Beach chefs brew one for the cause
It never ceases to amaze me how rumors fly around Rehoboth Beach. At first, emails proclaimed the formation of a Baltimore Avenue Restaurant Association. Sounds good on paper, but these chefs and owners barely have time to step outside their kitchens, much less “associate.” Then the stories shifted to a collaboration restaurant, headed up by six chef/owners. Right. Like that’s going to happen.
All the pieces fell into place when I got a call from Claus Hagelman, the genial marketing director for 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown. As a part of 16 Mile’s Collaboration Brews for a Cause series, six restaurateurs were brought together to create their own signature beer.
The beneficiary for this endeavor is Meals on Wheels Delaware. The chance to help feed deserving seniors, along with the promise of a little fame and maybe even a free beer or two was enough to rally this gaggle of impressive toques: Shawn Xiong of Confucius, Jay Caputo of Cabo and Espuma, Hari Cameron from a(Muse.), Blue Moon’s Lion Gardner, Danielle Panarello from Eden and JAM Bistro, and Hobos’ Gretchen Hansen. A Rehoboth Beach all-star lineup if there ever was one.
I’m still trying to figure out how Hagelman got these night owls 16 miles from their home bases at 5:30 a.m., arguing … uh, collaborating … over how much toasted coriander, sumac, dried figs and fresh figs to add to the steaming cauldrons of grain and yeast. Could they have been drawn to the idea of free beer? At zero-dark:30? Not likely, even for them.
Whatever it was, it got a fair amount of local ink and even some TV coverage. And like all news, it eventually became old news. But the fledgling Eastern Chefs Brew continued to quietly simmer and bubble out there in Georgetown. For all that collaboration, nobody had any idea what in the world it was going to taste like. So, in the immortal words of the late radio commentator, Paul Harvey, here’s “the rest of the story.”
“Would you like to be the first to taste the new beer?” These are words that food writers wait their whole lives to hear. I was honored, humbled and thirsty - all at the same time. So, last week I had the pleasure of joining Caputo, Gardner, Claus and Jack Hagelman in the cool, semi-dark structure that houses 16 Mile’s massive stainless steel tanks that were slowly giving birth to the yet-untasted Eastern Chefs Brew.
Claus reached down into a maze of pipes and valves, noisily decanting four cups of fizzy, amber liquid. As Jack lovingly cradled his own bottle (not beer - baby formula. He’s barely a year old!), the two celebrity chefs, brew-maven Hagelman and this columnist toasted the combined talents of Rehoboth’s best and the 8,000-year-old process that gave rise to the new taste they created.
And it was delicious. Light, citrusy notes of coriander hovered in the background. As the beer began to warm slightly, a soft, earthy sweetness began to emerge. Ahhh, the figs! Though the sumac was not readily apparent, the final word - and taste - will be engraved in stone after the beer is kegged and carbonated.
As we sipped (Jack had taken to throwing his baby bottle across the room, apparently annoyed at being left out), I asked Jay and Lion what led everybody to this particular recipe. Caputo thought for a moment, and asked me if I remembered the scene from “Dead Poets Society,” where teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) instructed his students to stand on their desks to see the world in a different way. “That’s how I - we - do what we do,” said Jay. “We go to school to learn how everybody does it, then we use our intuition to see things differently. We all agreed that coriander, sumac and figs would play nicely with the barley, hops and the fermentation process.”
Try it yourself! A limited supply of Eastern Chefs Brew will be available on tap at Eden, JAM Bistro, Blue Moon, a(Muse.), Hobos, Espuma, Cabo, Catcher’s and On the Rocks. The very last keg will be ceremoniously tapped Sunday, Oct. 7, at the Celebrity Chefs’ Beach Brunch at the Rusty Rudder.