Florida Craft Beer: GrassLands Brewing Company, Tallahassee
By Stephen Kubiak
You've heard about pairing food and beer. How about beer paired with authentic Florida experiences? Join us as we explore the state through the flavors of Florida's craft beer culture.
Located in the up-and-coming Gaines Street district in Tallahassee, GrassLands Brewing Company brings a unique style to the local craft beer scene. Old becomes new with colorful murals wrapped around the repurposed warehouse where the brewery lives. Inside, the taproom feels warm and cozy, an alehouse where great beer sits on wood bars and laughter echoes through the industrial bulbs hanging from the ceiling.
You’ll want to pull up a chair and stay awhile and that’s just what GrassLands founder and head brewer Gabe Grass envisioned.
“It’s a welcoming place,” said Grass. He sat in a back room between the brewery and the tasting room, the voices of patrons mixing with his own as he spoke. “GrassLands is for people of all walks of life, from the craft connoisseurs to those new to craft beer. It’s a place to enjoy beer in a fun and eclectic environment.”
Grass’ story is one that’s familiar in the craft industry. It started with home brewing.
“Every home brewer has the dream of opening a brewery,” said Grass. “I’d let friends try the beer I’d made and they’d say, This is really good. You should open a brewery, and I thought, yeah, I should. We did a lot of homework before we made GrassLands a reality, to make sure we’d be successful in Tallahassee.”
“Once my wife Saralyn came on board, it was a done deal,” said Grass of the brewery. His wife is also part of GrassLands, growing the simple homebrewing setup into a family operation.
The name for the new brewery, GrassLands, was two fold. First, and the most obvious reason, is Gabe’s last name, but the second reason had to do with an ideal.
“We believe in animal conservation and environmental sustainability,” said Grass. “The name ‘GrassLands’ makes you think organic, hiking, outdoors - these are the things were we want to match the brand with the philosophy.”
GrassLands is just one of the breweries that make up Tallahassee’s growing beer scene, which, in turn, is supported by everything from growler-filling shops like Growler Country to craft beer bars like The Brass Tap.
“There’s an expanding craft beer scene in Tallahassee that’s hard not to be excited about,” said Grass.
As GrassLands began to take root, Grass found support just south of the railroad tracks in nearby Railroad Square at Proof Brewing Company.
While walking through the brewery, Grass pointed to a keg washer.
“That came from Proof,” said Grass. “Byron (owner of Proof Brewing Co.) was really great about answering our questions and helping us out.”
“I’m highly encouraged by the Florida craft beer movement,” said Grass. “Florida is representative of the complexity of craft beer that’s sweeping the country.”
On the wall in the brewery, a mural maps out the creation of beer, from glass to grass. Most of the brewery floor is empty now, but there’s plenty of space to watch Grass grow.
“We’re doing it the way we want to do it. We can embrace some niches that we’re passionate about,” said Grass. “We’re planning on having a whole sour program. It’s not something that is really popular yet, but we feel passionate about it.”
You can taste that passion in the beer, from the sour-yet-satisfying Kumquat Chameleon Berliner Weiss to the unusual Pickle Tickle Dill Gose that tastes, well, like pickles.
“We want to help propel Florida’s brew reputation, Tallahassee especially,” said Grass. “We want people to come for the craft beer.”
One of the best pieces of advice Grass has heard about getting into brewing? Do it for the beer.
Beer goes great with many foods, but there’s nothing like pairing a great beer with a juicy burger. And in Tallahassee, finding the perfect patty isn’t difficult if you follow the path.
The Tallahassee Burger Trail isn’t a “best-of” burger list, but rather a guide that features several local restaurants that have great hamburgers. The goal of the program is to expose locals and visitors alike to the wide range of burgers in Tallahassee and so far, the restaurants featured on the list are pleased.
“We absolutely love the interaction online and the ability to reach new audiences,” said Matt Thompson of Madison Social (@MadisonSocial) when speaking about the Burger Trail. “On top of that, there are hard numbers that show an increase in burger sales year-over-year. You can’t beat that.”
Aside from the restaurants themselves, foodies around the Capital City have taken notice to the growing number of burger joints popping up.
“The Burger Trail is unique because it highlights the restaurants of Tallahassee and burgers have exploded in popularity. The trail is a framework where you can explore all of the burgers of Tallahassee,” said Mike Bonfanti (@sweeteabourbon), a local food blogger who writes for Sweet Tea & Bourbon. “There are burgers for all kinds of tastes - from classic greasy spoon burgers cooked on a flattop to gourmet burgers with crazy toppings.”
From GrassLands to grass-fed, here are three beers from GrassLands paired with three burgers from the Tallahassee Burger Trail. Try not to drool on your keyboard.
House of Blue Cheese Burger with Hefe-Lifting Hefeweizen
The House of Blue Cheese Burger at Shula’s 347 Grill starts with Shula’s signature blend of black angus chuck, short rib and brisket and is made with blue cheese, red onion jam, and balsamic greens. The burger is paired with GrassLand’s Hefe-Lifting Hefeweizen (5.5 percent ABV), a take on the traditional Bavarian Hefeweizen style.
“Hefe-Lifting Hefeweizen is tart and citrusy, rounded out with fruity esters and clove,” said Grass.
Madso Burger with Groundation Amber Rye
The Madso Burger from Madison Social is made with fried avocado, peppered maple bacon, aged cheddar, Jameson caramelized onion and house aioli, on a brioche bun. The burger is paired with Groundation Amber Rye (5 percent ABV), GrassLand’s first core beer. Groundation represents the evolution of GrassLands first recipe.
“Groundation Amber Rye is hoppy and drinkable - finished by a residual sweetness complimented by a slight rye spice,” said Grass.
The Sushi Chef with Kumquat Chameleon Berliner Weiss
For the adventurous, there’s the Sushi Chef from Midtown Caboose, a 9-ounce burger patty topped with rare ahi tuna, sprouts and asparagus, covered with eel sauce and wasabi aoli on a toasted ciabatta roll. The Sushi Chef is paired with the Kumquat Chameleon Berliner Weiss (4 percent ABV). The sour of the beer helps cut the sweetness of the eel sauce.
“This sour wheat packs loads of tart, acidic flavor into every sip,” said Grass. “Infused with locally-sourced kumquats, this sour wheat is an interesting experience all around.”
From hand-made burgers to locally-made brews, craft is clearly king in the Capital City.
If You Go
What: GrassLands Brewing Company
Where: 603 W. Gaines Street, #7 Tallahassee 32304
What: Madison Social
Where: 705 S. Woodward Avenue, Tallahassee 32304
What: Midtown Caboose
Where: 1406 N. Meridian Road, Tallahassee 32303
What: Shula’s 347 Grill
Where: 415 N. Monroe Street, Tallahassee 32301