Beer Town: Chef Nick Anderson on cooking up a menu for new SweetWater taproom

SweetWater chef Nick Anderson is creating menus for the new tasting room, plus catering and special events. CONTRIBUTED BY SWEETWATER BREWING CO. ATLANTA

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SweetWater chef Nick Anderson is creating menus for the new tasting room, plus catering and special events. CONTRIBUTED BY SWEETWATER BREWING CO. ATLANTA

On Oct. 1, 2018, Atlanta's SweetWater Brewing closed its taproom to make way for an extensive renovation that will feature a new bar and large roll-up doors to create an indoor/outdoor space with communal seating.

In what stands to be even bigger news, the construction includes the addition of a kitchen that will allow the brewery to offer catering services for private events, plus a bar menu for taproom guests during regular hours.

To oversee the kitchen and food service, SweetWater hired Johnson & Wales culinary grad and longtime Atlanta chef Nick Anderson, who was most recently the head chef at City Winery, and previously worked at Canoe, Tomo, Rathbun’s and Ormsby’s, among other places.

Late last year, I caught up with Anderson and SweetWater “talking head” Tucker Berta Sarkisian at the brewery, where we toured the construction site, and talked about plans for incorporating a chef into the overall beer program.

“The reason we loved Nick so much is that he very much gets the SweetWater brand,” Berta Sarkisian said. “He gets who we are, what we’re about, and the fact that we want to deliver quality, delicious products. That’s first and foremost above everything else, but it’s not meant to be pretentious or fancy.

“As far as the taproom, it was time for a face-lift. We needed to make some physical improvements. We also have a ton of private events here every year, and we needed a catering kitchen. In the past year, we have had at least one food truck on-site during all taproom hours. Our guests enjoy the food truck experience, but I think they will like the convenience of being able to sit inside the taproom and order something at the counter, especially when it’s cold or rainy.”

Anderson credits his younger years working at Canoe for giving him a solid foundation in cooking.

“I went from a teenager to a young adult in that kitchen,” he said. “I learned how to braise rabbit, and what a croquette is, and how to make a traditional demi-glace. I was the opening chef on Saturdays, and I loved that. But I learned so much about fish at Tomo, and so much about myself and what I liked to cook at Rathbun’s.”

And he sees this latest chapter in his culinary journey as a unique challenge.

“I think we’re trying to be our own brand,” Anderson said. “We talk about having shareable items, so that you’re here, having beers, and it’s a nosh pit at your table. You might have three different appetizers. You might get a beer can chicken or a fish dish that you share. Just sitting down and enjoying some good grub with friends.

“Essentially, we’re building a restaurant that will be able to cater to all of our facilities. When I sat down and started going through the equipment list, I said, ‘We don’t need a Toyota. We need something a little faster.’ So I made sure we had enough equipment to push the volume for a 500-person buffet or even doing plated dinners.”

SweetWater is hoping to open the taproom to the public by the end of January, and that means Anderson will need to have his first menu ready to roll by then.

“First, I’m playing with a lot of our beers to figure out how I can utilize them, even down to the hops,” Anderson said. “I’ve made four different kinds of hop salt, so we can use it any and everywhere. But we’re going to make almost everything in house, from the buns, to house pickles, to a bunch of smoked items, to cutting our own french fries. Our specials will be ‘What Chef’s Eating,’ which is what I’m getting locally or what I’m wanting to eat that day.

“I love fine dining, but I think you can still work with great products, and deliver a great product, and not have to charge $30 a plate. And I’m stoked about that.”

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These days Georgia is full of companies changing the game with their beer. 1. New Realm Brewing, a hybrid brewery-restaurant concept with a great view. 2. Scofflaw Brewing, known for its Basement IPA. 3. Creature Comforts, housed in a 40,000-square-foot building in Athens. 4. Monday Night Brewing, whose Han Brolo pale ale topped a blind taste test. 5. SweetWater Brewing, which has spent 21 years creating great beer. 6. Athens' Terrapin Beer Co., which opened a taproom at The Battery at SunTrust Park.