Friday, January 28, 2011

Cultural connection: NJ & Italy brewing

One more item out of Basil's in Red Bank ...

A familiar face to some in the New Jersey craft brewing scene – certainly to regulars at Basil's – is back in the Garden State.

Francesco "Frank" Barritta, who owns a small brewery in southern Italy with his brother, Pasquale, lent a hand this month at Basil T's when brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler and Tun Tavern brewer Tim Kelly created Gretchen's version of the chocolate-chili pepper beer collaboration between the Tun and Basil's. (That's Frank in the red on the right in the photo above.)

Frank spends winters in New Jersey (he has family in the state) and is a longtime friend of the Red Bank brewpub, a friendship that was struck when the Barritta brothers were scouting for brewing equipment and Basil's was suggested as a stop. The brothers learned the craft of brewing in New Jersey – at Basil's and Tom Baker's Heavyweight brewery, when it was in operation a few miles south in Ocean Township.

"We met Gretchen, and we met (Victor Rallo, Basil's owner), and we started coming here to learn how to brew beer," Frank said over a pint of porter on Jan. 20. "Then we met Tom Baker, and we ended up brewing with Tom, too, down at at Heavyweight. I did a lot of brewing with Tom. He taught me everything there is to know."

That was eight years ago.

Birrificio Cunegonda, the Barritta's brewery in Spilinga in the Calabria region, opened in 2007. The brothers turn out 600-700 barrels of ales, serving a touritst/resort region at the toe of boot that is Italy. (Gretchen toured the region and Cunegonda last year.)

"We figured it was something new for our area, there was nobody – there's still nobody in the area" Frank says. "You have to go 150 to 200 miles away to find someone like us, not even like us, smaller than us. So being that it's a tourist area, we thought 'let's bring something new to the area.' "

Wine's the top draw in Italy, and for beer, it's straw-colored lagers. But the Barrittas are creating some space in that array for their ales.

"When we started, in the first year there were 85 breweries like mine, microbreweries and small breweries like Basil's, bars and stuff. I think now it's up to 200." Frank says. "There's been a little change. But they're small. They're not like 10 barrels; they're very small, like 3 barrels."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fire in mid-winter

Cocoa fuego, cocoa fuoco ...

By either name, this chocolate-chili pepper-cinnamon beer, a collaboration between brewpubs Basil T's and Tun Tavern, keeps the fire burning for the Jersey's Finest craft brewing ventures that kicked off in mid-January with a pairing of a stouts from two other Garden State brewers.

Chocolate Fire will also warm your mid-winter mug when it goes on tap at Basil's and the Tun in February, just in time for Valentine's Day. (Note: It may go on tap at the Tun this week.)

Cocoa fuego (the name in Spanish) is the version Tun brewer Tim Kelly made Jan. 6 in Atlantic City with the assistance of Basil's brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler, whom Tim approached last summer with the idea for a beer collaboration. Gretchen is using the Italian phrasing, Cocoa Fuoco after all, Basil's features an Italian menu for the version she brewed in Red Bank last Thursday with Tim's help. (Tim showed up at Basil's with a couple of in-progress samples pulled from the five-barrel batch made for the Tun; there's a chocolaty presence with a hand-off to subtle, unfolding heat.)

Inspiration for the beer comes from a chili pepper chocolate bar that Tim discovered. He mentioned it to Gretchen at the Garden State Craft Brewer's Guild festival aboard the USS New Jersey in Camden.

"The Red Fire Bar ... it's chocolate with a couple chili peppers, some cinnamon ... I thought it was a delicious thing, and these flavors might make a great beer," Tim says. "So I approached Gretchen last June at the battleship, to see if she would be interested in collaborating. She had some experience brewing with peppers; I've worked with chocolate and cinnamon before."

Six months later they put together a recipe that features ancho, chipotle and guajillo peppers, Dutch chocolate, and cinnamon. (The specialty malts range from aromatic, munich, chocolate and crystal rye.)

For the craft beer enthusiast, it's one recipe but two beers that will be alike, yet with some individuality owing to the different brewers, brewing systems (the Tun has a 10-barrel system; Basil's is a 7-barrel), and some minor variations between the grain bills and hops. (For instance, Tim used Nugget hops; Gretchen used Goldings.)

"I don't think they need to be identical. I think they'll be very close," Gretchen says.

Collaboration craft beers are trendy now, and one of the flashiest marquee examples is probably Infinium, the recently released brew created by Boston Beer and the Weihenstephan Brewery in Bavaria.

Last year, Flying Fish in Cherry Hill teamed with Philadelphia's Nodding Head Brewery and Stewart's Brewing in Delaware for FF's Exit 6 rye beer, then with Iron Hill in Maple Shade, under the banner of Jersey's Finest, married its newly minted Exit 13 chocolate stout with a coffee stout that IH brewed last fall.

Collaborations serve many purposes, Gretchen says, notably to create a buzz about beer brewed in the Garden State and to promote some camaraderie among Jersey brewers. It's also a touch of marketing for the brewpubs.

"After the first of the year, things tank a little bit. You've got the weather to contend with; sales are generally a little slower. So it's nice for us to generate a little publicity for the Guild, for our individual pubs and for craft beer in general," Gretchen says.