Raise a glass to fall with these beer picks
Crayton Threlkeld and his friend Scott Barfield were perusing the beer selection at a store in Hartwell a little more than a year ago and came to the same conclusion — the selection needed to be bigger.
For decades, buying beer was a choice between a few massive breweries that made very similar, light-bodied American lagers. There was certainly nothing wrong with that, but Threlkeld and Barfield knew all too well as they pored over their options that they were seeing just a tiny fraction of the immense beer selection available today thanks to the exploding craft beer market that includes nearly 3,000 breweries in the U.S.
Barfield, from Athens, and Threlkeld, from Elberton, had both expanded their palates well beyond the everyday options and were hoping to find a few more varieties. When they couldn’t, the path forward was clear. Open a brewery.
“This thing just sort of snowballed from there,” Threlkeld said.
Crayton Threlkeld, left, and Scott Barfield, right, stand in front of their soon-to-open downtown Hartwell brewery, Southern Hart Brewing Co.
Today, Southern Hart Brewing is well on its way to becoming the newest beer and dining option in Hartwell. The pair and others have been hard at work — 14-hour a days for the most part, Threlkeld said — preparing their downtown Hartwell building for the equipment needed to run a brewery and restaurant.
It is no small task, but Threlkeld still has plenty of time to ponder the best aspects of enjoying a frosty brew and the meals that best compliment the complex depth of flavors available in beer.
With fall in full swing, Threlkeld has a few suggestions for how to best enjoy a meal and a beer with seasonal brews and fare.
Brown ales are malty, full-bodied and tend to have hints of caramel and even some chocolate. The addition of a few hops adds depth and a taste of bitterness to balance brown ales and make them a favorite of beer fans around the world. They tend to be easy to drink and their deep brown or amber color evoke thoughts of leaves changing and falling.
“They are great beers for fall,” Threlkeld said.
And beef is a great entree for fall, which happens to be a great pairing for brown ales, he said. A steak with a side of hearty fall vegetables like squash or potatoes makes a good starting point with which to pair a brown ale, but Threlkeld added that beef stew is a favorite of his with a brown ale.
He also suggested trying a shepherd’s pie, which makes sense considering brown ales have their origin in England.
Threlkeld said Newcastle Brown ale is a good place to start for those uninitiated in the ways of dark beer. Southern Hart is also working on its own brown ale recipe, he added.
INDIA PALE ALES
If America had a national beer style, this would be it. India Pale Ales get their name from the extra hops added in England to preserve beer on voyages across oceans when the British Empire was colonizing much of the rest of the known world.
Today, IPAs have been perfected by American craft brewers and are a staple among them. Their hop-forward character creates a flavor that is on the bitter side, but also floral and citrusy.
The better versions are those balanced by a strong backbone of malt, adding some caramel notes to balance the bitterness of the hops, Threlkeld said. He is particularly fond of the IPA Southern Hart brews because of its malty characteristics.
“It really balances the beer very well,” he said.
Salty and fried foods work well with IPAs by calling attention to the malty flavors in the beer and toning down some of the hoppy bitterness. Threlkeld suggests kettle-cooked chips drizzled with beercheese as a perfect match.
Grilled meat with a caramelized crust mixes fabulously with IPAs as well, he said.
He is of course partial to Southern Hart’s IPA, which will be sold when the brewery opens, which is slated for later this year, but Threlkeld suggested another good regional option in Southern Brewing Company’s Hobnail IPA, out of Athens, or Sweetwater IPA, out of Atlanta.
Oktoberfest is a well known German beer festival, actually held in September, but it is also a beer style that has been exported to the U.S. and become a popular seasonal offering.
Mostly lagers, Oktoberfests come in a few varieties, but the most common in the U.S. come with an amber coloring and a malty character that make them great for fall gatherings.
Oddly enough, Threlkeld said they pair surprisingly well with Latin flavors like tacos. Specifically, carnitas tacos, or pork tips.
A smoked Boston butt and smoked beef short ribs are perfect matches, he added.
“Of course they also pair with any German food, like sausage and pretzels,” Threlkeld said.
Popular Oktoberfests include Sam Adams’ variety, but many Oktoberfests are made by German breweries like Spaten.
Kölsch is a variety of beer first brewed in Cologne, Germany that is fermented warm with ale yeast and conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager. This creates a light tasting, light in alcohol brew perfect for warm fall tailgating days.
“It’s a great football beer,” Threlkeld said. “It’s a great beer for tailgating.”
Which makes it no surprise he suggests pairing Kölsch with wings, hotdogs, grilled food and anything with a little bit of a kick in it.
Southern Hart will brew its own version of a Kölsch, but other good varieties include Southern Brewing’s Ironmaker Kölsch, Threlkeld said.