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Beer Scene Q&A: Erin Wallace of Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery

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In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, beer-centric restaurateur Erin Wallace (Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, Old Eagle Tavern, Devil’s Den) spearheads the second-ever release of Saison de Rose, a pink-hued beer brewed with Free Will Brewing Company to support the Rena Rowan Breast Center.

The charitable saison is also one of the first of its kind, collab-brewed with three like-minded female professionals. The full story on Saison de Rose courtesy of Wallace herself follows below, including how the charity beer project kick-started, its mad scientist range of ingredients, and even, what is its perfect food pairing.

Main Course: Last Thursday marked the official second-ever tapping of the Saison de Rose, a charitable beer collaboration with Free Will and three like-minded female professionals. What inspired the initial brewing of this pink-hued beer and why are you excited it’s back on tap for 2014?

Erin Wallace: I’ve always had the idea of hosting a fundraising event (a beer dinner) for a breast cancer charity with a group of women brewers. I tossed around the best way to host the event; then I purchased Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery. After that, I thought that instead of being a one-day event, we should brew a beer with a group of women to raise money for charity. This thought was still in construction when I did an event featuring Free Will Brewing Company and I shared my idea with the owner and brewer of Free Will, Dominic and Dave, who are also friends and regulars of my bar Old Eagle Tavern. They both loved it and immediately jumped on board.

The brewing process this year was more exciting for me because I feel like we had more time to really perfect the recipe. The guys from Free Will took everyone’s feedback and were really able to nail the recipe down. It’s pink, very crisp, with subtle fruit & spice flavors.

How did you hand-pick and enlist fellow beer-savvy females Marnie Old, Tara Nurin and Carolyn Smagalski to assist you with Saison de Rose beer project?

When the Free Will guys and I were talking the initial night, we talked about what women we would like to see get involved in our project. Right away, we thought of Carolyn Smagalski who is the “Beer Fox.” We couldn’t work on a project focusing on women and beer without her. At the time, the guys from Free Will just met Tara Nurin and really enjoyed how she was promoting beer to women by hosting a ladies beer group in New Jersey. When it came to Marnie Old, there was no question. We all wanted the beer to be approachable to women and men that may not drink beer regularly, but would be willing to try it based on the charity; having a renowned sommelier and author on board was a no-brainer. 

Let’s break down this unique saison. Why did you and your band of brewers decide to pinpoint this style and incorporate the specific (intriguing!) ingredients you did?

A saison is a popular style of beer right now that beer drinkers are familiar with. It’s approachable and it’s a style that can easily be brewed using different ingredients.  Some saisons are hoppy, some are spicy—there is a lot of freedom and flexibility with them.  The main idea was to brew a delicious beer that beer geeks would enjoy, but would also be approachable to newbies. October can still be warm, so we wanted to find something that accommodates the weather and also something that would stand out from all the pumpkin beers and Oktoberfests that you see that time of year.

We all really wanted to make a pink beer, so hibiscus was the first ingredient we decided on. Adding hibiscus to the beer not only helps create a natural pink color, but it also provides a nice floral note. Pink grapefruit was then added to create a little acid, which balances the sweetness of the hibiscus. To stay with the pink theme, ginger and pink peppercorns were the next natural ingredients added, which gives the beer a little extra bite and spice that is needed.

Why did you decide to partner with this charity?

We chose to partner with a breast cancer charity because everyone has known someone who has been affected by this disease. Choosing the Rena Rowan Breast Center was an easy decision because we all agreed that we wanted the funds to stay local. What made the Rena Rowan Center stand out for us is that their funds help local patients affected by breast cancer.

We started the Saison de Rose Fund, which helps sponsor Dr. Amy Clark. The money goes to Dr. Clark’s work and research, along with helping her patients that are affected by the disease. Some of the money can help pay for medications or tests that insurance won’t cover or in one case, paying for a cell phone for a patient that had become homeless during her treatment. If a patient doesn’t have a phone, there is obviously no way for the doctor and patient to communicate, which isn’t good when a cancer patient is going through treatment.

Over 80 bars throughout Philly and New Jersey will be tapping the limited-edition release. Say we are saddling up at your Barren Hill Tavern in Lafayette Hill: could you suggest a perfect food pairing to match Saison de Rose?

My executive chef at Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, Paul Trowbridge, has created a menu that is made to drink with beer. When he plans new dishes and menus, he always keeps in mind the seasonal beers that will be available at that time; based off of what our brewer is planning to brew and the beers I like to pour that specific time of year. 

If you were drinking the Saison de Rose at Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, I would suggest our seared scallop entrée, served with dirty rice, Creole mustard sauce and fried okra. The saison will cut through the fattiness of the scallops and stand up to the heat of the mustard sauce and dirty rice. Also, our grilled radicchio salad would go well with the saison. The beer will counterbalance the bitterness of the radicchio. 

Taste-test this year’s batch of Saison de Rose by visiting Erin Wallace’s beer-centric restaurants: Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery at 646 Germantown Pike in Lafayette Hill, Old Eagle Tavern at 177 Markle Street in Manayunk, and Devil’s Den at 1148 South 11th Street in Philadelphia. Starting early October, Saison de Rose will be available in more than 80 bars in the Philadelphia and New Jersey regions.