First Draft: Holly Pezzano (1)
Catching up with beer-loving baker behind Happy Hour Confections
Before Holly Pezzano started selling her Happy Hour Confections — cupcakes, muffins, waffles, and more made with craft beer — online, at both Ale Yeah! locations, and at Sweet Auburn Curb Market on Fridays, she felt challenged to make delicious treats from ales and lagers. Like Frozen Pints ice cream, she saw potential in the delicious brews craft-beer lovers have been enjoying at places like Wrecking Bar, Brick Store Pub, Five Seasons, and the Porter Beer Bar for years. "Once people discover what a versatile ingredient beer is, I feel pretty certain you'll start seeing people use it in their home kitchens a lot more often," Pezzano says. "I use it in shrimp scampi to save on the butter and as a marinade for meat. It carries flavors well and is fat-free. Seems like a welcome addition to the kitchen."
Since finding her foamy inspiration, Pezzano has created lemon hefeweizen cupcakes, milk chocolate Belgian ale waffles, and peanut butter porter brownies, to name but a few. And her business has taken off quickly, too, going from something she daydreamed about in between taking care of her son to a full-time gig that requires an employee. Creative Loafing caught up with Pezzano to discuss her craft-beer conversion, some upcoming local brewery collaborations, and where she most often finds herself sipping a cold brew.
Describe your first beer experience.
I fell in love with craft beer during an Atlanta-to-Milwaukee road trip in 2009. At the time we went to Lakefront Brewery, I didn't drink beer at all. During the tour, though, something changed. The people who ran the brewery completely won me over. I loved their approach to beer and to life in general. There was such good humor about them and so little pretentiousness to the beer itself. Since then, we have made it a point to check out small craft brewers wherever we travel.
What inspired Happy Hour Confections?
My husband and I have been into cars since we've been together. We even ran an aftermarket and performance automotive parts company together for a few years. We started talking about why the cupcake had such a cutesy, childish reputation and what it would take to make it grown-up, and, dare I say, cool. The answer seemed pretty obvious: Let's use alcohol. I tried using liquor first and had decent results but just never felt a connection to the product. The inspiration to use beer actually came from a slice of orange sitting on the top of a pint of summer wheat beer. The flavor combinations work so well in a pint glass, why wouldn't they work in a cupcake? I did a batch of Orange Wit Cupcakes to test out at a cookout. Everyone seemed really excited about the results so I kept going.
You've got cupcakes, brownies, muffins. What other treats are in the works?
Additionally, I have a line of candy in the works. I have one truffle already that is made with porter ganache and coated with chocolate cookie crumbs, and I have a few other truffles that are being developed. But I'm really excited about doing a gummy candy made with beer — mostly because it's insane but just seems like a ton of fun.
I'm also working on some custom products with local breweries. With O'Dempsey's, I do a soft pretzel that is made with their Big Red Ale and I'm working on a few others. All of the products that I'm doing with Red Hare are still under wraps, but they will have their debut very soon!
What were you doing before Happy Hour?
When I started Happy Hour, I was a stay-at-home mom. After we sold our business, I worked as a project coordinator for a few years, but once my son was born, we decided that it would be best for me to stay at home with him. After a few years of being home, I really started to miss working and missed running my own company. I went from recipe testing during nap time to working full-time hours and looking to hire an employee within six months.
Where is your favorite place to enjoy a beer?
Most of my beer drinking is done at home. My husband and I like to head out to the back deck, turn on the heater, put on some music, and hang out to make the most of our time after our son goes to sleep. We have a beer fridge in the basement that is always stocked with some great stuff. If we do happen to get out around town, I really love the atmosphere and interesting offerings you can find at the Fred or the brews at 5 Seasons on the Westside. If no baby-sitter can be obtained, you can usually find us at the family-friendly Brick Store in Decatur or any Taco Mac.