We — Marshall and Eric — got a sneak taste of the new Che Fico beer that’s been brewed at GBCo to pair with the fig pizza at Venturi.
We toiled at the table to answer the burning questions for our readers. Is the beer good? Who puts figs on a pizza? Do they really pay these bozos to taste and write about it?
Eric: If you are going to go big, go big. Neither Goshen Brewing Company, 315 W. Washington St., nor Venturi, 125 E. Lincoln Ave., held back in a recent collaboration. Jesse Sensenig, owner/brewer at Goshen Brewing Company told me that the Belgian Dubbel style is a bit intimidating with its long history going back to the middle ages, monks and monasteries. The Dubbel style came along in about 1856, when the monks of the Westmalle Abbey in Belgium brewed a beer that was twice as strong as their other beers.
Dubbels are a mid-strength beer (often around 6 percent to 9 percent ABV) that can range in color from dark amber to brown and generally have a large head that “laces” down the inside of the glass. Flavors are rich and complex with sweetness provided by candi-sugar and large amounts of malt, with characters of chocolate, nuts, and dark fruits such as dates and raisins. Hops take a back seat with this style, but the Belgian yeast has a prominence of spiciness and fruity esters.
Marshall: Venturi brought a different kind of pizza to Michiana. Until it opened two years ago, we had a lot of pizza influenced by Italian-Americans. There was the thin-crust pizza at Volcano in Elkhart and the thicker crust version at a number of places including Bruno’s, Colombo’s and Milano’s. Antonio’s makes a range of styles. You can even find what I call Amish pizza topped with a sweet sauce, canned mushrooms and often sold as fundraisers by Mennonite or Amish groups.
But Venturi used this wood-fired oven fired up to 900 degrees to cook a pizza in a minute or so. The exterior of the pizza gets charred a bit. The inside stays wetter, in part due to the fresh mozzarella. This is DOC certified, which means that it’s made in the true Neapolitan fashion with particular ingredients and processes.
Co-owner Troy Pippenger had the idea to collaborate with Goshen Brewing. Jesse Shoemaker and Justin Ramer, who now oversee GBCo’s kitchen, are alums of Venturi’s. Co-owner Justin Venturi still goes on motorcycle rides with them. “We were looking at a way to cross-promote each other,” he said.
So they all started talking and GBCo owner/brewer Jesse Sensenig got involved.
Eric: This is Sensenig’s first experiment with the style and I think that he pretty much nailed it. He started with a half-batch and decided to go true to the style using Belgian malt and dark Belgian candi-sugar. Che Fico (8.4% ABV) pours a dark amber color with a frothy, off white two finger head that dissipates slowly, leaving some lacing. The aroma is of burnt sugar, caramel, and prunes, with a hint of banana and black pepper spiciness. The flavor follows with a huge sweetness of brown sugar and caramel, bold dark fruits, and hints of banana and clove, with a slightly dry bitter finish. This is not a small beer, and it pairs beautifully with a very big pizza.
Marshall: When I go to Venturi, I almost always order the fig pizza. It’s got house-made mozzarella AND mascarpone cheese AND gorgonzola. It’s got fig jam. Fig jam? Yep, a sweet concoction from the fruit that gave us Newtons. This is topped with walnuts and truffle oil. Paper-thin slices of proscuitto de Parma, the better cousin of ham and bacon, are put on top and the whole thing gets greens such as bitter arugula. It’s just a pizza packed with a lot of big flavors. It’s not subtle, but is delicious. So when Eric mentioned that GBCo was putting together a brew to go with this pizza, I got pretty excited.
Eric: I was talking with a friend who had enjoyed Venturi’s fig pizza with Bell’s Hopslam when it was on tap there and he said he would easily choose that as his last meal. IPAs are generally a good pairing with pizza, but the fig pizza is not an ordinary pizza and it deserves a non-ordinary beer. Because both the pizza and the beer are big and bold, the flavors of neither one get drowned out by the other. The pizza is quite sweet, and in fact sweeter than the beer, but I found that the carbonation of the dubbel cut the sweetness nicely.
I will be completely honest in that I am not a huge fan of Belgian beers. However, not only would I again enjoy it paired with the fig pizza, but I would get a growler from Goshen Brewing Company where it will also be available on tap.
Marshall: I’m with Eric. I’m not a huge fan of Belgian beers either, but this one drinks nicely on its own. Even better is taking a bite of pizza and then a sip of the beer. The flavors work so well together.
I love both IPAs and pizza, but haven’t experimented too much with pairing them. I’m impressed with how well these collaborators paired this different take on both pizza and beer.
Pippenger said Che Fico will get tapped Wednesday (Aug. 24) at both locations. The pizza’s ingredients contribute to the $19.99 price tag and since the beer took more ingredients to make, including the sugar and malt, it’s a little more expensive than some others. It’ll likely be about $7 for a 10-ounce pour at Venturi. I’d love to see the restaurant do a special if you get the two together, but it may not make sense for them to do so.
Eric: Venturi Pizza is a favorite of our family and often the first choice for birthday meals. In fact my son chose a Venturi $5 off coupon as one of his prize choices during the summer reading program at the Goshen Public Library. Now dad has just one more reason to choose Venturi as a dinner destination.