Anthony Esparza’s “ah-ha” moment came when he discovered the breadth of Italian beers beyond Peroni and Moretti. “There was this whole world of Italian craft beers that I had no idea about!” he says. When he was the general manager at Fiamma in MGM Grand, Esparza immersed himself—almost literally—in Italian beer. “It went from 10 beers I’d like to have [on the menu] to 30 I’d love to have.” By the time he departed Fiamma to join the team at Comme Ça (698-7910) in the Cosmopolitan in August, he’d created an award-winning Italian craft-beer program with 23 beers.
So it comes as no surprise that since Day One at Comme Ça, Esparza has had a twinkle in his eye when asked if he’s working on a French and Belgian beer program—and with Esparza, that typically means you can bet your saucisson sec he is. “It’s been in the back of my mind,” he says.
Naturally, France and the many French-speaking countries open up more options than Italian: How about Swiss beers? Or Canadian? What about the French Caribbean, or even parts of Africa? Esparza says he isn’t ruling anything out (OK, maybe it’s more my dream to chase a Biere Niger with a Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel), but for now, his European-style beer list is focused on France (specifically Paris and as close to it as possible), the French-Swiss border and Belgium, plus, he says, “some French-Italian flair.”
One Italian brewer has even proposed a Franco-Italian collaboration beer just for Comme Ça. It’s not impossible—unlike distillers, who closely guard their recipes and ingredients, brewers just naturally love to learn, share and collaborate. On a recent trip to Italy, Esparza says he witnessed firsthand how the idea of cultivating local yeast spread from one to a handful of Italian breweries.
“I’d love to see a French IPA. That beer’s getting more reach, and there’s some versatility, whether they’re dry-hopping or continuously hopping,” Esparza says.
His aim is to launch the new menu in mid-February with a mix of styles from sweetish ciders to strong brown ales and Belgian trippels, beers with old-world sensibility but which embrace new technology and local/regional ingredients such as gentian, an herb typically found in digestifs.
However, unlike Italian craft beer—for which Esparza has a hookup in Massimo D’Arrigo of Bevi Beverages, distributor of B United International’s killer Italian beer portfolio— Esparza says most of what he wants from France and Belgium is not currently available in the U.S.
Also, Comme Ça has only five draft lines, which are currently pouring Kronenbourg Blanc 1664, Guinness, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Rince Cochon. So some adjustments—as well as some light construction—might be in order before we’re seeing a panoply of brews.
But it’s not just about drinking. He’s also looking forward to the food-pairing possibilities, especially with the bouillabaisse, chef Brian Howard’s seasonal menu and the signature Comme Ça burger. “The toughest pairing? Finding the perfect beer for that perfect burger,” Esparza says. “Because it really is perfect.”
In other local craft-beer news, Banger Brewing (456-2739, BangerBrewing.com) fired up its kettles and started cooking on December 6; the microbrewery opened Downtown at Neonopolis on December 27. The opening brew lineup includes El Heffe Jalapeño Hefeweizen, Perfect 10 American Pale Ale, DTB Brown Ale, Hops Anonymous IPA, Session Blonde, Simply Stout and Sandia Watermelon Wheat, available by the pint ($5-$7) or in a tasting flight. Live bands start January 23, growler fills in four weeks and tours by the end of the month.
That oughta tide you over till Esparza brings on the Belgian.