The lineup for the 2014 Big Tex Choice Awards, just announced by the State Fair of Texas, has a foodstuff not previously seen in the pantheon of entries from years past: a beverage. More than that, it's a beer.
There it lies among the fried Sriracha balls and deep-fried blueberry muffins: Funnel cake ale.
The creator is Justin Martinez, who won last year's award for most creative with his Fried Thanksgiving Dinner. He's also the only contestant with two entries this year; in addition to the ale, he also submitted the concoction called Fried Sweet Texas, a pie dough filled with pecan pie, peach cobbler and creamy buttermilk pie.
To craft his beery entry, he collaborated with Dallas-based Community Beer Company. "I had a vision to make a good-quality beer exclusively for the State Fair," he says. "We were lucky enough to team up with brewmaster Jamie Fulton and created a beer that fulfilled our vision."
Martinez was cognizant of how popular craft beer has become. But he knew he wanted a State Fair flavor profile, which is how they hatched the funnel cake idea. "We came up with something that had doughiness, toastiness, sweetness, like a funnel cake, with notes of vanilla," he says. "We started the process six months ago and had many trials."
Brewmaster Fulton says that he began with a refreshing wheated English-style summer ale, not too high in alcohol at 4 percent ABV, and then worked from there.
"They were wanting something reminiscent of flavors that people would associate with going to the fair," he says. "The beer I had made was bready. We're using these expensive English malts that have a rich, grainy breadiness. Brewer Aric Hulsey had the idea of aging it on some vanilla bean which, combined with that breadiness, created this taste reminiscent of a funnel cake. The result was awesome. We had it at the brewery, but I had to take it off draft because we were draining the keg. It’s that good."
Martinez says his favorite touch is the dusting of powdered sugar over the rim of the glass — "like the classic funnel cake," he says.
He checked the rules and there was nothing that said he could not submit a beverage. "The committee said that there was nowhere in there that said it has to be fried, and that helped with our entry," he says. "I've had a few beers that had that doughiness in the flavor and sensed it could happen."
Fair spokeswoman Karissa Schuler says that they were tickled to see Martinez push the contest in a new direction. "It was clever and creative of Justin," she says. "The fried thing has become a tradition – but this opens up a whole new category."