We're at a point in the craft beer industry where collaborations are commonplace, and not only between breweries. It's hardly surprising to find high-profile brewers across the country linking up with restaurants, rock 'n' roll bands or anything else that may pique the interest of a beer drinker in a market saturated with choice.
Many are delicious; some are admirable gimmicks. And just a handful are gifts of neighborly ingenuity, like the new B-Track series between Bronx Brewery and Baldor Specialty Foods, the Bronx-based food purveyor that's become the premiere resource for NYC's top chefs.
Taking inspiration from the surprise B side—the less "popular" song on a vinyl record—the B-Track series is an ongoing line of experimental, small-batch beers released monthly and brewed with quirky ingredients like fennel pollen, Sorrento lemons and Sichuan buttons, all available to sample and purchase at the Bronx Brewery taproom.
“We always tried to think of ways to work with them,” Patrick Libonate, Bronx Brewery’s vice president of marketing, says. The opportunity came in 2017, when a brewmaster wanted to include cucumbers and basil in a recipe for a Berliner Weisse (which was rereleased this year as Where You Stand). So Libonate reached out to Ben Walker, Baldor’s senior director of marketing and development (and a fan of the brewery’s Bronx IPA), to inquire about getting them.
“I told Ben about the B-Track brewing series, and he thought it would be great to get involved and utilize their products to help make those beers,” Libonate says.
The two marketing directors “beer-brainstorm” by reviewing Baldor's seasonal calendar to pinpoint when its products are at their freshest peak. “[Then] we start tasting the product, and they start to match with what type of beer to make,” Walker says. “We start with our top 10 items per month, and then we start to cook it down to just a few.”
Unveiled in March, a dry Irish stout called Heavy Fennel features fennel pollen. Walker was inspired to recommend this licorice-flavored add-in due to witnessing Missy Robbins, chef/owner of Lilia, the lauded Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, use fennel pollen in many of her dishes. “It’s such a fun, unique ingredient that I don’t think people know about, so we wanted to make a beer out of it,” he explains.
The latest release, My Berry Own IPA, is made with Harry’s Berries, a strawberry variety from an organic family farm of the same name in California.
Photo: The Bronx Brewery
Outcomes can differ, too. Sichuan buttons, yellow flowery buds, went into creating Yokozuna Wit, a Belgian-style witbier, because of their lightly shocking mouth effect. The final result “was very, very faint than from tasting them on their own,” Lobonate says.
“Sometimes, it’s a learning process in terms of how much of the ingredients you use or when you introduce them; that’s the part of the trial and error,” Libonate continues.
Upcoming beers include Limoncello Milkshake IPL, an India pale lager with Sorrento lemons; the Triple Muscateers, a take on the Belgian beer with Muscat grapes; and More to the Core, a Kölsch highlighting Baldor’s food waste reduction program by containing pineapple cores.
Photo: Sebastian Arguello
From an educational standpoint, it's an even trade. But while Walker has learned the ins and outs of brewing beer, and sees a market for hyper-seasonal brews, he’s fine with sticking to food. “I think this side of the fence keeps me pretty busy.”
Either way, as long as he's making beers with Bronx Brewery, we'll surely be seeking them out.
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