane Brewing, Overhead.
Sausage and Mushroom
This might sound weird, but with this kind of pie I’d be reaching for a chocolate milk stout. The slightly bitter, roasty undertones will bring out the earthiness of the mushrooms and the chocolate will add a depth of flavor to the sausage with a slight sweetness to balance the saltiness of the meat.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, Cow Tipper; Terrapin Beer Co., Moo-Hoo; 4 Hands Brewing, Chocolate Milk Stout.
It’s pilsner all the way for this pairing. German or Czech styles will work best. The light breadiness of the malt bill plays up the crispy, toasty crust, the zesty, herbal punch from the hops helps to bring the fresh basil to the forefront, and the crisp clean finish leaves just enough of that salty sweet mozzarella on the tongue to invite another sip, and another slice.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, Pfaffenheck; Notch Brewing, Session Pils; Idle Hands, Adelais.
A nice, balanced doppelbock will go wonderfully here. The sweet malt bill will add some caramel notes to the pineapple and allow the smokiness of the ham to stand out, with just enough alcohol and hop presence to stand up to the bold flavors of the ingredients.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, Coburg; Great Divide, Wolfgang; Maui Brewing, Tominator (Red Cock Doppelbock).
I’d go with a gose for this pizza. The salinity from the sea salt will play perfectly with the salty clams and bacon, the bright tartness will add a nice lemony finish that pairs perfectly with seafood, the coriander will bring a subtle spice, all while the acidity and effervescence cuts through the fattiness and cleanses the palate between slices.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, Harborside; Lost Nation Brewing, Gose; Westbrook Brewing, Gose.
Chicago-style Deep Dish
To me, a zwickelbier is the way to go here. These soft, unfiltered lagers tend to have a bready, biscuity malt bill that will make the crust the star of the show, with just enough hop character to balance the sweetness of the sauce, and a finish soft enough to let the thick layer of cheese stand out.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, Kehl; Idle Hands, Emelyn; Tree House Brewing, Trailbreaker.
You want a sturdy beer here that can stand up to a pie with so much going on. Go with a solid, resinous, West Coast-style IPA. Choose one with enough malt characteristic to stand up to the crust and veggies, but with enough hoppy bitterness to cut through the grease and not get lost behind all the ingredients.
Beer recs: Night Shift Brewing, Santilli; Wormtown, Be Hoppy; Fiddlehead Brewing, IPA.