Barleybrine brings together chefs, brewers and farmers to help seafood workers affected by Hurricane Michael
By T.S. Strickland
We’ve been cooking up a brand-new event here at Blue Collards, and we’re finally ready to take the lid off. Barleybrine Oyster & Craft Beer Weekend — this April 4-6 — will bring three days of great beer, fine food and culinary storytelling to the colonial-era seaport of Pensacola, Florida.
This new event is more than just another beer festival. (If you’re our friend, you already know that “fest” is one of the few four-letter words we don’t like — “beer” not being on that list.)
No — Barleybrine is a celebration of all things stout and briny: of strong backs, stiff drinks and salty tongues. Above all, it is a celebration of Panhandle People, our way of life and this beautiful place we call home.
You can think of it as the younger, brasher cousin of Peat & Pearls, the swankiest little oyster party in the country, which we organize with Oyster South, Glenfiddich and a ton of our Swing Shift friends each fall. If you’ve ever been to that event, you have some idea what to expect at Barleybrine, with some caveats.
Where Peat & Pearls is swanky, Barleybrine is swarthy and swashbuckling. There will still be plenty of oysters, to be sure, but we’ll be chasing them with craft beer, not fine scotch or expensive cigars.
We started Barleybrine because we wanted to celebrate one of our favorite parts of the country: Florida’s Forgotten coast. It’s where we first fell in love with oysters — not just as food, but as metaphor — and where we first met the real Panhandle People, the fiercest folks we know.
Oyster snobs like to talk about “merroir,” a term of art for the way the environment impacts an oyster’s flavor profile. To be fair, we’ve thrown that word around a lot ourselves. I guess we could be accused of being snobs, then. But I don’t think that’s right, because we don’t geek out about oysters to set ourselves apart from other folks. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
You see, our blood is blue — but it’s blue like water, not money. Our team grew up on the Gulf Coast, tossing back raw Apalachicola oysters at Hunt’s Oyster Bar in Panama City to impress our dads. Given this personal history, “merroir” and other high-falutin’ language never meant much to us. we laughed at it — “Hey, Pass the saltines.”
Then, we stopped seeing Apalachicola oysters on the menu and decided to investigate where they went. What we found out was startling. The famous Apalachicola oyster — which once made up 90 percent of oysters consumed in Florida and one of every 10 oysters in other parts of the country — was on the brink of extinction. A cavalcade of calamity — drought, water wars, the 2010 oil spill — had conspired to deprive us of one of our fondest pastimes and, along with it, some of our dearest memories.
In Apalachicola, of course, the stakes are much higher. Here, oysters don’t just represent tasty food, but livelihoods and a way of life. When the oysters go, everything else follows. What we’re getting at is this: An oyster ain’t a damn chicken wing. It’s a symbol — for its environment, for the people who toiled long and hard to bring it from the ocean’s muddy bottom to our hungry lips.
You can call it merroir if it makes you feel fancy. Today, we’ll stay humbler: Food is family. Barleybrine is our way of honoring this fact — and enjoying some really great beer while we’re at it.
We believe in helping our family and, recently, those along Florida’s Forgotten Coast have been struggling to recover from Hurricane Michael. The storm, which pummeled Northwest Florida last October, was a punishing blow for a region already reeling.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with the Gulf Seafood Foundation to ensure that a portion of all proceeds from this event will go back to helping seafood workers in Florida who were affected by the storm.
So what can you expect if you join us this April? Glad you asked. Barleybrine will kick off April 4, with the Hairy Man Beard & Mustache Invitational — a partnership with Pensacola’s Perfect Plain Brewing Co. — creators of the Hairy Man Stout — and Wilfrid’s Barber & Fine Goods.
Wilfrid’s ace barbers will create a pop-up shop within the Perfect Plain taproom and invite loyal patrons to compete in a beard and mustache challenge like no other. In addition to the live competition, the event will feature drink specials, live music and more.
Admission to this event is limited, so be sure to keep an eye on our social media accounts over the next couple weeks to learn how to snag a ticket. All the cool kids will be there.
Speaking of cool kids: On April 5, Alabama’s Kelsey Barnard Clark — a contestant on the most recent season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and one of our very favorite people — will treat 100 lucky guests to a five-course dinner featuring craft beer pairings and a guided oyster tasting with Joseph and Teresa Mercer, of Florida’s TAB Oyster Co.
The Mercers are part of an emerging class of farmers who are using aquaculture techniques to revive the state’s beleaguered oyster industry. In just a few short years, the state has seen the number of oyster farming leases jump from almost zero to nearly 100.
The Mercers were in the midst of their first commercial harvest when Hurricane Michael struck, costing them a number of oysters and endangering their fledgling business. They’re now hard at work rebuilding while Joseph holds down his day job at a gunpowder factory to make ends meet.
Their story is the perfect illustration of what this event is all about. We introduced the Mercers to Chef Barnard-Clark at last year’s Peat & Pearls. They hit it off, so much so that Kelsey invited the farmers to be guests of honor at the launch party for “Top Chef” that she hosted at her restaurant in Dothan, Alabama, earlier this year.
Building those kinds of relationships — putting the “family” back in food — is what Blue Collards is all about.
Barleybrine Oyster & Craft Beer Weekend will culminate on April 6, with our grand tasting. The event, being hosted at De Luna Winery, will feature craft beer tastings by dozens of the country’s best breweries, live music and oyster small bites prepared by chefs from across the region.
It’s going to be one hell of a good time, and we hope to see you there. Hit the link below for more info on programming and tickets, and, if you haven’t already, sign up to our email list so that you can be the first to know when we’re cooking up something new.