An Award-Winning Beer and New Menu Puts the Pinetop Brewing Company and the White Mountains on the Beer Map
by Amie Rodgers
It’s official: the beer times, they are a changin’.
Craft beer and microbreweries are now experiencing a renaissance of sorts in America. According to a CNBC report, the Brewers Association has seen unprecedented brewery openings in the last couple of years and they are now seeing breweries open at about the rate of 1.2 per day. Why the renewed interest in such an old tradition? The consensus seems to be that American beer drinkers have grown up. They are tired of the bland light lagers coming out of corporations and like any well adjusted adult, we want our beer to tell us a story.
Well, if it’s a story you want, then I’ve got a story for you. It is a classic underdog story with local roots, good food and beer that took the Gold. The story starts about three years ago when James and Brigid Maloney opened Pinetop Brewing Co. “We felt there was a need for a microbrewery in the White Mountains. We both love craft beer and good food and any time we travel, we find ourselves in the local microbrewery. So, we felt that there was a void that needed to be filled. We opened with the idea to be a super small establishment with a tap room open a couple days a week. We had a very small system and from opening night, we kept running out of beer. We would spend weeks brewing and within a night or two of serving, we would be out of beer and have to close down to brew more. It was great to see the support, but hard to not meet the demand,” says James, “About a year later, we did a fairly substantial upgrade on our equipment. That helped, but the demand was still there. So, we introduced food by offering a menu and adding a wine list. We did another large upgrade to our system and were fortunate to have our Head Brewer Cisco come on board.”
About three and a half years ago, John ‘Cisco’ Francisco retired from the University of Arizona in Tucson and came to the White Mountains to build a house. When he wasn’t busy doing that, he was indulging his passion of brewing beer, which he has done for over thirty six years. Although he insists he was adamantly retired, Cisco couldn’t help himself when it came to a lack of locally brewed beer. “My wife and I were disappointed in the availability of good quality brewed beer here. I extended an offer to the Maloneys to do some consulting to improve the quality of their beer. They came over to my house and sampled different styles of my beer. In need of a brewer, they offered me the job, which I protested because I was retired and didn’t want to work seven days a week anymore. Not willing to give up so easily, they offered me the ability to do what I wanted with the brewery at which time I said, ‘We are going to be a dedicated Belgian brewery,’”says Cisco with a grin, “They agreed and I told them that within a year, I would put them on the beer map and we would be a beer destination. We did it in four months. I started brewing in late October of last year and the Strong Beer Festival in Phoenix was this last February. We got the gold medal in the Belgian category and the same beer went on to win Best in Show for all the beers.”
Against fierce competition from around the country, Pinetop Brewing Co.’s Grand Cru (a French term meaning ‘the best we offer’) took home the prize and is still turning heads. “It was great because before word got out that our beer had won, there were just a few people at our tent. Once it was announced, we had a huge line wanting samples and a lot of them didn’t even know where Pinetop was. So, we were part brewery, part Chamber of Commerce that day. We are excited about that because obviously, it is good for us, but think of how good it is for the community. People will travel to go to a brewery, especially if you have award winning beer. We have already seen a number of visitors as a result,” smiles James.
With awards bestowed and an ever increasing following, I asked Cisco to tell me more about the beer that is bringing attention to Pinetop. “The beers we brew here are traditional Belgian beers brewed with traditional ingredients and brewing techniques. They are not Americanized Belgian beers. Belgian beers are a little harder to make for most people, but I’ve spent time in Belgium talking with brewers around the country to see how they do things so I could refine my recipes,” says Cisco, “Belgian beers are made to pair with food. They don’t sit heavy or fill you up. They are very deep and rich, but light. They use Belgian candy syrup and spices like coriander and dried orange peel, but everything is done very subtly. All the flavors should marry together. You shouldn’t be able to pick any one ingredient out right away. Interestingly enough, Belgians have the most styles of beer of any country. We regularly brew nine beers: Our Grand Cru, Saison, Imperial Stout on Maker’s Mark Oak, Tripel, Blonde, Blonde on Chardonnay Oak, Amber, IPA and Dubbel. The average time for the beer is fifteen days from start to finish before it’s on tap. This includes seven days of fermentation, three days of cold crashing and then it gets transferred into the serving tanks where it will spend five days being injected with carbon dioxide and clarifying itself.”
Although Pinetop Brewing Co. has been offering food for years, the Maloneys felt it was time to reinvent the food they offer. “Our goal has been to produce good quality beer and we needed more synergy between the kitchen and the beer. We were fortunate to find our chefs Jesus Cayeros and Matt Laswell who have had extensive culinary training and experience,” says Brigid, “We needed our menu to really compliment our beer and they have done a wonderful job. We introduced some Belgian style items such as the mussels and the Belgian style fries. The guys also use beer batter in a lot of their recipes. The food is simple, but there is a lot that goes on to make simple food extraordinary. Everything done in the kitchen is done from scratch. When it comes to the ingredients in both our food and beer, we use the best possible ingredients. They put a lot of love and technique into each and every dish, which I think translates beautifully to the clientele because we are getting a lot of repeat customers.”
“This menu was based around pub style food. We wanted to introduce a lot of the beer to it as a foundation. The menu has a lot of finger foods as well as a Belgian influence. Our Belgian Fries are twice cooked. They are blanched at 250 degrees, cooled and fried. We also brine our fries for twelve hours in a salt solution with bay leaf, peppercorn, parsley and other spices. The process breaks down the starches and you end up with a crispy fry on the outside with a smooth inside and seasonings infused. It has definitely become a staple of our menu that is not going away,” says Chef Jesus Cayeros, “We really take care of our food and ingredients. It is simple food made right. If Cisco comes up with a new beer, we sit down and talk about what flavors we need to develop to work with it. We get our mussels fresh and they are delicious. I have worked with mussels a lot in my time, but these are amazing.”
In addition to food that compliments the beer, Jesus and Matt have also imagined menu items that compliment our area. “We wanted a burger to represent what Pinetop really is. We got together and asked ourselves this question. The Pinetop Burger comes with swiss, wild mushrooms, greens and the Pinetop spread. There is a story behind every ingredient. Being from Tucson, I’ve seen snow about three times in my life. So, the Swiss came from my impression of the mountains. The mushrooms came about because there is a lot of foraging here for things like wild mushrooms. The greens represent the green environment here. We felt something was missing so when we looked around, I saw pine trees and pine cones. So, we grabbed some pine cones to smoke onions. We tasted it and it was too strong so we caramelized the onions and blitzed them with walnuts and that is your Pinetop spread. It’s so creamy and buttery. To me, it is a cool play on what Pinetop is. You never know, it could become the Pinetop ice cream cone because it is so delicious,” laughs Jesus.
To which Matt adds, “It is pretty difficult to represent the mountains in a burger, but I think he nailed it. This has been a great experience because James and Brigid have given us a lot of room to flex our muscles with the menu. The menu will always be changing to some extent. Some items will always be there, but others will come and go to keep things fresh. We like to respect all of our ingredients. Everything we bring in, we use to the highest standard we can.”
So, if you’ve become tired of mass produced, uninspired beer and food, it is time you check out what’s going on at Pinetop Brewing Co. After all, if we can choose between a locally brewed beer that supports the community and respects the natural sources, social issues and the actual beer culture and a standard corporate beer, the choice is obvious.
Pinetop Brewing Co. is located at 159 W. White Mountain Blvd. in Pinetop. In addition to indoor seating, there is also a dog-friendly outdoor patio. For more information, please visit www.pinetopbeer.com. Be sure to stop in to sample the award winning Grand Cru and enjoy their new menu offerings.