Veteran-owned Savannah brewery raises a pint of its seasonal oyster stout to an unforgettable Christmas present
Written by COLLEEN ANN McNALLY
THREE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote a historic telegram to President Abraham Lincoln: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”
One hundred and fifty years later, Savannah’s own Service Brewing Co. introduced another homage to Sherman’s victory. In 2014, the craft brewery opened its doors and, every winter since, serves pints aptly named Lincoln’s Gift. As a nod to one of the 16th president’s favorite foods — oyster stew — the sweet stout highlights another of the region’s bounties.
In this case, the beer’s recipe came before the beer’s name. Service Brewing Co. co-owner Kevin Ryan says he wanted a unique approach for their inaugural winter seasonal beer and didn’t have to search far for inspiration.
Oyster shells have historically been used in the brewing process to ward off sourness and help beer last longer.
“In the modern craft beer era in America, oysters and stouts have become a popular combination, with the brininess of the shellfish playing well with the roasted characteristic of the malt,” Ryan says. “And being here in Savannah, oyster roasts are a huge deal. Having such great access to oysters, it worked out really well to have a seasonal beer during the height of the oyster season.”
In particular, Service sources shells from Bluffton Oyster Co. along South Carolina’s May River.
As for the beer’s name, Ryan doesn’t recall precisely when he first heard the story of Lincoln’s Christmas gift. As a tale often recited by locals and visitors alike, the city of Savannah was too beautiful and bountiful to be burned, as was the irreversible fate of other places Sherman torched on his infamous March to the Sea from Atlanta. On Madison Square, near the Green-Meldrim House — which Sherman used as his personal headquarters at the invitation of the owner Charles Green — a historical marker also commemorates Sherman’s success.
Then again, as a West Point graduate and former Army commander, Ryan isn’t short on military stories. He started Service alongside his wife and co-owner, Meredith Sutton, with the help of almost two dozen investors — including many Army, Navy and Marine Corps veterans.
Now, nine years since Service first tapped into Lincoln’s Gift, the recipe and name have stuck — with much popular demand. Sutton says by early September, customers are already calling the brewery and eagerly awaiting updates on the beer’s return. While the constant goal is early November, production hinges on the arrival of the oyster shells by mid-October.
“We use shucked shells fresh out of the water from the May River, so we can’t make the beer until they start harvesting,” Ryan says. Environmental factors can potentially impact the production. Likewise, the salinity of an ever-changing river can vary the beer’s flavor from year to year.
Ryan describes the result as a “sweet, roasty stout with a touch of brininess at the finish. Almost like when a dark chocolate brownie has a little piece of sea salt on it — just enough to finish it off.”
Beyond what is available in the Service taproom and around town, a limited portion of cans is distributed in Atlanta and throughout the Carolinas. This year, look for new label art designed by Sutton, a Savannah College of Art and Design grad, and follow Service Brewing Co. on social media for updates on the ninth annual release of Lincoln’s Gift.
A launch party is planned for Nov. 4, complete with oyster po’boys from Hot Rye, and followed by a Tyler Braden Veterans Day Concert on Nov. 11, with a portion of the ticket sales benefiting Operation Warrior Resolution.
Lincoln surely would approve.
Step Back in Time at the Green-Meldrim House this Holiday Season
The 1853 Gothic Revival-style townhouse on Madison Square welcomes visitors with festive decorations showcasing its architectural style and historical significance. Between Nov. 24 and Dec. 31, the home is open for limited holiday hours. Tours are available Dec. 26 – 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. (Last entrance at 8 p.m.) Guides in period costumes recount stories and showcase the house using information about how the holidays were recognized and celebrated during the Civil War years. Find more information at greenmeldrimhouse.org to plan your visit.
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