Chorney-Booth: The Mash Turns Beer Byproducts Into Artisan Pizza Crust

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Calgary loves its beer. Since Alberta’s craft beer heyday began just under a decade ago, the city has seen the opening of dozens of breweries, turning beer drinking into something of a local sport. Craft beer enthusiasts love to applaud the “grain to glass” philosophy, celebrating the use of local grains in beer production. Beer, obviously, contains the essence of the grain without any actual grain solids, but those solids have to end up somewhere.

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Brewers’ grains, the soggy mass of barley and other products that remains after being soaked in hot water to create a liquid that is then fermented and made into beer, is the most important by-product of brewing process. A typical craft brewery can produce several tons per week. Calgary-area breweries have the advantage of being able to offload their spent grain to ranchers looking for animal feed, but livestock can only eat so much of it. Cochrane’s Half Hitch Brewing Company has found an alternative solution by launching a new chain of restaurants called The Mash, where they turn spent grains into pizza, a strategy that has proven so successful the brand has opened eight fewer locations of three years.

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Brittany Kozloski at The Mash on 5th Street SW in Calgary.  Jim Wells/Postmedia
Brittany Kozloski at The Mash on 5th Street SW in Calgary. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

“When we brewed our first batch of beer, we hadn’t logistically thought about what to do with our spent beans,” says Brittany Kozloski, co-founder of Half Hitch and The Mash. “We had great partnerships with a lot of local ranchers who were taking it, but deep down we always had this question of what to do with the spent grain that went beyond just getting it out by the as quickly as possible. ”

Although Half Hitch had a restaurant in its brewery, the kitchen was not equipped to handle large amounts of spent grain, so Kozloski and his partners (the business is family owned) decided to create a separate restaurant with a different name. They opened their first Mash in Airdrie in May 2020 when pandemic takeout ordering was at its peak (the timing was unintentional as it had been in the works for almost a year), and it was instant success. New stores soon arrived in Marda Loop, Kensington, Mahogany and Legacy in Calgary as well as locations in Edmonton and Windermere, BC.

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Wild Mushroom Pizza with Aged Cheddar, Parmesan and Fresh Herbs topped with a drizzle of Truffle Oil and Balsamic Reduction, left, and Bacon Dill Pickle Pizza (crust covered in garlic butter ), topped with aged cheddar, more pickles, a drizzle of honey and the spices featured at The Mash.  Jim Wells/Postmedia
Wild Mushroom Pizza with Aged Cheddar, Parmesan and Fresh Herbs topped with a drizzle of Truffle Oil and Balsamic Reduction, left, and Bacon Dill Pickle Pizza (crust covered in garlic butter ), topped with aged cheddar, more pickles, a drizzle of honey and the spices featured at The Mash. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

The big question is, what does spent grain pizza crust taste like? Kozloski is the first to admit that it’s not quite like other pizzas, and that purists shouldn’t expect a chewy, double-zero Italian crust. Even though the dough formula also contains conventional flour, The Mash’s crust is sturdy and even a little healthy – if you tear a piece in half, you can see individual grains. The recipe for the Mash came after significant research and development and Kozloski is happy with what they landed on, but she also knew the restaurant had to carefully create topping combinations that worked with the crust’s idiosyncrasies.

“It’s a pizza crust like no other, so it’s automatically going to be unique,” Kozloski says. “We knew we shouldn’t try to be too traditional because it will never be the same as a regular pizza, just based on the crust. We took the opportunity to play with it and make pizzas that are in another category.

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A wide selection of draft beers is available at The Mash on 5th Street SW in Calgary.  Jim Wells/Postmedia
A wide selection of draft beers is available at The Mash on 5th Street SW in Calgary. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

If you have to, you can get pepperoni or Hawaiian pizza at The Mash, but their best pizzas are really off the beaten path. Dill Bacon Pickle Pizza is The Mash’s runaway hit, with layers of garlic butter, pickles, crispy bacon and cheese. Sweet and savory BBQ chicken and wild mushroom pizzas also make the most of the strong crust, resembling artisan flatbreads more than Italian pies. The artisan pizzas are all $18.75 for a 10-inch or $27.50 for a 14-inch, with more traditional combinations being slightly cheaper. There are also a few other pizza-adjacent bites on the menu as well as a full selection of Half Hitch beers.

The latest Mash just opened in the fifth building on the Beltline at the corner of 17th Avenue and 5th Street. SW which is also home to Amato Gelato, Bro’s To Go and a few other restaurants. While the other places favor take-out meals, this new shop is positioned as a meeting place, with 50 seats and the possibility of ordering by the slice. As with all The Mash locations, the theme of “recycling” spent grains carries over to physical restaurants, with many repurposed materials serving as decor.

All of this growth has happened quickly (and largely through word-of-mouth), but The Mash isn’t quite finished yet: Look for new locations in Greenwich near the new Calgary Farmers Market West and Chestermere over the next few months. For more information on The Mash and a list of locations or to order pizza, visit masheats.ca.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be contacted at elizabooth@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizaboothy

Left to right: Logan Young, Brittany Kozloski, Richard Daoust and Jon Babin at The Mash.  Jim Wells/Postmedia
Left to right: Logan Young, Brittany Kozloski, Richard Daoust and Jon Babin at The Mash. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

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