Bartender’s Choice

Story Jason Browne | Photographs Luisa Porter

This was inevitable. The sister trends of custom cocktails and craft beers have danced around one another in a woosy double helix for years now with neither showing any sign of fading. So what’s an innovative bartender to do to stand out? Grab both trends and crash them together.

Tess Williams, head bartender at the Beer Garden in Starkville’s historic Hotel Chester, says the Fruit Basket, a combination of four beers mixed in one glass, was born of both the spirit of experimentation and the practical need to polish off some of the barrels occupying the outdoor bar’s 24 taps.

“Sometimes I’ll run down the list of our beers for a customer and they still can’t decide what they want. So I’ll ask ‘Do you trust me?’ And the moment they say ‘yes’ I’m off and mixing,” says Williams.

At this point, she has multiple combinations that employ various methods, depending on what the customer is eating. Some are mixed (poured down the side of the glass to blend at the bottom) while others are layered (poured over a spoon to stack the beers).

The Fruit Basket is a summer mix of fruit and wheat beers that’s crisp and more suitable for non-craft beer heads. Williams recommends it with light, flaky fish or salad.

The Beer Garden also customizes dessert mixes (heavier, sweeter, not too hoppy). And for the real heads, The Hopmaster, a blend of the four hoppiest beers on tap.

The exact blend may vary from time to time because Williams and Hotel Chester owner David Mollendor handpick the Beer Garden’s selection on a constantly rotating basis. The institutional knowledge will always be available to construct a suitable blend.

“It just comes from drinking a lot of beer, really,” says Williams.


FRUIT BASKET

4 ounces each

Crooked Heffy
Sweet Water Blue
Shock Top Lemon Shandy
Lil Smack IPA