Thanks for watching Beer Geeks on!

Denver Beer Co.

More from Ora: Denver Beer Co.

North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery

Beer GeeksJun 04 '15

Host and Master Brewer Michael Ferguson heads to Austin, Texas, to make a Prickly Pear Saison at North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery. He ventures into the Texas Hill Country to harvest prickly pear, the bright pink cactus fruit indigenous to the area. Michael helps prep the prickly pear for brewing and then helps brew the Prickly Pear Saison. Also, cooking up beer brined pork chops and food and beer pairings.


Episode Recap

For this episode, Michael found himself down in the Texas hill country, where he was greeted warmly by a few of the state’s finest food and beer geeks. Although the state is known for a certain slogan—“Everything’s bigger in Texas!”—it is not so with North by Northwest. The small-scale Austin restaurant and brewery (not to be confused with a brewpub) prides themselves on their “approachable, clean beers” and gourmet food.

North by Northwest’s head brewer, Kevin Roark, immediately accepted Michael’s offer to help brew the famous Cactus Jack—a prickly pear Saison—and the two headed out into the beautiful desert to pick the wildly growing fruit. Armed with buckets and gloves (to avoid the “prickly” in prickly pear), it didn’t take long for Kevin and Michael to collect over 50 pounds of the ripe, dark-colored fruit. While prickly pear isn’t a commonly found ingredient in beer (although many brewers experiment with various fruits to add both flavor and color), Kevin explained that the unique cactus fruit adds an earthy fruitiness that complements the Saison yeast perfectly.

Heading back towards the city and into North by Northwest’s kitchen (a place that Kevin claims he tries to avoid), the two brewers dumped their bounty into a strainer before blanching it for several minutes. The process worked to soften and sanitize the skin, making it easier to puree afterwards. Lugging the juice-like mixture to the brewery, they began a Cactus Jack batch from scratch.

Adding pilsner and Munich malt to create a simple base, which eventually allows the prickly pear flavor to be showcased, the two took turns stirring the thick, grain-loaded mash before adding the first hop addition: Golding hops for bittering. After allowing the mixture to steep for some time, Czech Saaz hops made up the second addition. In order to avoid creating an overwhelming beer and allow for the flavor of the prickly pear, the small amount of the noble hops simply added subtle aroma, spiciness, and mild flavor that would pair well with both the fruit and the yeast.

While Michael’s batch was set to ferment, Kevin introduced the host to a previous batch that had been fermenting for several weeks and was ready for the prickly pear puree. After receiving the fruit pulp, the beer was again set to the side to condition and clarify for another two weeks.

However, Michael was not left disappointed. Bringing out a finished batch of the Cactus Jack, Kevin offered the Beer Geeks star a surprisingly vibrant, rose-colored beverage. While the hue was the initial talking point, the conversation soon switched to awe and delight, as Michael tasted his first sip of a prickly pear Saison.

Once the excitement wore off, the host headed to the kitchen to meet up with renowned chef George Powell. They jumped right into making one of North by Northwest’s most popular dishes: the brined pork chops. Combing salt, honey, brown sugar, water, herbs, and seasoning, they saved the best ingredient for last. Using the brewery’s black ale as the final touch for the brine (which helps the meat to retain moisture), the pork was submerged and left to absorb the delicious flavor combo. After the meat soaked for over a day, the now-saturated chops were grilled to perfection and thrown atop a mound of steamed veggies. While the mouth-watering meal was destined to be good, the beer added a hint of sweetness to the pork while the hops added a contrasting bitterness. Tender, moist, and flavorful as can be, the endeavor was labeled a success.

As always, Michael ended his trip by sitting down to pair good food with even better beer in the company of his newfound friends. Joining Kevin and George was Davis Tucker, the head honcho (i.e. owner and operator) at North by Northwest.

The quartet began their feast with a dish that’s not known for pairing well with beer: salad…but not just any ordinary salad. Topped with a variety of delectable ingredients—seared salmon, mustard, asparagus, mango, tomatoes, and citrus vinaigrette—the salad was paired with the Cactus Jack. Since the Saison offered a light, summery body with subtle fruity hints, it was the perfect option for the dish.

Next came the bacon-wrapped quail (which was stuffed with jalapeno and goat cheese, and served on top of a grilled rosemary cake with a balsamic drizzle). Because of the spice from the peppers and the tang from the cheese, choosing the corresponding beer was a no-brainer. The Kodiak IPA (a balanced, citrusy pale ale with tropical notes) cut right through the complexity of the dish, while the hops worked with the heat and the malt paired well with the cheese. In the words of Michael, “[It] washes up on the boarders of perfection.”

Last on the table were the earlier-made pork chops. Thanks to the brining method, the tender and juicy meat was great on its own. However, when paired with the Dark Side IPA (a Cascadian dark ale with piney hops and chocolate flavors), the black ale from the dish was both contrasted and complemented.

While North by Northwest may disprove the “always bigger in Texas” claim, they prompt a new slogan. Everything’s better in Texas!