Smart collaborations with Pizza Brain

PHOTOS: ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The pizza and beer conspirators, preparing smoked sea salt, an ingredient of the brew.
PHOTOS: ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The pizza and beer conspirators, preparing smoked sea salt, an ingredient of the brew.
Posted: February 07, 2014

PIZZA AND BEER have always been one of life's most sacred combinations. But there's no chapter in the good book of pie-and-pint relations that quite addresses what Pizza Brain and Tired Hands Brewing Company have in mind.

In January, Kensington's zany pizza-culture emporium introduced a monthly "Third Thursdees" collaboration event that has the parlor pairing with local businesses to create . . . something. The taco truck Calle del Sabor visited last month, providing jerk chicken for specialty slices. For February, the Brain trust has teamed up with Cheu Noodle Bar to serve a black garlic-glazed pork belly pizza topped with bonito flakes.

Come spring, however, the focus of the series will shift from the sliceable to the sippable.

Long mutual admirers of one another, the high-energy dough tossers and Ardmore-based Tired Hands have found common ground in an uncommon manner. Yes, pizza and beer go together, but that doesn't mean we actually want to drink our pizza out of a glass.

Or does it?

Hands and minds

Tired Hands, which, like Pizza Brain, opened in 2012, stands out by local beer-bar standards - which is why it's downright anomalous on the Main Line.

A bilevel spot that formerly housed a physician and a chiropractor, it's a rustic, yet stylish hobbit-hole of a drinkery with a thoughtfully positioned exposed beam and a carefully poured tasting glass for every beer lover taking up a bar stool or table.

Head brewer and co-owner Jean Broillet, a veteran of Weyerbacher and Iron Hill, draws in a draft-savvy crowd with an edgy, intriguing roster of elegant Euro-style saisons and bright, hoppy ales with bold flavors - eight on tap at a time, all made on-site in a tiny brew room. (An additional production facility, which will up their capacity dramatically, is in the works.)

There are a few stalwarts, but the selection tends to switch up regularly. Recent standouts included Uncle Ant, a fruity, sour saison, and Screeching Loud Thrashing Death Metal Offensive Song, a high-gravity ale whose name was inspired by an unflattering Yelp review.

Patrons also pack in for the food (simple, local cheese and charcuterie, plus pressed sandwiches) and the atmosphere. Last Thursday, heads bobbed as musician Mike Lorenz's jazz trio banged out an unexpected cover of Nirvana's "Dumb."

"It's interesting to come to such a well-curated destination that's across the street from a McDonald's - I don't think people expect that," said Pizza Brain's Brain Dwyer, who fell in quick love with the unassuming space after one of his partners, Michael Carter, introduced him to it.

The specialty-pie-focused Pizza Brain crew started coming in and making nice, and it wasn't long until they were sitting down with an excited Broillet, determining the particulars of a partnership.

"They have the same philosophy that we do in terms of stretching the bounds," said Carter. "It makes sense that the pizza Fates have brought us together."

Common ground

Though they produce markedly different products, Pizza Brain and Tired Hands share an adventurous spirit - and adventurous audiences.

"We just like the ways these guys do business," said Broillet, who owns Tired Hands with his wife, Julie Foster. "There's a similar sort of energy in terms of what we do through a culinary lens."

Though teaming up does have its obvious cross-promotional benefits - "There's a lot of people in Fishtown who don't know Tired Hands, and there's a lot of people in Ardmore who don't know Pizza Brain," said Dwyer - it's also about like-minded approaches to craftsmanship.

This creative common ground manifests itself in a beer called BrainHands, which is exactly what you probably think it is.

Pizza in a glass?

Even Broillet, who's been unafraid to take risks since he began making beer in his parents' garage, can admit that this project is a weird one.

"It's easily one of the most highly conceptual, strange things we've ever brewed," he said. The concept - infusing the flavors of Pizza Brain-style pizza into a beer - required a brewer's slate wiped clean of expectations.

Stylistically, Broillet decided to start with a gose, an archaic wheat-based sour ale brewed with coriander and salt that originates in Germany. "We're taking that core style and adding layer upon layer of complexity to it," he said. That translates to big helpings of pizza-themed spices - sweet basil, Meyer lemon zest, Pizza Brain's proprietary red-pepper-flake blend.

To introduce a smoky, meaty touch, the team smoked sea salt over maple and polenta corn cobs in the yard behind the brewery - the identical materials used to smoke Pizza Brain's pepperoni, which comes from Vermont Salumi.

"It has a subtle pizza essence - I wouldn't say pizza flavor," said Daniel Gutter, Pizza Brain's kitchen manager, who's been taste-testing BrainHands for inspiration. "It's very refreshing. It complements pizza more than it tastes of it."

Essence of pie

The beer, coaxed into its final state by Broillet's "magical" and "meditative" saison yeast, will be available at Tired Hands, but they've set two kegs aside to age ahead of an April Third Thursdee event on Pizza Brain's turf. It won't be the only original product on offer. Gutter is also working on a special pizza for the occasion.

"When I head into these collaborations, I focus on the essence [of the business] and what it entails," said Gutter. He's thinking about a pizza dough fermented with Tired Hands' ale yeast and topped with Lancaster-sourced meat and produce.

Little Baby's Ice Cream, Pizza Brain's equally forward-thinking neighbor, will also work with the brewery on a thematic ice-cream flavor.

Given past partnerships, the teaming of Pizza Brain with a booze-focused operation like Tired Hands might seem incongruous on paper, but Dwyer vows that it's only the beginning. "There's not any limits to who we collaborate with," he said. "I think 2014 is a really exciting year for food science in Philadelphia. I'm really excited to give birth to all these food babies."

Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene since 2005. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at or on Twitter @drewlazor.

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