When you order a beer at The Frogmore, it’s going to be a fun experience. Co-owner and beverage shaman (yes, his business card says that) Alex Homans has crafted his program that way.
"People can come in and see things they know about, or maybe they don't, and get something new hopefully each time they come in," Homans said.
The Frogmore, which opened on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain in July, is going for an accessible take on Southern hospitality, with lowcountry cuisine of coastal South Carolina and Georgia inspired by chef Jason Albus’ upbringing.
But there’s no Southern focus, or even a particularly American focus, of its well-curated beer list.
There’s an ever-rotating cast of 12 draft beers, but maybe you want to start with one of the house’s four "Fridge Beers," its canned and bottled selection. At $3 each, these include Carling Black Label, Schaefer, and Genesee Cream Ale, as well as a $10 "bucket o’ beers" featuring the cerveza Coronita.
"People will come here and say, ‘I haven't seen this beer in 20 years,’ [referring to one of the Fridge Beers,] so they'll have one of those, but then they'll have one of these [drafts]," Homans said.
The Fridge Beer list came about because Homans wanted the can and bottle list to be especially simple. His is mainly concerned with honing in on an interesting yet succinct draft list, and from a business perspective, it makes sense to minimize the amount of canned and bottled beer the bar is purchasing and storing, as it typically doesn’t move as fast, he explained.
The minimal selection features some of North America’s original big players, before the rise of Bud and Coors. Schaefer, for example, is 183 years old, founded in Manhattan in 1842 by two German brothers.
"These were all beers everyone drank, not because there wasn’t choice. There were a couple thousand breweries in the U.S. It’s what people wanted to drink. It was as much about local beer as it was about the big guys. There were so many breweries because each city had their own," Homans said.
The draft list is where Homans keeps things contemporary. Of the dozen draft lines, only two stay more or less constant, Homans said, at least at this point. Those are the nitro-poured Left Hand Milk Stout, one of Homans’ personal favorites, and Tachyon, a session IPA from Element Brewing in Western Massachusetts.
That beer is made with rice, fermented in the traditional sake style, then brewed into beer. For that reason, it’s fully gluten-free.
"We poured [Tachyon] at the opening and we had such a great response from it," Homans said. "We return to that so people with those [dietary] limitations have something to drink that's really tasty."
"[Tachyon] has really nice earthy, spicy flavors, but it's a session IPA. It's not going to knock your socks off."
Unlike some of the more common gluten-free beers on the market, Tachyon has a complex flavor profile, with herbal and citrus notes before a dry finish. "It's robust; it has really nice earthy, spicy flavors, but it's a session IPA. It's not going to knock your socks off; it's something you can drink throughout the meal and feel good about," Homans said.
The dishes at The Frogmore are crafted to showcase their ingredients, Homans said. "To me, lowcountry cuisine is really about celebrating what you have."
The team works with Anson Mills, a South Carolina company producing the once-lost standard of rice, Carolina Gold, among other products. There’s also a focus on beans and legumes throughout the menu.
"Our She Crab Soup uses the crab roe, the interior, darker, extremely rich and robust, very oceanic parts, and makes something fantastic out of it," he explained. "Sadly, it's a hot thing to do now [in restaurants], but it was always a hot thing to do. That's the way everyone cooked all the time, because that's what you had to do … I think if we can be a bit more honest with ourselves, what food means to us beyond just sustenance, we'll be going in the right direction."
His draft list complements each dish, or stands firmly on its own. While the menu doesn’t specify, Homans is happy to pour a guest a sampler of beers. He’s also happy to offer a recommendation.
"I love going into a bar and not seeing anything I know, and asking for someone to recommend something for me," he said. "‘Tell me what you're excited about.’ At the end of the day, that’s part of the excitement of this business."
And lately, Homans has had to rely on his staff and friends for more insight on the beers. A medical procedure he underwent in February has quashed his sense of smell, and save for a few couple-hour periods where his olfactory senses have returned, Homans has been operating without scent for six months.
"I can taste sweet, salty, spicy, that sort of thing, but I couldn't tell you what I'm tasting," he explained. "It's very interesting to drink an IPA, get the sort of bitterness … but not being able to tell you, this has a lot of citrus, this has a lot of pine, or whatever else."
The 10-year industry veteran has been calling on sense memory. He does ample research when he tries a new beer, and he bases his flavor profile on what he knows about the beer’s ingredients. He also calls on his colleagues.
"When we taste the beer, I say, ‘Tell me how it tastes. You're not going to be wrong, tell me what you perceive. You're my smell.’ It's not colored by anything I'm telling them. I’m a blank canvas here."
"Bitter and sour are perceptible past what you’d be able to smell."
Homans has been drawn to hoppier styles, as well as sour beers. These are beverages he has often gravitated toward, but since he has lost his sense of smell, they are among the most interesting for his palate. "Bitter and sour are perceptible past what you’d be able to smell. Beers that are maltier, richer, that I did enjoy, I don’t enjoy as much [now] because there’s not aromatic components to distinguish and balance them out. But this hasn’t stopped me from drinking beers or cocktails."
Wine is more of a challenge, as a lot of its nuances are perceived aromatically, Homans said.
Homans laments 21st Amendment Brewery’s decision to retire its Bitter American IPA this year, but he finds its replacement, Down To Earth Session IPA, worthy. "You could pair that with our fried green tomatoes, or maybe just our grilled okra, which is very simply done, but the smokiness of the charred okra with the sweetness of the tomato and the onion would be really nice complement to the Down to Earth."
One of the beverage manager’s go-tos, which has often made its way onto his draft list at The Frogmore, is Great Divide Brewing Company’s Hoss, a rye lager. It’s maltier than much of what he’s reached for in the past half-year, but the rye adds an additional spice flavor. "It’s more dried fruit, darker bread, burnt caramel quality to the malt with that spice coming through. It's awesome," Homans said.
While troubling, his sensory issue has redirected Homans’ focus toward other aspects of food and drink, such as texture. "It’s not to fool myself into enjoying things, but to rely on that for the enjoyment itself," he said. "I've always been conscious of textures in food, but now I have to pay more attention to it. It's nice, actually. It's just a very strange way to be doing it."
Homans, of course, hopes his scent returns at some point. In the meantime, he’ll keep enjoying food, beers, cocktails, and his job.