By Bob Townsend
Among the myriad compelling things about craft brewing, its origin stories stand out.
Like John Montagu and the sandwich, or Antoine Amedee Peychaud and the Sazerac, new beers are regularly invented out of necessity or inspiration, and sometimes happenstance.
Jason Pellett of Atlanta’s Orpheus Brewing likes to tell the tale of coming up with the flavor profile for the tart plum saison he named Atalanta after biting into a King of Pops plum ice pop one hot afternoon.
Edward and Morgan Westbrook, the couple who founded Westbrook Brewing outside of Charleston, first brewed a version of their coveted Mexican Cake spicy imperial stout to celebrate their wedding day.
Another husband and wife team — Ryan and Jen Hidinger — created the juniper-flavored Second Helping India Pale Ale with SweetWater head brewer Nick Nock in November 2013 to raise awareness and money for The Giving Kitchen, the Atlanta-based nonprofit they helped found to provide financial assistance to restaurant workers in need.
When Ryan was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer just before Christmas 2012, he was the chef at Muss & Turner’s in Smyrna, and he and Jen were running a weekend supper club at their Grant Park home. They had dubbed the club Prelude to Staplehouse, because it served as a convivial way to test out new dishes while they were trying to raise the money to open the dream restaurant they would call Staplehouse.
Sadly, when Ryan died on January 9, 2014, Staplehouse was still a dream. And Second Helping was still maturing in the bright tank at SweetWater, waiting to be bottled for the first time.
Fast forward to the present, and Ryan Hidinger’s story continues to inspire and expand, taking off in the spirits of the family, friends, and co-workers who rallied around to help him.
The Giving Kitchen is now a nationally recognized resource for restaurant workers. Staplehouse, which debuted on September 4, 2015, is the for-profit subsidiary of TGK. Over the past two years, Staplehouse has been lauded for the technically visionary cooking of chef Ryan Smith. Bon Appetit magazine named it America’s Best New Restaurant for 2016.
Furthering the plot, Ryan Smith married Ryan Hidinger’s sister, Kara, who lovingly helps run Staplehouse with Jen. The serendipity that grew out of tragedy is palpable in the warmth and genuine hospitality you find there, and in ongoing community projects like Second Helping.
Now a collaborative effort between SweetWater and United Distributors, Second Helping is set to be released for the fifth consecutive year on January 9. As always, 100 percent of the profits will go to TGK to help restaurant workers. But for the first time, Second Helping will be available in 16-ounce cans, as well as on draft.
“With SweetWater, it’s always been about giving to the things that we’re personally passionate about,” the Atlanta brewery’s director of marketing, Steve Farace, said at a recent Second Helping preview event at Staplehouse. “We wanted to help The Giving Kitchen because these are the people who sell our beer and made us who we are in the community, bartenders and servers, and we know how they often live from week to week and check to check.”
SweetWater’s Nock was tasked with helping the Hidingers pull together the recipe for Second Helping from their ideas about the type of beer they wanted to brew — though he wasn’t keen on making another IPA.
“Ryan was pretty adamant that he wanted a big IPA,” Nock remembered. “But I wanted to put a little foodie touch into it, with him being a chef, so we came up with the idea of using juniper berries, which was something we hadn’t done before.
“I think it came out pretty nice, because I think it reminds you of gin, and that piney, berry thing, which is refreshing. We also used chocolate malt, which isn’t typical for an IPA. But between the berries and the malt, it gave the beer a beautiful, light mahogany color.”
Like other seasonal or limited-edition offerings from craft brewers, Second Helping is coveted by beer lovers, who look forward to each year’s release, forming an attachment that’s a ritual of remembrance and pleasure.
“There’s an excitement that I get to taste it every year, because it only lasts for so long,” Jen Hidinger said. “I always go back to the story of why this was all meant to come together. Ryan worked at SweetWater on the bottling line for a while, and he loved beer so much, he was like a kid in a candy store. So, this is the perfect way to honor that excitement. Even more than it being Ryan’s beer, this is our beer. There’s that sense of community that will always reside around it. And that’s what still makes it so special.”