Words and Photos by Elena Rosemond-Hoerr
Atlanta’s Second Self Beer Company prides itself on crafting beers that are perfect for the table. North Carolina-bred cook and author Elena Rosemond-Hoerr visited the brewery, pairing a selection of Second Self beers with her own classic Southern recipes.
Tucked away in a nondescript office park in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood, Second Self Beer Company offers the city something a little different. I say this as someone who has toured many breweries. In fact, every vacation my husband and I have taken in the past 6 years has involved at least one brewery visit, and that’s not even counting the barstools upon which we’ve perched ourselves in our hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. But unlike those other breweries, or ones emblazoned with kitschy decor, or those exalting venerable alters to the hop gods, Second Self focuses on how their beers fit into the lives of their drinkers. And, like any good Southern grandma, they’re nurturing that relationship through food.
Second Self co-founder and beer architect Jason Santamaria staunchly advocates setting a beer right on the dinner table, working in harmony with the flavor notes singing from the plate. Instead of just downing a champagne of beers while watching a game, he and founding partner Chris Doyle (a.k.a. the “alchemist”), encourage the thoughtful evaluation of a beer that best compliments the cuisine. You know, the market that wine has had cornered for… well… ever. As Jason and Chris see it, beer pairs quite naturally with food, and we’re all doing ourselves a disservice by relegating it to cookouts and bar stools.
When planning this story along with the Second Self team, we proposed that I, as a maker of food, writer of cookbooks, and lover of beer, would bring a few of my favorite Southern dishes over to the brewery, while, Jason, as a maker of beer (and lover of food), would pair my offerings with his beer. We would then revel in the greater sum of these two delicious things melding together. After much soul-searching, I settled on three of my all-time favorites — a lemon chess tart with ripe figs and local honey; buttermilk biscuit sliders with country ham, white cheddar cheese, mustard, honey, and arugula; and good ol’ pimento cheese.
The menu approved and prepared, I spread out our meal while Jason filled our glasses.
We started with the pimento cheese, and after sampling my recipe with his beers, Jason chose Second Self’s Thai Wheat, perhaps my favorite of what we tasted that day. Lemongrass and ginger, added fresh during the brewing process, remain strongly present in the finished beer, resulting in a wheat that’s refreshing yet bold … and one that zings along nicely with pimento cheese.
2-3 c. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. diced roasted pimentos
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
Begin by grating your cheese. I recommend a medium size grate, not the smallest, but not the big chunks. Start with two cups of cheese, and add the last cup as you mix it, depending on what you like. I like my spread cheesy, so I use the full three cups. It’s really your preference. After you’ve shredded your cheese, dump into a gallon ziplock bag.
Partially drain the pimentos and add them to the bag. Scoop in the mayonnaise and zip the bag- make sure you get as much air out as possible.
Use your hands to roll the ingredients between your fingers until it’s totally incorporated. Add in extra cheese as you need it. When you’re done, snip the corner off the bag and squeeze the spread out like it’s icing in a pastry bag. Serve with crackers, on a sandwich, or on cold uncooked veggies.
Next, I served the ham & cheese sliders, which Jason paired with Second Self’s Xmas in July— a bright and summery Belgian ale spiced with coriander and cloves, two winter favorites. I’ll admit to a healthy dose of skepticism over this pairing, but the zest of the arugula matched perfectly with the coriander, while the overall fruitiness in the ale balanced the robust seasonings in the sliders.
Ham Biscuit Slider
Makes 24 sliders.
Biscuits: 4 1/2 cups flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsps. salt
2 sticks butter
2 c. buttermilk
1/2 stick melted butter for topping
Honey: Spicy mustard
3 large dill pickles
2 c. fresh arugula
1 lb. country ham
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together dry ingredients. Cube butter and work in with your hands, breaking the butter up into small pieces and mixing in with the dry ingredients, until the texture resembles cornmeal. Stir in the buttermilk. Transfer to a floured surface and press into a rectangle. Fold on itself and pat into a rectangle. Repeat three or four times, finishing with a large rectangle of dough that is 1″ thick. Use a small biscuit cutter to cut into 1″ rounds or slice with a knife into 1″ squares. Place on a baking sheet and brush the top of each biscuit with melted butter. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and baked through.
While your biscuits are baking, slice the pickles. Halve biscuits and smear generously with honey and mustard. Top with ham and arugula.
Finally, we tasted my lemon chess and fig tarts, which are, well, very tart. After popping one in his mouth, Jason reached for Second Self’s Gose, which has a salty profile with hints of coriander and fresh ginger. That saltiness played off the acidity of the lemon, neither overpowering the other. We finished the tasting with a fitting digestif — the company's Red Hop Rye. Blending a red rye and an IPA, Red Hop Rye drinks smoothly, mellowed by notes of citrus and malt. It wrapped the tasting up beautifully.
Fig & Lemon Chess Tarts
Makes 10 4″ tarts.
2 c. flour
1 stick butter
1 tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 c. cold water
1/4 c. sugar
1 stick butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Juice of 4 lemons
To make your dough, combine flour, sugar, salt, and cubed butter in the food processor. Blend until butter has been cut into the flour. Slowly add water, a tbsp, at a time, until the dough forms a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Melt your butter and stir in your sugar. Slowly add in eggs, one at a time. Stir in lemon juice, salt, and vanilla. Heat your oven to 375 degrees.
Roll your dough out on a floured surface to 1/4″ thick. Press into greased tart tins (or one pie dish to make pie instead of mini tarts) and set on a baking tray. Fill each tart tin with chess filling and place in oven. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes (longer for a full pie - 45 minutes) or until the filling is firm and the crust has browned.
Quarter your figs and top each tart with fresh figs and a drizzle of honey. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I’m no stranger to beer appreciation — my husband homebrews and we enjoy entertaining, inviting guests to try whatever I’m experimenting with in the kitchen and whatever he’s fermenting in the pantry. I love the way a chilled beer can bring out flavors in food that seemed hidden, waiting for just the right introduction. In this way (and many ways, I suspect), Jason Santamaria, Chris Doyle and I are alike. Yet, Jason and Chris venture to broaden the message projected by our shared enthusiasm. Something wonderful happens when well-made beer and well-made food dance, and Second Self extends an open call for everyone to join in that party.
About the Author:
A North Carolinian born and bred, Elena Rosemond-Hoerr is a writer, photographer, and author of the award-winning food blog, biscuitsandsuch.com. Elena lives on the coast with her husband and dog, baking pies, gardening, and celebrating the rich food heritage of the American South. She published her first solo cookbook effort, The No Time To Cook! Book in spring 2015, and is currently hard at work on her second.