Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Mama Mia! Pizza Beer

Pizza Beer Company
St. Charles, IL

Style: Spice/Herb/Vegetable
ABV: 4.7%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Not good.)

Pair With:
• Goulash
Buon giorno! Izza Nigel Gucci Corleone here to reviewa da pizza beer. Izza right … I’ma gonna try da pizza beer anda review it fora all ze Dorks and hopa I don’ta throw up.

Damn … if Italian-Americans thought The Sopranos was an offensive stereotype, they probably aren’t a big fan of Nigel right now. After all, what could be more offensive to an Italian than an Englishman talking like a cartoon caricature from Super Mario Brothers?

I can think of one thing more offensive … Italian beer. Let’s face it folks, some countries are known for beer, and others should just stick with wine. Italy, like all Mediterranean countries, should abide by that rule. Have you ever tried a Peroni or a Nastro Azzurro? These brands are so horrifically bad that SAB Miller felt the need to add them to their already disgusting foreign lineup. While shit beer producing countries like The Netherlands, Greece, Poland, and essentially every country in Asia may give Italy a run for their money, it’d be hard to find shittier beer anywhere.

OK, so we can’t get more offensive than authentic Italian beer, right? Wrong. Enter Tom and Athena Seefurth, home brewers from St. Charles, Illinois. The idea? Create the worlds “first” (this fact can likely be debated) culinary beer, Mama Mia! Pizza Beer. Not only do Italians have to deal with awful beer produced in the homeland, now they have to deal with an “Italian” beer made in America that rips off their most famous culinary creation, pizza. These are the times that Nigel kicks back and says “thank God I’m English.”

The plight of Mama Mia! Pizza Beer has been well chronicled both locally and nationally, as it's one of those curiosities that the media loves to pick up on for a lighter “news” story. My impression is that this is a gimmick, pure and simple, regardless of how good the beer actually tastes. The Seefurths deserve credit for gaining such widespread notoriety, but any claims that “culinary” beers are the next big thing in the craft industry are pure and utter nonsense. It’s a gimmick, not a trend.

Mamma Mia! claims to be “ale brewed with oregano, basil, tomato, and garlic.” According to the official website, the Seefurths came up with the idea in 2006 when they had a surplus of tomatoes and a bag of garlic. Scouring the net for potential recipes, the couple stumbled upon all sorts of odd recipes, as well as a number of strange suggestions offered up by Randy Mosher in his wonderful book, Radical Brewing. While there wasn’t a specific recipe for a “pizza beer,” the Seefurths used their home brewing prowess to come up with their own unique concoction. Once the brew was created and the publicity began to snowball, there was enough of a demand to bottle the brew. The Seefurths found a partner in Milwaukee’s Sprecher Brewing (surprising since Sprecher isn't known for contract brewing), and earlier this year the first bottles of Mama Mia! rolled off the assembly line. Original distribution was limited to northern Illinois, but Mama Mia! is now found in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Although I knew the story behind Pizza Beer and it did pique my curiosity, I didn’t really think I’d be able to muster up the courage to try it. On the surface it sounds pretty awful, but as I’ve said countless times in my reviews, I take each beer on a case by case basis and enter each session with an open mind. Perhaps the Seefurths stumbled upon a brilliant, tasty idea. While that’s unlikely, there is a good chance that, though gimmicky, Mama Mia! may actually taste OK. The guy who over-hopped his beer and came up with the imperial IPA and the guy who added fruit to his beer were likely criticized as well, but things seem to have worked out well in those departments.

Here goes. Mama Mia! Pizza Beer opens with a light fog and a hint of stale Italian spices. The pour reveals a surprisingly picturesque brew; this looks like a finely crafted wheat beer or pale ale, with a nice golden brown hue and a bit of haziness. A frothy pillow permeates on the pour, which quickly settles to a mild trace. This truly looks like a fine ale in the glass.

First whiff … MAMA MIA! ITA SMELLS LIKA DA VOMIT! I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course. It really does smell like vomit after one of those long nights back in college, where you went out binge drinking and stopped off at the local pizzeria at three in the morning for some greasy food and promptly threw it up. The aroma is cheap beer and pizza. The oregano and basil comes through in the nose, as does an unfortunate smell of tomato (Nigel is not a fan of tomato juice, so this isn’t a pleasant aroma for me), but all in all it’s an awful aroma. As promising as this looked on the pour, things seem to have taken a turn for the worst.

The taste is pretty bad, though my objection lies mostly in this: I want to eat food, not drink it. Does it taste like pizza? Sure, for the most part. But honestly, its not like pizza is a food so rare that you need to get it in liquid form in case there’s a sudden shortage of the real thing. As far as this being the perfect beverage to compliment eating actual pizza? Nonsense. If I’m eating steak, I don’t want to drink beef broth. If I’m having an omelet, I don’t want to wash it down with a tall glass of egg beaters. The premise is ridiculous.

As for the specifics, Mama Mia! has an initial light tomato flavor with noticeable hints of basil and oregano. I’m assuming the beer recipe used is just a basic ale, and there is a hint of pale malt; while hops are surely used, they are undetectable due to the various Italian spices. I don’t sense much in the way of garlic, as the tomato, oregano, and basil seem to have firm control of the flavor. Danish Princess came up with this analogy: it probably tastes like that horrific Budweiser with clamato if you added some Italian spices to it. I can’t verify that since I would never set foot within a mile of that horrid Anheuser-Busch creation, but it's possible. All in all, the flavor is “pizza-like” but not pleasant. Smooth in body and low in alcohol (listed as 4.7 percent ABV), Mama Mia! is a bit rough on the palate due to the extremely unusual flavor, but I can see a few people finding this enjoyable on certain occasions (I would not be one of those people).

Ultimately this is perhaps not quite as bad as I expected upon hearing of its existence, but it’s pretty damn awful. Mama Mia! comes in Sprecher’s trademark 16 oz. bottles, and I could only finish about half of mine before I dumped it. I suppose you can give the Seefurths points for creativity, though it’s a creation that I really don’t see a need for. Sold individually and priced at $1.50-2.00, it may be worth an experiment, as you may draw a different conclusion than I did. However, I find it hard to believe that this will be anything other than a one-time curiosity, since I can’t imagine anyone finding this terribly tasty. Will Nigel try it again? No grazie … I’d rather have a Peroni.

Cin cin!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 28, 2008.
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