Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink has long intended to develop his own beer for his restaurants. With the help of a brewery in Alabama, that aspiration came to reality this summer when Schwartz launched Michael’s Genuine Home Brew in the Cayman Islands on 8 September, just a month after its debut in Miami.
You are what you drink.
At least that’s what Chef Michael Schwartz, the owner and namesake of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, believes.
Since his restaurants specialise in cuisine that focuses on fresh, simple and locally produced ingredients, Schwartz wanted a beer that matched his food philosophy.
“If you noticed our [restaurant] logo, it’s fashioned after a beer label,” he told guests at the launch dinner for his new beer, called Home Brew, at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Camana Bay on 8 September.
“So it was only a matter of time before we came out with a beer.”
Schwartz said that his team had been working on the beer project for quite a while. He wanted to use ingredients found near his home restaurant in Miami to stay true to his ‘Slow Food’ sensibilities. Because the beer would use some unique ingredients, he needed a creative beermaker as well.
“It was important to find someone young and innovative to be able to pull it off,” he said.
That right beermaker turned out to be Back Forty Beer Co. out of Gadsden, Alabama, the beers from which he was introduced to while participating in a fundraiser for tornado victim relief in 2011.
Schwartz liked Back Forty’s portfolio of beer, which includes Naked Pig Pale Ale, Freckle Belly IPA, Truck Stop Honey English Brown Ale and Kudzu Porter. Since Back Forty was also not afraid to use some daring ingredients – like kudzu – in its beer, Schwartz started a discussion with the company about making a beer for him, using some ingredients from South Florida.
“We thought about what we could bring from South Florida to make this beer special.”
Schwartz then had the idea to use sem-chi, a long-grain brown rice that is grown as a rotation crop to replenish soil by the Florida Crystals sugar manufacturer, along with some South Florida sugar cane.
Schwartz admits that typically rice is a big ingredient in mass-produced, inferior-quality beer, but since sem-chi was brown rice, he thought it could work.
He pitched the idea to Back Forty brew master Jamie Ray, who happened to be from Miami originally.
“The brew master looked at us like we were nuts,” Schwartz said with a laugh.
In the end, Ray took up the challenge and produced Home Brew, a light-bodied, bright golden ale with a citruss sweetness and background nuttiness.
“It’s not too hoppy, so it’s not too bitter,” he said. “It has what I call ‘sessionability’, which means you can sit down and drink a lot of it.”
The beer is bottled in a larger 22-ounce bottle, something else that is in keeping with Schwartz’s Slow Food sensibilities.
“It’s much more sustainable, with less waste that way,” he said.
Although the beer is available on tap in Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, it’s currently only available by the bottle in Cayman.
The beer has an alcohol-by-volume content of 5 per cent, which, in combination with its citrusy notes and floral hops, makes it a great beer for Cayman’s hot climate and a good pairing with many foods.
Food, of course, also had to be a part of any launch celebration for Home Brew.
For the occasion, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink Chef de Cuisine Thomas Tenant prepared a craft beer menu designed to pair with five different beers, including Home Brew.
He opened with an amuse bouche called “Rock Shrimp Terrine” that included spicy beer mustard.
“It’s like a little open-face shrimp pastrami sandwich,” he said.
This was followed by a frisée salad with local avocado and olives, topped with homemade biltong and served with a local seven-minute egg. This course was served with Peak Organic Pale Ale from Maine.
Tenant has began making his own sausages and biltong this year, curing them in the temperature-controlled wine storage room.
Although the biltong was not quite as dry as he would have liked – and therefore didn’t have the same intensity of flavour – but the slightly salty and spicy seasonings paired very well with the soft-boiled egg and the avocado.
The second course was mussels steamed in Michael’s Genuine Home Brew and served with brown rice, orange segments and freshly grated turmeric. This course was served with a glass of Home Brew beer.
“As you taste the Home Brew, you’ll notice it’s very floral with citrus flavours,” Tenant said, noting that he added turmeric and orange segments to the dish to complement those flavours in the beer.
The final savoury course was roasted leg of lamb with parsnip puree, grilled fennel, pearl onions and capers, paired with Back Forty’s Truck Stop Brown Ale.
The dinner finished off with Granny Smith Apple Beignets and Flying Dog Imperial Porter and cocoa ice cream, served with the hearty and dark Flying Dog ‘Gonzo’ Imperial Porter from Maryland, which packs quite a wallop at 9.2 per cent alcohol.