Photograph By Osayi Endolyn
Andy Klubock, owner of Summits Wayside Tavern, tells me it has taken five years to get the right components together for Randall Thursdays, but the moment has finally arrived.
After looking for the right device and figuring out an easy system for newbies and pros alike, guests can now dry hop their own beer table-side, one brew at a time. First, guests meet Randall Jr., a double-walled plastic bottle dreamed up by the folks at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Randall Jr. is a mini version of a fancy dual barrel system created for taps. Next, an assortment of hops and other “adjuncts” are offered that expose guests to core flavors that impact how a beer tastes. Don’t let the geek factor deter you. This dry hopping thing? It’s a lot of fun.
“It’s about giving the customer choice,” Klubock says as he holds a boxed display of bagged hops under his arm. “Let’s go back here.”
‘Here’ turns out to be a closed off seating area separated from a bustling dining room and bar, where staffers are setting up for Summits University. At $12.99 per person, each participant is guided through seven or eight five-ounce pours, plus edibles. Klubock, who has two Summits locations in Cumming and Snellville, has owned and operated bars in suburban Atlanta since the 1980s. The Emory alumnus admits the tasting buy-in is pretty cheap, but: “You’ve got to invest in the customer.” Randall Thursdays, he believes, is another way of doing just that.
Klubock walked me through two dry hop sessions with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and St. Bernardus Abt 12—the latter, summoned after Klubock grilled me on my favorite beer. I admit, I had my reservations about user-driven dry hopping. A part of me still feels like there is something wrong with taking a world-class Belgian quad and—what is the right euphemism?—expanding on its flavor. (You couldn’t possibly improve it.) But Klubock has his own musings about beer-loving human beings. Empower the customer, Klubock says. “Let him be the chef.”
Randall Jr. is a three-part system including the plastic bottle, a screen-like filter, and the lid that ties it all together. We started with the Sierra Nevada. “Nothing too hoppy” Klubock cautioned, to ensure we’d experience the difference. Next up, choose the hops. I peered into the display case of ten individually bagged samples. The hops actually sold to customers are kept under refrigeration, and flowered hops look remarkably similar. Still, for the visual learners among us, it might be useful to have a cheese cart moment. Tip: Save your medical marijuana jokes for the ride home.
I went with Cascade (a bright, floral hop used in many beer styles), Simcoe (woodsy and a bit funky, used in IPA and DIPA styles), and Chinook (spicy, some citrus, used in pale ales and IPAs). Missing your home brewing guide? Not to worry—Summits has a comprehensive list of each hop and its characteristics for reference and servers are trained to help with suggestions.
Klubock emptied the bags of Cascade and Simcoe into the Randall, then poured half of the Sierra Nevada. The beer foamed while the hops rose to the surface. He tightened the filter on top, then followed with the lid. Now what? “We wait about three or four minutes,” Klubock says, nudging the other half of the Sierra Nevada toward me.
Once the inaugural dry hop is done, Klubock says, people have a ball. They might take a barley wine and add orange and lemon slices. Someone added oranges, jalapenos and hops to a Miller Lite. Apparently, there’s no wrong answer. Klubock plans to bring in mangos, Granny Smith apples, and cilantro later in the season.
Time to pour. Klubock unscrewed the lid and poured the beer into an empty pint glass. Like a filter, the beer passed through the now soggy clump of hops. A side-by-side comparison revealed my dry-hopped pale ale was a bit lighter in color, also cloudy. The aroma had mellowed, as did the flavor. My new beer was slightly more herbaceous but had less kick than the original. I liked it. And then I felt a tinge of guilt. Was I simply adulterating perfectly lovely beer for amusement? I’d have to consider it later; Klubock was on to the St. Bernardus.
Armed with a cleaned Randall and ramekins of dark chocolate, maraschino cherries, and orange slice, Klubock dumped the new ingredients in with the Chinook hops. He followed up with half of the draft-poured brew. Would I be haunted by Trappist monks for this sacrilege, I asked?
“Monks haven’t brewed St. Bernardus for a while, so you should be in good shape,” he grinned. The dry-hopped Abt 12 bonded with the cherries and the aroma was awash in chocolate. The original sugars had softened and it finished with a subtle brightness. It was lovely.
Randalls available Thursdays only. Use of device is free (ID or credit card required for collateral). Summits doesn’t offer them for sale, but interested parties can find them here.
Current hops: Amarillo, Cascade, Chinook, Czech Saaz, Columbus, Simcoe, Citra, Fuggles, German Hallertau, Sorachi Ace, each $0.35 per bag. Additional ingredients: Cherries, oranges, limes, and lemons are complimentary; dark chocolate, jalapenos, and coffee beans, from $0.69 to $0.99 per bag.
More information at summits-online.com.