Editor’s note: Want even more and different pie and beer pairing suggestions from the Elsen sisters? Check out their suggestions for Brooklyn Magazine here.
If pie is paired with IPA, should the combo be called piePA? You can ask Emily and Melissa Elsen, the sisters who own Four & Twenty Blackbirds. They recently expanded their mini-empire (or should we say mini-emPIEre? Last pun!) that includes their original pie shop in Gowanus and a café in the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch with a new location in Prospect Heights. In addition to new pies like brown-butter apple streusel and hojicha custard, this outpost—a small space with counter seating facing a lavish pie wall—is their first to offer beer, wine and cider.
The concise list of bottles and cans will rotate regularly, but always comprise of options “both pie-friendly and produced locally,” said Emily. On the second touchstone, she elaborated: “A lot of our baking ingredients are sourced nearby; it’s always been very important to us. Not only is there a ton of great beer, wine and cider being made around us, but over the years we’ve built meaningful friendships with a lot of the people making them. We wanted our selection to reflect that.”
Here, Emily talks about those “meaningful friendships” in pairing Four & Twenty pies with five of the drinks:
Hojicha Custard + Brooklyn Brewery‘s Defender IPA
“Hojicha is a Japanese green tea that is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal to get its distinctive smoky warmth and caramel flavor. It’s a very popular drink in Japan and it’s also often used in desserts. When we visited Japan recently we had a soft serve ice cream with hojicha that was mind-blowing, and we knew right away that we had to make a pie with it for the new shop. It’s a custard pie, rich, toasty and creamy, and there’s also a subtle sweetness. It works really well with the Defender red IPA, which is maltier than most IPAs today and carries a similar toasty character and rich, caramel flavor. As a side note, Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy lives a few doors down from our shop in Gowanus and we’ve developed a great friendship. When we opened our doors he came over to introduce himself and not long after we did a beer dinner together. We’ll always carry a Brooklyn can or bottle.”
Black Sesame Seed Custard + War Flag Brewing‘s Lady Justice Stout
“This pie is for the savory-sweet dessert lover, and the Lady Justice has everything you want in a stout; its flavor is well balanced and it’s not too sweet. The strongest part of this pairing is the warm, rounded nuttiness of both the dark sesame seeds floating around in the custard and the roasted-coffee notes in the stout; they complement each other really well. On a whole the toothy texture of the dark sesame seeds and light notes of honey and tahini, the latter broaching on Halva territory, in the pie work well with the beer’s warm, bold coffee and chocolate notes.”
Turmeric Tonic + Threes Brewing‘s Vliet Pilsner
“This is another creamy custard pie inspired by a drink. My friend makes a cocktail called the Tumeric Tonic at her bar in the Catskills using ginger, honey, lemon, orange juice and, of course, turmeric, which is bright and bold as well as earthy and rich, and it pairs so well with the other ingredients. We thought the drink would make the perfect pie, especially since turmeric isn’t really used in desserts. Now our production kitchen in Gowanus is on Sackett Street and Threes Brewery is two blocks away on Douglass Street, so we’ve become great friends with those guys and have had a few of our staff parties there. Their Vliet is a delicious, bright and vibrant pilsner with citrusy notes that make all the pie flavors pop when combined together, a true compliment where one enhances the other. It’s a perfect light beer with tons of flavor, and we really wanted to have that option for people who might not be too familiar with craft beer or might not want a bold IPA.”
Brown Butter Apple Streusel + Bad Seed Cider‘s Ginga Roots
“We source almost all of our apples from Wilklow Orchards upstate. Early on I would go to the Greenmarket in Fort Greene to grab them from Albert Wilklow, but now he delivers them right to our production kitchen. We’ve became close friends. I remember when he told me he was building a cidery on his orchards. I got to taste his early ciders and saw the development up close. Now Bad Seed is making beautiful ciders and of course we had to carry one at the shop. This is a natural pairing. We use a lot of ginger in our baking, especially with apples. Here the juicy texture of the pie, with the buttery streusel and tartness of the apples, go really well with the warmth of the ginger in the cider, which uses the same apples as the pie.”
Salty Honey + Other Half Brewing‘s Cabbage
“This pairing is bold on bold, but it strikes a nice balance without being overbearing. The hop bitterness in the full-flavored Cabbage double IPA is a nice contrast to the sweetness of the custard and the saltiness of the flaky salt used to finish the pie. The great thing about Other Half cans is that they’re all 16 ounces, so it’s like getting a can and a half. I can’t say enough about how rad those guys are, so the fact that they’re making some of the best beer in the country right now makes me happy. Even though almost all of their cans are sold wholesale right from the brewery, when we reached about the new shop they immediately agreed to let us carry some. So it’s pretty special. Since Other Half cans almost every week expect them to rotate regularly in our shop. But you can always expect that same delicious hop-forward flavor.”