The second test batch of a new beer arrived in a mini-keg at Harry’s Pizzeria in the Design District for a casual tasting on a steamy July afternoon. Led by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz, the roundtable discussion featured senior members of his staff and their exclusive distribution team, a group of seasoned beer pros delighted to call themselves “beer geeks.”
The meeting quickly shifted from nonchalant to analytical, diagnostic almost, when glasses of Michael’s Genuine Home Brew, Schwartz’s new flagship beer that makes its debut this weekend, were poured for the reps from Brown Distributing Company to try for the first time.
The group, which is partly responsible for growing the craft beer movement in Miami, spent some time sipping, swirling and deciphering Schwartz’s new creation. At first, they weren’t sure how to categorize it.
“Is it blonde ale?” asked Chris Montelius, district sales manager of West Palm Beach-based Brown Distributing. “It doesn’t have the hops of pale ale, it’s not wheat ale, and I really don’t know what else I would call it.”
Montelius, a scholarly character with a distinctive mustache, was intrigued. Even with a cicerone certification under his belt, which is similar to a master sommelier title in the wine world, Montelius and his experienced colleagues were captivated by the simplicity and the complexity of the beer.
Schwartz stepped in to explain the paradox and give it a category, sharing that two unique ingredients help to classify the beer as a classic American Ale. “Home Brew is the first beer to feature Florida-grown Sem-Chi brown rice and sugarcane, resulting in a light-bodied ale with a citrusy sweetness, hint of floral hops and dry finish,” he said. “We dig the feedback, guys, and we’re learning as we go.”
Home Brew cost $6 for a 16-ounce draft pour and $11 for a 22-ounce bottle. Home Brew will be available on-tap and in bottles at Harry’s Pizzeria (3918 North Miami Ave.) and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink (130 NE 40th St.) beginning Monday, Aug. 13. Home Brew will be at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink Grand Cayman in bottles as of Saturday, Sept. 8 when Schwartz will be on-island for a beer dinner. Look for seasonal beers under the Home Brew label in 2013.
For about 18 months, Schwartz and his team, including beverage director Ryan Goodspeed, learned a lot about beer as they worked hand-in-hand with Alabama’s Back Forty Beer Co. and World Beer Cup-winning brewmaster Jamie Ray to develop and finalize the recipe for Home Brew. If you’re a beer geek, you may recognize Ray’s name. He’s a native Miamian, who started the brewpub at Titanic Brewery in Coral Gables more than a dozen years ago.
Craft brewers by definition are always innovative, according to Julia Herz, the craft beer program director at the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado. “Rice is often used as an adjunct or filler that doesn’t enhance the flavor. But what they’ve done here with the Sem-Chi is use it as an ingredient, which is creative and experimental,” said Herz.
Jason Wilson, co-founder of Back Forty, adds that 40 percent of the grain bill is Sem-Chi (or Seminole Chief) out of Palm Beach County, which is typically used as a rotation crop by Florida Crystals to replenish the depleted soil of its cane fields after harvest.
“We ran with Michael’s rice idea. It was important to use the whole kernel brown rice in order to stay true to the root of what the beer is about -- no preservatives, no adjuncts, no pasteurization. It’s all about a short shelf life, and keeping up with the commitment to local and fresh ingredients,” said Wilson.
Sound familiar? Schwartz built his reputation by pioneering a fresh, simple and pure philosophy with his group of restaurants in Miami and Grand Cayman.
Like everything in his kitchen, Schwartz won’t be able to stock Home Brew for long. Lighter-style craft beers only have a shelf life of about 90 days, but it’s at its best when it’s very fresh.
“We cook the food we like to eat, so this beer is fashioned after the style of beer we like to drink. Our menu changes constantly, so we needed a beer that would complement the freshness and the different flavors,” said Schwartz.
The final result is what Wilson likes to call “food-friendly and sessionable.” That means that you’ll probably want to and, more importantly, be capable of drinking more than one Home Brew in a session or a sitting; whereas, with a Double Chocolate Milk Stout, it’s a challenge to drink more than one.
“We all wanted it to have a great presence at the beach and at the dinner table,” said Wilson. “Higher content beers are enjoyed more like cordials. Lighter styles -- with a 5 percent alcohol range -- are more flexible and versatile when cooking with the beer and complementing flavors on your plate.”
Collaboration between top chefs and veteran brewmasters is not new in other culinary corners of the country. In 2003 the Iron Chef himself, Masaharu Morimoto, worked with Rogue Brewery in Newport, Oregon to create Soba Ale, a light, nutty beer made from soba noodles. But the fun has just begun in Miami.
“This playfulness is bringing people in from the foodie scene. Many are trading over from spirits and trading up from basic light beers,” said Herz. “Today’s beer lovers are responding to more variety and, quite frankly, there’s more demand than supply.
For nearly 10 years, The Room (100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach) has catered to beer lovers looking to share giant chalices and a cozy experience sans food. Alex Coello, general manager, is all too familiar with his customer’s thirst for good beer just a few blocks from where South Beach’s wild nightclubs reign. His focus has been to grow the bar’s American craft beer list, which is currently about double the size of its Belgian list.
“People are open to trying something new and the craft beer scene presents that opportunity. The consumer gets educated on product, tastes the beer, the flavors that stand out and realizes that beer doesn't have to be boring or a one way street,” said Coello. “If I want something that tastes like water, then I’ll just drink water.”
The next big step is for Miami is to have its own microbrewery. Enter Wynwood Brewing Company with a father-son duo from Puerto Rico at the helm, along with celebrated brewmaster Jim Patton of Abita Brewing Company in Abita Springs, Louisiana.
Luis Brignoni, Jr. says it’ll be a small production facility for the purpose of distribution and tasting. He and his father, Luis, Sr., hope to open in December. They chose Wynwood because of their heritage (the neighborhood is predominantly Puerto Rican) and they feel that brewing craft beer is “very much a beautiful art.”
“Have you ever had an IPA that was just made?” asked Montelius. “One day old versus one month old is a huge difference.”
Miami has a chance to become known as a beer destination if it continues to evolve in this way, according to Herz, a former Florida resident. She points out that Miami is already a destination for food and foodies nationally and globally. So instead of ordering a bottle of chardonnay with pan-roasted chicken, wood oven pizza, or whole roasted fish with grilled lemon, people may opt for a 22 ounce bottle of an American craft beer like Home Brew that features Florida-grown ingredients.
“I think it has a chance to expand what it’s already known for in the culinary community and have craft beer attached to that success.”
- Galena Mosovich is the lead writer for cocktail culture for Miami.com
Chef Michael Schwartz launches his Florida-grown Home Brew in early August.