Some pairings just work better than others. Think peaches and cream. Or Rum and Coke. Or Brad and Angelina…
So it is with Lior Lev Sercarz, chef, spice master blending artist and owner of La Boîte á Epice and Brooklyn’s Brewery’s celebrity brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, who Monday night premiered their creation: Brooklyn Brewmaster Reserve Cuveé La Boîte.
One is tempted to think of these two giants of taste squaring off in a pitched battle to raise the fist in a kind of taste triumph.
After all, Oliver is an award-winning brewmaster, who’s been hand crafting Brooklyn Brewery beers for nearly 20 years.
Among other citations, he published the books "The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food" and “The Oxford Companion to Beer,” http://www.amazon.com/Brewmasters-Table-Discovering-Pleasures-Real/dp/006000570X
Oliver has also been a judge at the Great American Beer Festival and a founding Board member of Slow Food USA.
Not to be outdone, Lior was named one of Bon Appetite’s “Tastemakers of 2012.”
He too is a successful author: The Art of Blending http://www.theartofblendingny.com/index.html
And Lior blends spices for the world’s top chefs including Chef Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin and Daniel Boulud.
Both are recognized foremost authorities in their respective oeuvres.
But the image of a “take down” soon fades and the idea of a duo reaching for the cosmic culinary stars comes to mind.
Theirs is more a nuanced, respectful pairing - like Rodgers & Hammerstein or the Gershwins.
In fact, much of Oliver’s conversation is peppered (we’ll get to the Basque pepper shortly!) with references to music.
He refers to Lior's talent for blending, saying, “Lior uses spices like a musician.” Then goes further to exclaim, “Lior writes a symphony.”
More art references abound.
Describing a key essential of the collaboration, Oliver humbly states, “We put the canvas out there – and he (Lior) painted it.”
Together, the two culinary matchmakers created a spiced beer “love child:” Brooklyn Brewmaster Reserve Cuveé La Boîte.
The matchmaking partnership, too, is a thoughtful, balanced relationship.
Pairing seem to in Oliver’s and the Brewery’s DNA. According to “The Brewmaster's Table,” (Oliver) reveals why traditional beer is the new star with today's cuisine and how to make the perfect match.”
Oliver claims that many chefs come to the Brewery seeking a brand marketing partnership to grab a coveted marquee listing with the renowned and successful brewery because they create a Brewmaster Reserve every few months.
But at the end of the day, Oliver extends his hand only to those that share the passion for culinary art.
Someone that he can, well, sit down and hang out with - have fun sharing a beer with.
With Lior, Oliver said it wasn’t long before “we were soon finishing each other’s sentences.”
So how did this match made in culinary heaven come about?
“Things happen,” shrugs Lior, meaning in New York, everything is possible—opportunity peeks around every corner.
The actual process is indeed a true New York story.
Oliver was dining at home of The New York Tines Magazine writer Alex Halberstadt’s. Halberstadt had recently written a feature for the magazine, “The Transformational Power of the Right Spice” about Lior and his spice therapist art.
See, Lior is more about elevating the art of the spice with his hypnotic collections and artful displays.
Oliver described how he was experiencing the sensuous pleasure of a blend of 12 different spices there when it hit him. “Wow.”
Halberstadt wrote how Lior had demonstrated a spiced beer for the writer: Lev Sercarz dropped a pinch of Mishmish (Blend No. 33, with crystallized honey, lemon zest and saffron) into the bottom of a glass and covered it with an inch of lager. The bitterness and hoppy flavors were gone — the beer smelled and tasted like a gingerbread milkshake.
(I reproduced the trick for Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, and he, too, was struck, staring into the glass as if he had glimpsed his future at the bottom.)
Lior animatedly recreates getting the call about five months ago from Oliver asking, “Could you do beer?”
And Lior replies with stunned disbelief, “What? Can you repeat that?”
The ultimate answer was an astounding “Yes.”
Lior says the actual process took about three months to migrate from idea to the brewing and ultimately to the introduction.
He describes how the spice blend mix for the Cuveé La Boîte came to him immediately.
There was never that storyboard sequence of a cauldron with a little of this and some of that brewing up. Rather he says he just knew.
The beer, a pale wheat Belgian Grand Cru beer (8.2%) that is more commonly infused with the traditional orange, coriander, and lemon peel, according to Oliver, would now be consummated with Lior’s MishMash #33 blend that is comprised of lemon, Espelette peppers from the Basque region, honey, saffron, and fresh kaffir lime leaves.
All the spices go in into the beer during the last five minutes of brewing.
Oliver describes later how it was a challenge to get the lime leaves just right – the first batch took 20 minutes or so because the lime leaf flavor was not showing up the way they wanted.
The final creation is a romantic blend that is fragrant with a honeyed, layered texture to the taste. It is stupendously refreshing. Rewarding. Not filling.
It tastes like sunny, Sunday afternoons….
When this Examiner tries to capture the taste sensation, Lior excitedly enthuses: “That’s great. That’s what I live for!”
In fact, Lior admitted he too was tasting the beer for the first time at the Cuveé La Boîte premiere tasting party!
Lior says it’s a dream come true to work with Brooklyn Brewery to create a signature beer.
Sounding a bit like a spirited novitiate, Oliver states, “While the Cuveé La Boîte is a limited edition this won’t be the last collaboration we do together with Lior.”
It’s a couple’s world, it seems. So double your pleasure. This beer pairs up too nicely with food.
Taste samples at the premiere included Murrays Cheeses – especially the herb encrusted delight that complemented and stood up to the beer’s delicate and flavorful spices. http://www.murrayscheese.com/cheese.html
Also, The Meat Hook’s country pate, parsley and cornichons on a mini roll was a robust and tasty ying to the beer’s yang.
The Brooklyn Brewery has produced just 1,200 kegs of the Cuveé La Boîte Reserve.
It will be available nationally for a limited time and only on tap.
Local enthusiasts can find the brew at Brooklyn Brewery, of course, and at other meccas of food and drink including Gramercy Tavern, (www.gramercytavern.com) The Pony Bar, and The Ginger Man.
About 60 bottles or so of the Reserve will be made available to Lior and his family, the Brewery and doubtless: posterity.
Speaking of “keepers,” this Examiner knew Lior previously from his Biscuits-as-Art collections in what can only be described as his “Cookie Period” where the biscuits served as a vehicle or muse for the spices.
I have a collector’s biscuit art piece from one or two of his downtown Gallery exhibits back in ’08 and ’09 where he featured emerging visual artists – painters or photographic artists who inspired him and whose art paired with the culinary art.
A niece, Jessica Wohlers, sent attendees soaring with her sky paintings and photograph collection: “Look Up” -- one of the featured exhibits at the Bridge Gallery.
If all this spiced beer revs up a yearning for experiencing the intoxicating world of spices, visit Lior’s shop: La Boîte á Epice at 724 11th Avenue, NYC 10019
Or order online at http://laboiteny.com/spices.html
79 North 11th Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York 11249