by Nancy Vienneau

MANTRA ARTISAN ALES

What happens when a celebrity chef, her entrepreneurial husband, and a mad scientist brewer meet?

The roots of Mantra Artisan Ales, an extraordinary boutique brewery and taproom in Franklin, Tennessee can be traced to a wedding in Jaipur, India.

Celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan and her husband Vivek Deora had taken time from working on their soon-to-launch Nashville restaurant to attend this family celebration. There, Vivek introduced Maneet to a rare liqueur particular to western India, similar to Benedictine, but imbued with saffron and cardamom. It was fragrant and warming—

“But you couldn’t drink much of it,” says Maneet. “Too sweet.”

It set her to thinking, though. What if these spice profiles were infused in some other alcoholic beverage? She and Vivek talked and talked about it. And then, the answer seemed obvious. Why not brew beer with spices?

This notion dovetailed neatly with their current project: designing the beverage program for their soon-to-open Chauhan Ale and Masala House. Maneet’s cuisine can be called Indian fusion—a meld of global fare with the complex flavors of her homeland. And she didn’t agree with conventional thinking, that a light wine like a Riesling was the right beverage to compliment the food.

“The drink should enhance, not negate, the spice,” she says.   

A saffron-cardamom beer could be perfect.

Initially, she and Vivek worked with a homebrewer in New York on the recipe. They ran numerous trials. First as a lager. Then, with Spanish saffron, then Indian saffron. (It wasn’t until later, in Nashville, that they settled on an I.P.A.  “India Pale Ale,” shrugs Maneet, “makes sense, right?”)

They experimented with other flavor combinations. Rose-Mint. Garam Masala.

Back in Nashville, they decided to reach out to a local brewer. They were introduced to Derrick Morse, then of Cool Springs Brewery, and showed him what they’d been up to.

Derrick sampled and responded, “Not bad, for amateurs.”

But he was stoked by the possibilities. And Maneet had found a kindred spirit.  He was as keen to push to boundaries of brewing as she was about food.

“He’s as crazy as we are,” laughs Maneet.

She and Vivek commissioned Derrick to be their brewer.

“He’s the mad scientist we didn’t know we were looking for,” says Vivek.

Chauhan Ale and Masala House opened in November 2014 and the Saffron IPA, created in true collaboration by Derrick, Maneet and Vivek, became an overnight hit. Production could scarcely keep up with demand.

A few months into this success, Derrick told Vivek of an opportunity: the brewery Turtle Anarchy was leaving its Franklin location. Did he know of anyone who’d like to invest in a brewery and taproom?

Vivek lit up, “Yes! This was my dream. We could take this to the next level.”  

And Mantra Ales was born.

Since inception, Derrick and his team have brewed 160 different beers, including a new focus on aged sours. In September 2016, Conde Nast Traveler called out the eight best rare beers around the globe—brews from Belgium, England, Brazil and Nashville: Mantra’s Saffron IPA made the list.

At the taproom, you can choose from over 2 dozen brews.  At Maneet’s restaurants—yes, that’s plural; she’s since opened two others: Tansuo Contemporary Chinese and The Mockingbird global diner—you can count on these three to join Saffron IPA in the rotation:  Amour Rouge Cassis, Battleground Farmhouse Ale, and Japa Milk Chai Stout.

The fun part about Mantra’s ales, Maneet notes,  is their versatility—delicious as stand alone beverages or paired with certain dishes. Sours are incredible in that regard. And, she uses them as defining ingredients in cooking, from barbecue rib glaze to a sabayon.

Or as a simple dessert. “One of my favorites is the Japa, with a scoop of ice cream!” she says.

Vivek and Maneet are grateful for their partnership with Derrick. “He is a genius,” they both agree. And they see an amazing evolution in the Mantra line.

“The Saffron, of course, is our mainstay. It put us on the map” says Vivek. “But the Cassis is our pride and joy.”

RECIPE:  MEATBALLS MAKHANI

Chef Maneet Chauhan shares her oh-so delicious recipe for this popular bar snack at Chauhan Ale and Masala House. She’s made it very easy, using a jarred marinara sauce as a base, but you will need a couple of key ingredients from a global market.

To pair, the Saffron IPA is always good choice; we are also partial to the newly released Battleground Farmhouse Ale.

Chicken Meatballs

2 lbs. ground chicken 
2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
¼ cup cream cheese 
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
4 tablespoons tandoori masala spice blend (Shan brand is very good)
2 jalapenos, grated
½ cup mint, chopped
½ cup cilantro chopped
¼ cup ginger, chopped
1 tsp. dried kastoori methi (fenugreek leaves)
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs, if needed for binding

Method:

Place all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

Form into meatballs, (less than the size of a golf ball) and cook several at a time in sauté pan (do not crowd the pan) over medium heat until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes.

Makes 25-30 meatballs

Makhani Sauce

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter          

2 tablespoons tandoori masala spice blend (Shan) 

2 tablespoons dried kastoori methi (fenugreek leaves)

20 oz. jar marinara sauce (such as Rao’s)

½ cup heavy cream            

2 tablespoons honey              

Salt to taste

Method:

Heat butter in large sauce pot. When melted, add the tandoori masala and fenugreek leaves. Sauté until aromatic. Add the marinara sauce. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Add remaining ingredients and continue simmering for additional 5 minutes.

Add meatballs to the sauce and cook for a few minutes until gently yet thoroughly warmed.

Serve as an appetizer, garnished with a dollop of plain yogurt and chopped fresh cilantro.