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Go Away, I'm Eating Pretzels

November 2014

Product Review

A review of then-newcomer to the snack food market, Georgia-based Knotty Pretzels.  Written for the now-defunct Peach State Ale Trail website.

Image by Israel Albornoz
Go Away, I'm Eating Pretzels: Project

You can find out a lot about a person by asking them how they’d spend a spare $10,000, should they ever have that much disposable income just lying around.  Upright, responsible types would pay down debt or invest.  Homeowners would fix that leaky damn bathtub in the upstairs bathroom, or maybe finally update the kitchen.  Some folks would buy lotto tickets.  Lots and lots of lotto tickets.  And the marginally-insane – the folks like me, the real hair-trigger geeks with obsessions of the dangerous and/or bizarro sort – would indulge their avocations: $10,000 worth of model trains.  $10,000 for a rare, first-issue Ant Man comic.  $10,000 electric homebrew setup complete with Arduino-based brewing controller, Type 316 stainless-steel sanitary cloverleaf connections, Wi-fi, triple hopback attachments, and keyless entry.

Or, say, $10,000 to invest in a Georgia company that’s producing a right tasty little snack – Knotty Pretzels – and get the chance to develop your own flavor of pretzel along with the company’s owners/founders, Sean and Casey.

That’s a no-brainer, right?  You’d do the pretzel thing.  But we’ll get back to that.

First tastes

I will admit, when I first received the samples of Knotty’s two current flavor offerings – Zesty Italian and Hot Wing – I was expecting the same old thing: overly-salted flavoring powder dumped onto starchy, dry pretzels; the same sort of shelf-stable, generic, lowest-common-denominator pretzels currently sitting on the shelves at every grocery store and gas station in America.  So when I first took a bite of their Zesty Italian, my initial thought was “Zesty what now?”  I was a little confused – where the hell’s the garlic?  The onion?  The salt?!

After the third bite, though, I got my head right. I realized I was dealing with a different monster – not a pretzel with flavor, this was a pretzel with flavors.  Plural.

Rather than a face-punch of finger-staining, powdery flavoring compounds, Knotty’s Zesty Italian pretzels’ flavorings are subtle, selected to compliment, not drown out, the flavors in the pretzel itself.  Onion and garlic powders – the mainstays of most commercial “Italian” seasonings – don’t overpower the snack, allowing your palate to pick out the other, more quiet notes in the flavor profile.

I’d finished half the bag before I remembered that I work for the Peach State Ale Trail – I needed to save some for when I got home and could enjoy them with a frosty beer.

The Official Pretzel of Beer

Like many great local-business tales, the story of Knotty Pretzels is a family affair.  The brand has its genesis in founder Sean’s dislike for commercially-available flavors.  His grandmother (affectionately referred to on their site and on their Kickstarter as Mom-Mom) crafted a unique blend of spices, what would become the original Knotty Pretzel Zesty Italian.  Sean and Casey, longtime friends, began sharing their pretzels with friends, and began looking towards their tasty treats with an entrepreneurial eye.

After finding a co-packager for their product, Sean and Casey started offering their pretzels and events in the Metro Atlanta area.  And then, one day, the same sort of serendipity that hit Harry Burnett Reese (“You got chocolate in my peanut butter!”) happened for Knotty Pretzels – the pair took their product to a craft-beer festival.  “We sold more bags in one hour at this event, than we had EVER sold at any event.”  Thus began the reign of Knotty as “The Official Pretzel of Beer.”

Go away, I’m eating pretzels

Once I arrived home with my now-sorely-depleted stock of pretzels, I thought about my pairings.  For a hot-wing flavored pretzel, figuring out the beer pairing is as simple as pie – hoppy IPA, or super-freakin’-hoppy IPA?  An Italian pretzel required more thought – IPA’s work well with Italian food, so do lagers, but what could I do with this pretzel that would really accentuate the positive (to crib from Johnny Mercer)?  I pawed through the craft bottles lining the bottom of my converted beer-fridge and landed on a style I don’t normally keep on hand – a saison.

You need to have some understanding of why this is not your typical pretzel.  The flavoring is both baked into and baked onto the pretzel itself, and is unique among packaged snack flavorings.  The Hot Wings – a fan-requested flavor that is now part of the Knotty lineup – isn’t the sort of powdered-cayenne red stuff that makes Andy Capp’s Hot Fries or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos unpalatable, it’s a very quiet spice that gradually creeps up on you as you munch your way through the bag.

I cracked open a Sweetwater IPA, poured it into a pint glass, and hunkered down in my ratty old recliner for some television and snacking.  The pairing was perfect, with the spicy notes of the pretzels highlighting the hoppiness of the beer and enhancing the slight astringency that I enjoy in a good IPA.  Often, spicy snacks go too far – after a couple of hot wings, my tongue’s usually so fried from the capsaicin that I can’t taste much of anything for the rest of the day – but this was right down the middle of the fairway (and that’s the last golf analogy you’ll probably ever hear from me).

Turns out I’m not alone – in an e-mail exchange with Knotty’s Casey May, he wrote “We love our pretzels with IPA.  Our pretzels are the best pretzels to use as a palate cleanser at a beer festival, brewery, or where beer is served. It is the perfect thing to eat in between tasting different styles of beer.”

Well, that makes sense – it’s why the pretzel necklace is a mainstay of craft beer festivals ’round the world.  Since I’d polished off my Hot Wing pretzels with my Sweetwater, I decided to nosh on a few of the Zesty Italian treats before popping open a Stateside Saison and settling back into my recliner for Round 2.

The pretzels performed as advertised – following a hoppy IPA with a tart and tangy saison isn’t Doing it Right, but the crunchy little bastards helped my tongue make the difficult transition from bitter to sour.  And as I continued further into my brett-laced pint, I found the flavor of the pretzels being focused, not unlike a laser beam – the sourness of the beer accentuating the sweeter notes hiding in the pretzel, and exposing an even-more complex flavor than I’d first experienced.

And then, dammit, I ate the last one.

…and, back to that $10,000 thing

Sean and Casey are confident that their pretzels – the Official pretzel of beer – can be a successful product on the national market.  To that end, they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign, to help fund an expansion of the brand into new markets.  Not trying to usurp the big brands like Rold Gold or Snyders’, May says the mission is a little more specialized – “Our goal and mission is to be sold where beer is served or sold… we do not want to be in the chip aisle competing with the Big Goliath brands. We want to be sold on the beer aisle.”

With fifteen recommended funding levels – all the way from $1 to $10,000 – the company is offering a bevy of rewards for potential investors.  For anyone who’s tried a Knotty Pretzel, some of the rewards featuring bags of the product will be tempting.  At higher levels, investors will receive more personalized service – Knotty-catered parties featuring the lovely Knotty Girls.  And at the top level – a $10,000 investment – one will find oneself working alongside Sean and Casey to develop a new flavor.

Knotty is already looking into expanding their offerings – May notes that a beer mustard flavor and a sweet (possibly a “SIN-a-mon Roll”) flavor are in the works – but they’re looking to do much, much more than that.  Depending on the success of their campaign, Knotty is looking at becoming more independent and obtaining their own production/packaging facilities, becoming a regional brand, and eventually to taking their snacks to the beer aisles, growler shops, and breweries of America – from sea to shining sea.

Want in?

If you want to experience some Knotty Pretzels for yourself, the company’s site features a location… uh… locator – you can find stores selling the snacks here.  After you’ve tried them out, if you’re interested in helping Knotty become a bigger, better brand, you can find their Kickstarter here.

Man does not live by beer alone… pretzels, too, are important.

Go Away, I'm Eating Pretzels: Text
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