How to Pair Beer and Pizza, According to a Pizza Master

November 09, 2018

By Diana Hubbell, November 09, 2018

Illustration by Adam Waito

Paul Giannone may not have been in the game as long as some of the New York’s other pizzaiola legends, but in the eight years since he founded Paulie Gee’s, his name has become all but synonymous with puffy, blistered pies. His crust may be traditional, but Gianonne’s toppings are often anything but. He’s known for turning to Brooklyn for inspiration as often as Italy, throwing on everything from brisket from the pitmasters at Hometown Bar-B-Que in Red Hook to pastrami from Frankel’s Delicatessen in Greenpoint.

Last August, Giannone ventured into new territory with an old-school New York slice shop not far from his first Greenpoint location. With its retro furnishings and sizeable collection of Yankees memorabilia, the place already feels like it’s been in the neighborhood forever. While the original pizzeria features six beers on draft, the new joint has a regularly rotating selection of roughly 25 cans and 16 taps. Andrew Brown, a veteran of Giannone’s empire who heads up Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, wanted a local-leaning selection that reflected the diversity of New York’s booming craft brew scene.

I’d never given much thought to which beer to drink with my pizza, but seeing the menu made me wonder if it was time to up my ordering game. I met up with Giannone and Brown at their slice shop for a talk about the do’s and don'ts of pizza pairings.

First of all, I can’t help but notice that you guys went all-out with the new craft beer selection.
Andrew: At 60 Greenpoint, Paulie liked what he liked and he had a great beer selection. I kind of liked the idea of rotating in and out here. We have relationships with a lot of small breweries in Brooklyn that have new stuff every week.

What were some of your old go-tos?
Toasted Lager from Blue Point Brewing Company. Everybody loves that. For more of a hoppy beer, Sixpoint Bengali Tiger IPA. You have to have that. The beer I love out of the six beers over there is the Milk & Honey, an American blonde ale from Greenpoint Beer & Ale Company.

Pilsners and lagers are probably your best bets for pairing. For the safe choice here, people usually go with a Narragansett.”

What are some other New York breweries that you’ve worked with?
We have a Belgian dubbel from Gun Hill Brewing Company, which is in the Bronx. They brew it with maple syrup from New York, which is a really interesting combination. You’d think it’d be heavy, but it’s actually really light. Also, Kings County Brewers Collective. They came into the restaurant about a month ago, ate a bunch of pizza, and were like, “You should be carrying our beer.”

Paulie: One of the owners, Pete, used to be one of my bartenders and he always told me when something was wrong. He loved finding things wrong—including expired dates on coke cans. He was my guiding light to find out if we were screwing something up.

So I guess you can trust him to nail the details when it comes to brewing. What are a couple styles of beer that would pair with any pizza?
I think pilsners and lagers are probably your best bets for pairing. For the safe choice here, people usually go with a Narragansett. It’s easy drinking, a really light lager. Or some people really like the Victory Prima Pils. It’s a nice hoppy pilsner.

I feel like those would make for a nice neutral balance to some of your pizza toppings, which can be on the funky side.
My focus has always been on finding pies that contrast sweet and savory. The Hellboy, with pepperoni and hot honey, is a great example of that.

The meat-heavy options are probably the most famous, but you have a legit lineup of vegan pizzas. How do you make up for the lack of cheese?
Paulie: TLC. There’s a special sauce that we use on vegan pies with garlic, onions, basil, and olive oil. That adds umami and let’s face it, a vegan pie needs umami, otherwise it comes up a little short.

Paul Giannone and the upside-down Sicilian from the new Paulie Gee's Slice Shop. Photos courtesy of Paulie Gee's.

It takes balls to open up a pizzeria, let alone a slice shop, in a city with as much history as New York. What was your research process like? Did you talk to the pizza greats around here?
What is your research process like, you mean. I picked their brains clean when it came to opening up the first place. I went to Mark from Lucali, Matthew from Motorino, and others as well. They were all very generous with their knowledge and encouragement, even though in Mark and Matthew’s case, I could’ve opened close enough to affect their business. But that didn’t matter to them.

What did you learn?
Well, the pies that we cook at 60 Greenpoint are Neapolitan-inspired. They’re cooked in a wood-fired oven at 1,000 degrees. The dough cooks very quickly and it loses its character very quickly. It’s meant to be enjoyed right out of the oven. Not out of a pizza box.

And what about over here?
Here, this is classic New York slice, the same pizza you’ve had for 60 years. It’s cooked in a gas oven at a lower temperature. We use low-moisture mozzarella instead of fresh.

I bet you get this all the time, but do you have a favorite?
Over at 60 Greenpoint I always say I have no favorites. I don’t put a pie on the menu unless I love it. But when it comes to over here, it’s the Mootz all the way. All it is low-moisture mootz, fresh mootz, fresh chopped garlic and Pecorino Romano. It is a perfumey slice of pizza.

The thing I told them we can’t have here is pumpkin beer.”

For the record, I can smell the garlic from one of those bad boys baking now and I’m 100 percent getting a slice when it comes out. What beer should I be drinking with that?
I would say for a slice that’s very cheese-forward, you might want something that’s a little more tart to cut through the richness. Sours are starting to become a real thing that people are enjoying here.

Paulie: Big time. When I’m sitting at the bar, people keep on ordering sour this and sour that. They come looking for it.

What’s a cool sour you have on draft right now?
The Peekskill Simple Sour is a little yeasty, which is interesting because it pairs well with pizza in that regard. It’s really clean and easy to drink and not super tart.

What am I never going to find on the beer menu at Paulie Gee’s?
The thing I told them we can’t have here is pumpkin beer.

Andrew: People have asked.

Paulie: Let ‘em keep asking. Also, there’s no PBR in Paulie Gee’s. I want people to come here and get quality beer, not some cheap beer. But there’s one beer I have to have here. This is a Yankee place and this is a ‘60s- and ‘70s-era pizzeria, the vibe, right. The Yankee sponsor in the ‘60s was Ballantine Beer and Ale and you’ll notice that I have three Ballantine beers in here. I was just so excited that they actually still made it. That’s my contribution to the beer selection.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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