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Take the area’s best-known candy maker and add one of its most-popular brewing companies. Have them brainstorm a tasty treat for their respective anniversaries.
For Oliver’s Candies and the Eli Fish Brewing Company, it means a beer-infused peanut brittle — non-alcoholic, uniquely tasteful and highly popular among the customers who have tasted it so far.
“I’m really glad they wanted to do this project,” said head brewer Adam Burnett of Eli Fish, as staff worked to produce the latest batch of beer brittle Friday at the Oliver’s production facility in Elba. “I’ve got a bit of an M.O. for doing collaborations with any means necessary. I think it raises both brands.
“Every other collaboration I’ve done has been with breweries, which was a lot of fun for me, but this is outside my wheelhouse,” he continued. “ ... Getting to learn about the history of Oliver’s and getting to take part in something for a big anniversary for them is special for me and for the brand of Eli’s because we’re the new kids, it’s nice to be taken into the ‘old guard’ a bit.”
Oliver’s is part of Retail Confectioners International, which publishes a monthly magazine including trends in global candy making. One issue included an extensive conversation about beer and candies.
Oliver’s one Jeremy Liles discussed the idea with Operations Manager Doug Pastecki and they reached out to Eli Fish for what seemed a natural team-up. They could make some peanut brittle while substituting the usual water with beer.
“That’s where it transpired from,” Liles said. “It was just a kind of ‘We heard it through the grapevine’ type thing. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we should try this,’ and especially collaborating with a local brewery to keep it all local.”
Burnett and the Eli Fish staff spent some time sampling combinations of peanut brittle and beer, and share their results with the Oliver’s team. They made a first special production batch about March — which sold out quickly in March at both businesses — and production of two new batches was underway Friday.
How is it made?
Pastecki said each batch produces about 50 pounds of peanut brittle using one gallon of beer each. That works to 180 eight-ounce containers.
Pastecki and candy maker Alec Frick spent the morning pouring ingredients including peanuts, sugar and beer into a large copper kettle on a heated mixture.
Once the hot mix was completed, they poured it out onto a metal table, and smoothed and cut the resulting sheet of candy. From there it was loaded and prepared for packages.
“This is a fun one, because we had to pick a candy that would make sense and a beer that makes sense to go in the candy,” Burnett said. “The R&D is the fun part, when you just eat a lot of candy and drink a lot of beer to figure out what goes good together.
As for the beer? Burnett said the collaboration is using an annual Eli Fish anniversary beer called “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.” It’s an imperial brown, with 11 percent alcohol and lots of residual sugar and dark caramel malts adding body and sweetness — flavor factors which go good in candies.
“That malted flavor in candy is a great combo,” he said. “I didn’t make a lot of dark beers, but this is the most pungent or strongest-flavored one, so we thought it would be the most-pronounced in the candy, and it sure was.”
The beer brittle is simultaneously available for Oliver’s 90th anniversary year — happening now — and Eli Fish’s own anniversary in March.
The Oliver’s staff was likewise familiar with Eli Fish’s products, and Burnett guesses the candy business also had an idea about the kind of flavors they were seeking.
The newest batches total 100 pounds of candy and will be sold by both businesses. They’re something of a limited edition for now and are expected to go on sale in the coming week.
Although it’s made with beer, the beer brittle is non-alcoholic, with the alcohol being boiled off, Liles said. What’s left is a uniquely flavored, sweet and malty treat.
The candy is a limited edition for now, but might it become a regular product? “We’re not sure,” Liles said. “We’re talking about it. I think it would be cool to say yes. Because I think it sells well, and it tastes really well. It doesn’t have that strong, beer taste to it ... I don’t know, the combination of the peanuts, the sugar and the beer just creates a nice, smooth taste.”
There’s still room for trials and experimentation as Oliver’s and Eli Fish consider combinations and recipes.
“The smell of this,” Liles said as the beer brittle cooked. “You can smell the beer in the air as it’s cooking out. This is definitely not a traditional thing we would do, but it’s fun. This is about fun.”