Donuts and beer?? Yes, please! While some might scratch their heads at pairing beer with sweet treats like donuts, it has turned out to be an incredibly winning combination here at Thorn Street Brewery. It helps that we collaborate with the best donut spot in San Diego, Nomad Donuts, a shop that puts out an impressive array of incredibly creative donuts. On any given day, you can get inspired donut creations like Brown Butter Popcorn, Watermelon Tamarind Chili, and Blood Orange Creamsicle. The chef behind this donut madness is Kristianna Zabala, a pastry chef who took the leap from restaurant to donut shop and has never looked back.
The first pairing we did with Nomad was in April 2015 and it sold out quickly. We ended up doing two sessions to accommodate the incredible response and we learned two things from that first pairing. The first was that people loved donuts and beer together and the second thing was two sessions meant a 7-hour event for our staff and Brad Keiller, the owner of Nomad Donuts, which was just too long. We decided to do one session per future event and have the pairings a few times a year to spread out the donut-love and are now on our 6th pairing together.
One of the coolest things about pairing with these guys is the process and thought that goes into each donut. It all starts out with the week before the event. Kristianna comes into TSB with her boyfriend and food partner, Fernando Alatorre, a chef from Mr. A’s, which incidentally is where the two met. Her son, Kingston, never misses a planning session either, always excited to eat BBQ and drink some house-made root beer. While Kristianna has been making waves in the dessert world for some time, including a win on Sugar Showdown earlier this year, she is also an accomplished chef outside of desserts. Recently, she has participated in a Filipino Flavors dinner at Jsix, was the guest chef on Meatless Monday at Cueva Bar and took part in a multi-chef collab dinner at Council Brewing.
When asked, Kristanna actually says this is her favorite part of her job. “Collaborating is the best part. You get to work with different flavor profiles and different styles, whether it be beer or product that we are using or collaborating with another chef.”
We all sit down with two full tasting trays full of whatever 14-16 beers we have on tap, some BBQ from Grand Ole BBQ Y Asado, next door, and then the fun begins…
Working their way through the beers, Kristianna and Fernando are in turns both hilarious and deep thinkers when it comes to planning the pairings. They rapidly discuss their ideas, taking into consideration not only what’s happening in the food world at the moment but also seasonal flavors and local ingredients.
“I always bounce off ideas off of him,” Kristianna says “He’s my counterpart for all my beer pairings; helping balance flavors and pair the beers.”
First, she figures out which beers she wants to use in the donuts and then they discuss which beers go best with that donut. But what’s the hardest part?
“After trying so many beers, it gets hard, the palate gets tired,” Kristianna explains. “The hardest part is pairing something that is not as sweet and trying to bring out the flavor of the beer with the sweetness of the donut.” In fact, the tired palate dilemma is easily solved with a trip to the BBQ joint next door since the smoky, savory meats really help to clear up any leftover taste in between beers.
The two chefs are intense. They take the pairings seriously and push each other on their ideas, talking fully through every flavor note and taste that comes from the beers and how it will affect the donut combination. At one point in the night, Kristianna looked over at Fernando and says,
“Listen to this…I know you are going to be like, why are you doing this to yourself, but maybe we should do a mini Scotch egg.”
The idea is bomb, but the work and finesse it will take to pull off 100 quail Scotch eggs is no joke. After some discussion on logistics and where to source eggs from, Kristanna states, “Well, I’m fucking doing it!”
Fernando laughs, unsurprised, and wonders aloud how much he will be helping out early Sunday morning. After the three pairings are set, it’s time to wrap up this party. It’s 9 pm and we have been talking, planning and laughing for 2 hours straight.
“Are you ready for this?” Fernando asks Kristianna with a twinkle in his eye.
She shoots back with supreme confidence,”Are you ready? I’m ready for anything.”
Want to taste the magic? There are still a few tickets left to this pairing coming up this Sunday at 12:30 pm through Eventbrite.