Tapping into Microbrew Mania

Chefs draw on beer for delicious recipes from entrées to dessert

By Phil Randall
Photographs by Josh Norris

The booming microbrewery business has flooded markets with new brands and kitchens with new possibilities. For chef Pano Stathakis, this is a golden moment, an opportunity to create dishes appealing to America’s transitioning tastes.

When ELYSIAN asked Stathakis to explore ways to pair foods with craft beers, he enlisted longtime friends Bill and Sabra Nickas, owners of the nationally noted Sullivan’s Metropolitan Grill in Anderson, South Carolina. Lauded in the Wall Street Journal and Southern Living magazine, the restaurant became the test site where the three gourmets pulled out the stops. They experimented with appetizers, entrées, and even a dessert using beer.

They chose ales from an upstart microbrewery in Charleston, South Carolina, that’s quickly building a regional reputation: Cooper River Brewing Company. Founded in 2015 by friends Jamie Martin, Michael Gates and Dustin Pait, Cooper River Brewing has distinguished itself in the exploding microbrewery business thanks to brewmaster Mark Fesche, a former lawyer who chucked the legal profession long ago and switched to beermaking before beermaking was cool. His expertise (Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago — “the Harvard of brewing schools” as Jamie Martin puts it — and more training in Europe) helped Cooper River refine its 14 varieties, all based on traditional European ales. Of those 14, Stathakis and the Nickas’s worked with six for this beer-pairing project and zeroed in on four.

The results, showcased at a tasting in April at Sullivan’s, were delicious. The trio came up with original appetizers, entrées, and even a dessert made with beer. They also shared their recipes, which, despite our selfish impulses, we are generously passing on to you. (See page 112)

Stathakis says there are plenty more pairings and recipes to come. That’s because times and tastes are moving toward craft beers, and chefs are responding.

“You used to see a lot of wine bars; now you are seeing microbreweries,” he said. “And microbrewers know that you have to have hand-in-hand food and alcohol together. So the chefs are getting it. You’ll start seeing that more. Some microbrews are going be put in the best restaurants. I mean, I see that … it is definitely coming.”

Sullivan’s has a reputation for its wine list, but owner Bill Nickas has seen the growing interest in craft beers for several years and has been adding them in his restaurant. But was it hard to work beer into entrées?

“At first it was like, ‘Whoa,’ because beer, just like wine, has a complexity of flavors,” he said. “Once you do the research and understand the flavors … we start brainstorming, and here we are.” E

Check out these recipes and get cooking!

Copper River ales used in these recipes:

Golden Ale  Cooper River Brewing’s Golden Ale is patterned after lighter English ales, or what’s called  “blonde ale” in the U.S.  Not too complex or bitter, this ale is noted for a balanced, refreshing flavor.

Orange Infused Blonde Ale  Sliced oranges are added to the fermentation process of this light American blonde ale.

India Pale Ale  This is Cooper River’s take on a West Coast IPA. With a tropical flavor, the citrus-peach aroma derives from the particular hops sourced from Washington state.

Scottish Red Ale  This beer relies on malts over hops in the tradition of Scottish brewing. Cooper River calls it a “malt-forward ale” with an alcohol aroma and sweet finish.


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