Meet the men making it happen at Braselton Brewing
BRASELTON, Ga. (AP) — Four years ago, Harrison Clark was a National Guardsman making lousy beer while working behind the bar at Gold City Growlers in Dahlonega.
“The owner there was a homebrewer,” Clark said. “He kind of got me into it, so that was in 2014, 2013. I did that and essentially got into craft beer — and realized it was really expensive to buy craft beer. I tried brewing it. I sucked. I was so bad at brewing beer.”
But he wanted to learn, so he made the trip up to Brevard, North Carolina, to attend Blue Ridge Community College’s craft beer academy, developed in partnership with Colorado-based Oskar Blues’ East Coast brewery in North Carolina.
After wrapping up his courses, he noticed an “immediate difference” in his homebrewing while still working for Gold City. And it was at the growler store that he met Jason Ford, head brewer of Left Nut Brewing in Gainesville.
At that time, the brewery had not yet opened — and Clark got in on the ground floor.
“I essentially volunteered myself to go up there and learn some stuff from here,” he said. “I helped him put some chalk lines down and helped him clean some stuff before they officially moved in to where Left Nut is now.”
But he wouldn’t go to work at Left Nut until some time later. After graduating college, Clark left his job at the store and headed off to work for Gate City Brewing in Roswell.
“I just worked in the taproom there and got to learn about what customers like, how they work and essentially how to talk to drunk people,” Clark said, chuckling. “And try to figure out, if they don’t drink beer, what kind of beer they would like.”
Eventually, he would return to the Gainesville area and apprentice under Ford at Left Nut Brewing.
And today, just four years after starting his journey into the world of craft beer, Clark is the head brewer at Braselton Brewing, the newest entrant to Georgia’s craft beer scene and one of the state’s few brew pubs — restaurants following the European model and brewing their own beer in-house.
He’s working with head chef Joel Fontaine and owner Chip Dale to bring the business to life in downtown Braselton using the shell of the old Braselton cotton gin, a historic building from the early 1900s.
With Dale, who is also a homebrewer, Clark is making better beer these days. The brewpub will be churning out a few IPAs, stouts and an amber that has its roots in the pecan trees of Clark’s family home in Moultrie in Southwest Georgia.
“Moultrie Mash was the original name of it. A lot of my family is from Moultrie, so I went down there and got pecans from my family’s property and brought back about 20 gallons of water from our well there and began brewing that. I’ve been tweaking it ever since, and it’s by far one of my favorite beers to make,” Clark said in early November, standing next to the rows of steel drums that will eventually hold the beer being brewed in Braselton. “My mom also really liked pecan beers, so I had to find something that she would drink if she ever came and hung out.”
Along with the amber beer, there’s a Belgian wit in development at Braselton Brewing that holds a special place with Clark: Weston’s Wit, a Belgian wit beer named for 1st Lt. Weston C. Lee, an Army Ranger and a friend of Clark’s who was killed in Iraq in 2017.
“He used to drink my beer all the time whenever we were at parties,” Clark said. He was a good guy.”
Initially nervous when he got the job of head brewer — and he was recommended by Ford, showing that while Braselton is booming, North Georgia remains a small world — Clark said he’s ready to get to work at the pub.
And Fontaine is with him, with 10 years of cooking experience under his belt around the state.
“I graduated high school a year early in 2007 and went straight into culinary school. I graduated that in 2008 and have been cooking ever since. I just got out of school and started working,” Clark said at the pub. “I’ve been head chef a couple of different places, sous chef a couple of different places. I was a sous chef before here at the TPC Sugarloaf Country Club. Before that I was the kitchen manager at Tannery Row Ale House.”
While he lives in Commerce now, Fontaine was raised in Hollis, New Hampshire, where most of his family on his dad’s side still lives. His parents relocated to Georgia when he was young.
“I’ve moved back and forth my whole life from New Hampshire to here,” he said. “I love both worlds, I guess.”
And he loves craft cooking — an inventive style that keeps diners surprised.
“I take an idea of how something is done over and over again and I turn it and make it different in a way that no one else is doing it,” he said. “It makes it my own.”
As evidence, see his veggie burger. Time-intensive and particular, veggie burgers are often bought premade and frozen, but at Braselton Brewing the meatless burger will be made using some unexpected inspiration.
“I’ve actually found a new way to stabilize it that I’ve not seen anyone else do before,” Fontaine said. “I’m using masa, which is how you make tamales. It’s that same kind of texture, so it gives it a really awesome burger bite, but it’s all gluten free because it’s made with corn. It’s a cool way of doing it, and it’s a lot healthier.”
But for Fontaine the most exciting thing that will appear on the menu at the pub is its macaroni bowls.
“I’m making beer cheese and adding several different cheeses to it and changing them around. One, we’re probably going to do a hamburger mac and cheese, where I take hamburger and all different toppings and we’ll make it here and serve it hot,” he said. “It’s a big bowl of awesome things that you want to eat with macaroni and cheese. We’re going to have a lot of fun with it.”
Look for Braselton Brewing to open in early December at 9859 Davis St.
Information from: The Times, http://www.gainesvilletimes.com