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Aug. 22, 2008 | Pizza-flavored beer no pie-in-the-sky dream

LAST WEEK, I wrote about some strange brews that have been popping up on beer shelves. Beer flavored with bananas, blueberries, even crème brulee.

Here's one to top 'em all: Mama Mia Pizza Beer.

I kid you not.

It's an ale flavored with fresh tomatoes, oregano, basil and garlic. Take a big whiff, and you think you just opened up a box from Domino's. Take a sip, and you get a mellow tomato flavor - not overwhelming, just a hint - with a nice garlic bite on your lips.

I know, pizza-flavored beer sounds awful, like something teenagers would think up after swiping a sixpack from the garage fridge and discovering that – much as they enjoy the buzz – they really can't stand the taste of lager. Dude, they should make pepperoni pilsner!

In fact, this stuff is really pretty darn good.

Not just marginally drinkable, like a gimmick that you'd try once and then smile just to Mama Mia Pizza Beerbe polite. The underlying tomato character brings to mind a tart rye ale, the spice tingles like a peppery Belgian saison. Flavorful, full-bodied and fun - it's a surprising treat.

Surprising, even, to Tom Seefurth, the guy who invented it.

The original batch was just a lark, he said. A longtime homebrewer from St. Charles, Ill., Seefurth and his wife, Athena, were sitting around two years ago over Labor Day weekend, trying to figure out what to make with a bunch of leftover ingredients.

"We had some tomatoes, and I thought about using those. And I had a neighbor who was always talking about doing a garlic beer, so we added that. I had some fresh oregano, some basil, an old packet of [yeast]," Seefurth said. "I said, 'It probably won't work - if it doesn't, we can just cook with it.' "

Fermentation did its trick, the couple bottled the beer, waited for it to carbonate and then gave it a try.

"The first time we tasted it, we looked at each other and said, 'You know, it's actually good,' " Seefurth said. "I'm glad I wrote down the recipe."

A couple weeks passed.

One night they ordered a pizza - one of those stuffed Chicago pies - and opened up a pinot noir. It just didn't go well with their meal. They uncorked a zinfandel - nope. A cabernet.

"None of them worked. So I said, 'You know what, let's pop open one of those tomato beers.' We gave it one taste and I said, 'Holy shit, this is fantastic! It's perfect with pizza.'

"That's when we started calling it Pizza Beer."

A few months went by. Seefurth entered the beer in a homebrew contest that was judged by, among others, brewing expert and author Randy Mosher. It came in second.

They shared it with friends. One acquaintance, a woman who owns a restaurant, asked him for bottles to serve to her guests.

Seefurth had ambitions, but he told her, "I'm a homebrewer. I make five-gallon batches."

"I could never make enough for her," he said. "I have a job."

A job, yes, well . . . Seefurth, 44, was a mortgage broker; his wife, a loan officer. You may have read something in the papers about a real-estate bubble.

And this pizza beer, it was a pretty good idea. It had potential.

The two had a heart-to-heart, took a deep breath and left their jobs. Mama Mia Pizza Beer was born. The two pulled on chef's hats, designed a label and worked to perfect the recipe.

A nearby brewpub cooked up a pilot batch and sold out immediately. Last February, they cut a deal with Wisconsin's Sprecher Brewing to make their recipe and package Pizza Beer in 16-ounce bottles. In just six months, Seefurth said, the couple has sold 3,000 cases.

"And mind you," he said, "that's basically one bottle at a time, because most people don't buy a whole case."

Indeed, most people have the same reaction I did when I first heard about it. Pizza and beer? Yeah, they go together - but not in the same glass.

So the couple has hit the streets, serving samples at restaurants, grocery stores and distributors up to five times a week, pouring glass after glass to the curious. Sometimes they get "green-eggs-and-hammed" - a cold shoulder from those who are so grossed out by the idea of Pizza Beer that they won't take even a sip.

But even if people won't drink it, they might use it for cooking. That's why Seefurth calls it "the world's first culinary beer." He hopes to get it onto the marinade aisle, right next to the cooking sherry and basting sauces.

He even has a recipe to make pizza with Pizza Beer.

So far, it's available only in the Midwest. But Seefurth is looking for a distributor in Philly. One day you'll crack open a bottle at Taconelli's and wonder: "Pizza Beer, why didn't I think of that?"

Beer calendar

Lauren Salasin, a bartender at Media's Quotations restaurant (37 E. State St.), will join the Breast Cancer 3-Day, a national fund-raising walk in October. To help her raise the funds needed to participate, the multi-tapper is donating a buck from sales of every glass of wheat beer poured through August. At last word, the bar had poured 1,050 drafts on her behalf.

The list of wheaties ain't too shabby, either, including: Pyramid Apricot, Bells Oberon, Stoudt's Weizen, Manneken Pis (Blanche de Bruxelles), Anderson Valley High Rollers, Weihenstephaner Hefe Weiss, New Holland Zoomer Wit, Smuttynose Summer Weizen, Left Hand Haystack and Flying Dog Heat Wheat.






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