With Michael’s Genuine Home Brew, James Beard award-winning Miami chef Michael Schwartz joins the ranks of “Chefs with an Eponymously-Named Beer to their Credit,” a short list including the likes of Iron Chef Morimoto.
Contract brewed by Back Forty of Gadsden, Alabama, “Home Brew” arrived several days ago, accompanied by much social media fanfare (the beer even has its own Twitter handle, @MGHomeBrew). The beer will be served exclusively at Schwartz’s restaurants, Harry’s Pizzeria, and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, both of which require little or no introduction to serious South Florida eaters. But is it a good beer? ChatChowTV invited me over to Harry’s to give it a try.
The Michael’s Genuine team bills “Home Brew” as an American Ale, brewed with rice and cane sugar. I will admit, upon hearing that this was a rice beer, I was a little worried. Beers brewed with rice get a bad rap. This is because the world’s most famous rice beer is…you guessed it, Budweiser. Bud is the antithesis of craft beer, a dire, flavorless product that has more in common with Wonder Bread than real beer. The use of white rice in Budweiser lightens the beer in both color and flavor, making it palatable to those whose culinary sensibilities never progressed past the age of industrial food.
Yet, in the hands of a craft brewer, rice can be fashioned into an excellent, flavorful beer. Look no further than “Red Rice Ale” from Hitachino Nest in Japan, and “Trade Winds Tripel” from California’s The Bruery for proof of that. In the end, rice is just another grain that can be used as a source of fermentable sugar. It will lighten the beer’s body to be sure, and drinkers won’t get that dense bready flavor common in beers using all barley malt, but there’s no reason a quality rice used in conjunction with other high-quality ingredients needs to result in a flavorless beer. I’m hopeful that Michael’s beer will have more in common with Hitachino Nest than with Budweiser. Brewed with local Sem-Chi long grain brown rice and sugarcane, it should have the depth of flavor for which I’d hope.
“Home Brew” pours a very clear golden amber with minimal foam retention. The aroma is floral and lightly citric – a good sign; means that yes, hops have been included here, unlike Budweiser! Tasting the beer, I think I was expecting something like the Red Rice ale I mentioned above, but this was different. I’d say it’s more of a pale ale brewed with rice, in that it was more hop-forward than I was expecting. There’s a quick bite of citric hop bitterness initially, and then a very mild vanilla-tapioca sweetness midway that I’m thinking comes from the brown rice. Some floral/pine pungency carries through the finish and serves to dry out any residual sweetness. Mouthfeel was pleasantly soft, not as spiky as I might have expected, given the presence of such easily-fermentable sugars in the brewing process.
As the beer is being served at two renowned Miami restaurants, it was created at least in part to pair well with food. I would have preferred that this beer be a saison, 1) because that’s my own personal bias, and 2) because saisons are versatile food-pairing beasts – but this should also complement a wide variety of foods. I tried it with the rock shrimp and pesto pizzas at Harry’s, and both pairings worked, even if I thought it was a more natural, seamless match with the briny rock shrimp, lemongrass and manchego pizza than with the pesto.
The beer is available on draft, and in 22oz bombers for $11 a bottle, which is not terrible for a large format bottle in a restaurant. Go try some today at Harry’s or MGFD and let me know which dishes it did or didn’t work with. Cheers!