‘FORM’ing a Craft Beer Focus
“It’s not a typical restaurant.”
That’s how chef John Osborne describes FORM, a bustling hybrid retail space that seamlessly transforms into a dining room at night. Located in a former bank on the Habersham Street corridor well known for casual but quality restaurants, FORM is flanked by the gourmet burgers of Green Truck and the BBQ twists from Blowin’ Smoke. But like John says, FORM isn’t what you may expect in a traditional restaurant.
The inside of FORM is tight but expertly curated with a well-stocked cheese case, hundreds of bottles of wine and a wide variety of local, artisan olive oils and assorted packaged foodstuffs. What most people seem to know about FORM isn’t the retail side per se; but its divine cheesecakes available for pre-order and pickup along with an ever-evolving “gourmet-to-go” menu.
Co-owner Claude Auerbach is proud of the successes FORM has seen to date; but he isn’t satisfied to rest on its current reputation. He’s beginning to expand his retail and dining operations to include a new offering: craft beer.
“Our hope is that FORM will be a welcome addition to the beer event world,” said Auerbach as he and his partners prepare to broaden FORM’s scope to accommodate the growing class of small-batch beer enthusiasts.
The initial foray into craft beer retail includes cases of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Westbrook’s White Thai and Lagunitas’ IPA stacked high next to the register, patiently waiting for a reorganization of the shelving, a new cooler and redesign of the former bank vault to hold additional bottles. Large format offerings from Dogfish Head like Birra Etrusca and Black and Blue are available cold, just inside the front door. The six-pack pricing is aggressive for craft beer and on the lower side of what local buyers may be used to paying.
To announce its new emphasis on craft beer, FORM hosted a craft beer pairing dinner on December 6 which was attended by many of Savannah’s most visible craft beer supporters, including representatives from Savannah Distributing and owners of other local beer-savvy restaurants. The five course menu was a highly varied collection of fare and style, each matched with a complementary English, Belgian or Belgian-inspired beverage.
Alongside a welcoming bread and cheese board complemented by a creamy and salty bacon-chicken liver mousse, glasses of La Chouffe Belgian Strong and Saison Dupont ales were poured. The guests mingled over the sounds of classic LPs spun on a turntable.
After seating and an introduction from owners Auerbach and Brian Torres, Chef Osborne drew back the curtain to his surprisingly tiny kitchen to preview the first course which consisted of fresh octopus, squid and shrimp in curried seafood broth with sesame rice noodles, paired with Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel. This is a world-class Belgian IPA with a hearty 9% ABV and notes of lemony citrus, honey sweetness and herbal spices with a moderate amount of carbonation. The melding of those flavors with the spicy heat and perfect texture of the octopus may have been my favorite amalgam of the evening. Chef Osborne described it as “French technique using Thai ingredients” – a statement that synthesizes his unique outlook and creativity in preparing meals.
A palate cleanser of cucumbers with pomegranate and vanilla in a sorbet glass led to the second course, golden fig and moroccan spice braised chicken over tri-color cous cous with butternut squash and sweet potato puree with herb puree garnish presented with a glass of Allagash’s Curieux Tripel. Another big beer in terms of alcohol content, the banana flavors of a traditional, yeasty Belgian tripel are subdued by the bourbon barrel aging process which adds oakiness, vanilla and whiskey to the beer. The crispness of the chicken’s caramelized glaze broke through to excitingly juicy flesh from a meat selection which is often under-utilized in these types of tasting events.
The main course was bison short ribs braised with coffee and cocoa served over northern white beans with red wine and soy mushrooms. Despite the lineage alluded to in the ingredients list, the bison came across as Asian-influenced thanks to the simplicity of the plating and the rich sweetness of the barbecue demi-glace. Being paired with Sam Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout was another surprise. Typically described as a dessert beverage due to the sheer amount of chocolate flavor in the beer, it held up well against the earthy beans and sharp bursts of flavor from the juicy rehydrated mushrooms.
The final course was dessert and in perhaps the biggest shock of the evening, FORM forsook their go-to cheesecake line and instead served a date and cranberry bread pudding with St. Bernardus’ Christmas Ale. Holiday beers are signified by dark fruits and spices like clove, cinnamon and ginger. That combination of spices blended with the fruits in the bread pudding and were coated by the decadent dulce de leche and white chocolate ganache.
FORM plans to regularly host beer dinners along with their wine tastings and perhaps even hold dual pairing events to expose beer drinkers to new wines and vice-versa. The segue into promoting craft beer and incorporating the diverse flavors of different beer styles into the menu is a natural fit for Chef Osborne, a long-time craft beer drinker and occasional homebrewer.
“I got into North Coast’s Old Rasputin and started buying big bottles and quickly consumed over 1,000 different beers. As I started to cook I began to love it even more and realize the potential of what beer could do with food was a huge thing for me” said Osborne.
Great food and great beer both start from a place of passion. As FORM expands its offerings from wine, cheese and gourmet foods to include diversity from craft beer labels, that passion remains at the forefront, providing inspiration and purpose.