“This is my hot dog, it’s here to stay…
by Robin Riebman
“This is my hot dog, it’s here to stay… and for a reason”, proclaims brewer Brian Strumke, as he raises his can of Classique, the newest beer released by his four-year-old company, Stillwater Artisanal. Strumke, a Baltimore native, describes Classique as “an ale that’s actually a deconstruction of a macro-lager”, created using the same recipe as Natty Boh. He is proud to admit that it’s the first of his beers his father was willing to drink, a mark of success at creating a brew for the masses.
Strumke and farmer Brad Taylor have been animatedly discussing the merits of luncheon meats and canned beer throughout our dinner, and the theme of offering quality to the masses pervaded the evening’s conversation. Perhaps this is because we were gathered for a $50.00, all-inclusive, buffet-style pig roast, complete with baked beans, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, faro salad, confit potatoes, and one-dish desserts like apple cobbler and banana pudding.
Taylor initiated this beer and hot dog conversation, exclaiming, “I’m obsessed with luncheon meats. I have an eight-year-old son and he needs to have the same experience I had, but he needs the quality too.” He tells us that many farmers and chefs are experimenting with charcuterie, but they can't make a living selling a cured salami for $30. Too much time goes into creating that type of product. He says they look for cash generators that utilize the scraps: items like pate, luncheon meat, hot dogs, and sausages. The result is offering, “quality infused in everyday items”.
While MacIntosh Chef Jeremiah Bacon carved the beautiful spit-roasted meat, Taylor and Strumke took a moment to introduce themselves and their contributions to the meal. Taylor defined his pork by its provenance. Telling us about the history of the breed and this pig’s diet of “local corn, muscadine grapes, and acorns that fall from the heavens, at least in the eyes of the pig." Earlier in the evening Chef Bacon tweeted photos of Taylor’s beautiful 90lb+ Crossabaw Hog with its mahogany cracked skin and prominently displayed tail. Farmer Taylor is proud to point out that the pigtail is a rarity in factory-farmed pigs. In close quarters they often chew off each other’s “que” when cramped, or stressed.
As verbose as Taylor is about the humanely raised heritage breed animals coming off of his farm in Sylvania, GA, Chef Bacon is not. Bacon allowed the food to speak for itself and each dish was the freshest example of traditional barbecue staples. Sea Island Red Beans, a regular item on the MacIntosh menu, had been given the baked-bean treatment. They were toothsome, hearty and complimentary to the loose-vinegar style BBQ sauce and house made thick-cut pickles that accompanied the pulled pork sandwiches.
Chef Bacon chose for guests to begin the meal with glasses of Classique, leaving Cellar Door and Existent for diners to enjoy at their leisure. Strumke was surprisingly averse to allowing guests to drink the Classique out of a glass, suggesting that the brew was canned rather than bottled to keep the mild flavor in. Out of a glass it will warm too quickly and lose carbonation faster and it’s just not meant to be enjoyed that way.
When asked to describe his beers he often avoids all explanation of style, suggesting that “If I tell you where you’re going, you expect to show up somewhere.” He says, “I always wish I didn't tell you what was in there. The ingredients are all integrated and symbiotic.” He shars the esoteric ingredients and lets the drinker decide if they are satisfied with his result.
Cellar Door was the first brew he released to the public. It is a crisp, dry ale brewed with white sage and Belgian Saison yeast. Existent escapes the mold and he refers to it as a “dark farmhouse ale. Not quite a stout, brown, or a porter.” It has a medium bodied, complex flavor with roasted coffee notes, but none of the typical syrupiness or harsh bitterness that often accompanies dark malt.
Following the meal, Chef Bacon offered a beer-cocktail, crafted with Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey, Cellar Door, lemon juice, apple cider, and a sage leaf. Diners were also offered Stillwater Time & Place and Debutante, two of Strumke’s collaboration brews. Strumke says that while Time & Place, his collaboration with DC Brau, does fit more of the mold of a stout, Debutante, a collaboration with Brewer’s Art, is a Farmhouse style ale, meaning an ale brewed with ingredients that might be found on the farm where the beer would be brewed. Debutante was one of his earliest projects, and features spelt and rye grain along with heather, honeysuckle and hyssop (a pervasive ingredient in Chartreuse).
Bacon, Strumke, and Taylor seem to be quality fanatics. They want to create unique products that are representative of their passion for ingredients and are still accessible. They share a well-won confidence in their final product. While their products still stand out of monetary reach for the average consumer, they are offering quality in more in more casual settings. Bacon’s buffet was an exercise in restraint and where many of us hope beer dinners are headed in the future.
If you are interested in sampling world class que Chef Jeremiah Bacon will be participating in the Cook it Raw BBQ Perspective Charleston 2013 on October 26th at Bowen’s Island Restaurant. Internationally acclaimed chefs will gather for a symposium on BBQ, preparing their interpretation of lowcountry BBQ. A portion of the proceeds will go to Grow Food Carolina.
Farmer Bradley Taylor has collaborated with Westbrook Brewing Company to host Meat, Beer, Fire a BBQ, beer field trip, we hope will be repeated in the future. He is aldo the inspiration behind their Bearded Farmer Series #4, in 750ml around the Charleston area. He raises hogs and other animals at JL Woods Farm in Sylvania, GA.
This weekend, September 27th-29th, Lee Distributors is partnering with local restaurants, in association with GCRA, and Southern Living’s Taste of Charleston to offer their first annual Dine Around Beer Dinner. If you are looking for an affordable and casual way to try beer and food pairings check out participating restaurants at the Taste of Charleston website.