(Editor’s note: This post was updated at 10 a.m. on July 26. Chef Levon Wallace at Proof on Main was incorrectly identified.)
The upstart brewers at Against the Grain can’t seem to keep things simple, won’t settle for churning out old gold lagers just to the pay the bills. As if brewing—no, creating—six unique flavors monthly wasn’t hard enough, they’re now working with local chefs to brew beers bearing a culinary edge.
This first, dubbed Bay and Pepper Your Bretts (a play on the phrase “spay and neuter your pets” that also references its use of brettanomyces, a yeast that delivers a sour note to beer), is now on tap and is the product of a collaboration between ATG’s brewers and Josh Lehman, chef at Holy Grale. Not only does Lehman work at one of the town’s premier beer restaurants, he was the first chef at Bank Street Brewhouse when it opened in 2009.
“Josh was an easy choice, because he was familiar with the (brewing) process,” said ATG partner and head brewer Jerry Gnagy.
But Lehman wasn’t the first choice. That was Michael Paley, former Proof on Main chef and partner in Garage Bar. Shortly after he and ATG began sharing ideas, Paley moved to Cincinnati to open a new hotel for his bosses at Proof.
Gnagy had asked Paley about some of his favorite flavors in cooking, and Paley said celery, “which didn’t exactly get me too far,” Gnagy said. But when he approached Lehman, who’s background is in French cooking, he was thinking about bay leaves and pepper.
“I knew I wasn’t putting celery in beer, but I knew pepper could work and thought bay leaves might,” Gnagy said. “We steeped some bay leaves in saisons to get an idea of what it would taste like, and when we started making it, we added wild yeast at end of fermentation to give it an authentic flavor.”
The final product is termed a farmhouse-style saison and is tangy (more like an alt than a true sour), yeasty and greets the nose with the aromas of Turkish bay leaves and pepper.
“It’s big time on the nose, but it’s not a flavor that takes over in the base beer itself; it’s balanced,” Gnagy said. “We tasted it four or five times during fermentation and asked Josh what would he change, and he didn’t want to change a thing. It’s great to work with a chef who knows where these flavors would fit.”
Chefs soon to be in the collaboration cue are Levon Wallace, Paley’s replacement at Proof and a home brewer, and Andy Myers, the under-heralded chef at Anchorage Café. Gnagy said he’s eager to work with both.
“The point of this is to get some ideas from some chefs, and get some publicity for their names,” Gnagy said. “We’re distributed in quite a few metro areas now that have happening food scenes, so this will add to that.”
Interested? You best act soon since supply is limited: only 15 half-barrels (225 gallons) were brewed. Only a third of that will be served at ATG, and the other two-thirds shipped to other restaurants and bars. Gnagy is, however, holding back a small amount for a beer dinner at Holy Grale.
“We’ll get them one keg for sure,” he said, “but I’m guessing it might last only a few weeks down here.”