Apparently there’s a lot more to making beer than I ever knew. I suppose I never gave it all that much thought, popping open bottles and cans on hot summer days without deeper consideration. Feeling that there might be more to this beer thing, I met up recently with Josh Hare at his Austin-based Hops & Grain Craft Beer brewery for a little education. The sprawling facility, giant tanks, and gurgling tubes call to mind Willy Wonka’s factory, and indeed, everyone at Hops & Grain seems as hard-working and jolly as an Oompa Loompa—that comes from Josh’s commitment to his craft and his ability to inspire everyone involved. Josh talks me through the basic process: First, malted barley is soaked to release the native sugars in the grain. Next, this “mash” is mixed with hops for flavor. Yeast is added to facilitate fermentation; then when the proper level of fermentation is reached, it goes into a bottle or a can for final aging. Flavor variations come from toasting the grains (usually barley, but also sometimes wheat or rye) or adjusting the variety of the hops. In addition to making two standard varieties of top-quality, easy-drinking beer, Hops & Grain keeps a batch or two going in “The Greenhouse,” tanks where “all new ideas are invited, style guidelines thrown out the window and happiness abounds.” In addition to keeping the happiness flowing, Hops & Grain works on keeping the community greener by giving 1% of annual revenues to local environmental non-profits and supporting local community growers and producers: that’s a triple bottom line we can raise a glass to.
Inspired by my awakening to the nuances of beer, I came home with a six pack of Hops & Grain Pale Dog Pale Ale (full of malt character with a dry, crisp, and hoppy finish, flavors of resinous fruit and dank pine, and a noticeable but balanced bitterness), inspired to pair these flavors with food. I put a big pot of Alsatian mussels on the stove, and we brought the whole pot to the table, dipping big hunks of crusty bread in the delicious juices, and washed it all down with frosty glasses of more cold Pale Dog, doors open to the cooling evening outside, feeling quite pleased with our higher understanding of beer.
Want to see inside Hops & Grain for yourself? Sign up for Gumbo Cooking Class and Brewery Tour with Notes from Maggie's Farm November 9!
Beer-Steamed Mussels with Mustard, Crème Fraiche, Parmesan Croutons & Tons of Herbs
½ loaf of country sourdough, cut into 1” cubes
1/3 c grated parmesan
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
1 small bunch chives, minced
6 sprigs tarragon, leaves stripped off & chopped
1 small bunch chervil, coarsely chopped
2/3 c. crème fraiche
4 Tbs. grainy mustard
3 Tbs. butter
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tsp. dried thyme
5 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 small bunch green onions, white & some green part, sliced thin
1 12 oz. beer (I used Hops & Grain Pale Dog)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine bread cubes, Parmesan, and olive oil in medium bowl; sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Spread bread cubes evenly on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until bread cubes are crisp and golden around edges, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
Mix parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil in small bowl. Whisk crème fraîche and mustard in another small bowl to blend; set aside.
Melt butter in extra-large pot with lid over high heat. Add garlic and thyme; stir 1 minute. Add mussels, tomatoes, and green onions. Pour beer over, then add crème fraîche mixture; sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Cover tightly with lid and cook until steam appears, about 3 minutes. Add half of fresh herb mixture and stir until mussels and herbs are gently mixed. Cover tightly with lid again and cook until mussels open, 4 to 5 minutes (discard any mussels that do not open).
Using slotted spoon, divide mussels among 6 bowls. Season mussel juices lightly with salt and pepper, then pour juices over each serving. Sprinkle each serving with Parmesan croutons and remaining herb mixture and serve.