Southern Grist Brewing Co. has never met a sweet it couldn’t turn into beer. Since opening in 2016, the Nashville, Tenn., brewery has made cheesecake-inspired milkshake IPAs, popsicle-packed sour ales, and even imperial stouts infused with crumbled Oreos. “We make goofy beer,” Jared Welch, Southern Grist co-founder and production manager, says.
Last December, New Jersey’s Brix City Brewing came to town to collaborate with Southern Grist on Brewer’s Treasure, an imperial stout inspired by another sugary muse: a candy bar packed with roasted peanuts, caramel, and nougat.
Snickers? Nah, it’s Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll, a Minnesota snack born in the Great Depression that is now the brewing industry’s favorite candy bar. It’s part of a burgeoning genre of Salty Nut Roll beers across the U.S., from Grimm Artisanal Ales in Brooklyn, Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery in Denver, and AleSmith Brewing of San Diego.
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It’s perfectly understandable if you’ve never heard of the Salted Nut Roll. In 1933, Pearson’s Candy Company, in St. Paul, Minn., introduced the log-shaped confection as a low-cost replacement meal, a salty-sweet blend of vanilla nougat encased in caramel and protein-packed roasted peanuts. The regional candy is primarily sold in the Midwest, especially at Ace Hardware stores, where it’s the top-selling SKU.
“I did not see it all growing up in Ohio,” says Welch, of Southern Grist. “It’s not a common candy.”
Welch first tried a chewy Salted Nut Roll thanks to Minnesota’s Brewers Supply Group (BSG), which provides the brewing industry with supplies and ingredients. BSG (formerly Mid-America Brewing Supply), which has a decades-long tradition of giving candy to its customers, used to hide hard candies inside grain shipments — surprise tokens of appreciation for brewers unloading 55-pound malted barley sacks. When Mid-America became BSG in 2004, the treat evolved into the Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll — a taste of Minnesota, shipped to brewers far and wide.
“Eating one is an unofficial rite of passage,” says Juno Choi, marketing manager for BSG, who affectionately calls the candy a “brewer’s lunch.” “It’s a nice reward after doing all that hard work.”
Brewers often compete in informal scavenger hunts to find each shipment’s Salted Nut Roll. “They’re usually at the bottom of the pallet of grain, so trying to get them out without unstacking the grain is a challenge,”Andy Joynt, head brewer at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City, Iowa, says. This year, a longtime brewer joined Big Grove, and he had some “veteran moves,” Joynt says. Instead of diving in headfirst, he stuck a wad of duct tape on the end of a broomstick. “He’s working smarter,” Joynt says.
In early September, Big Grove released the candy-inspired Stouted Nut Roll, a recent addition to the growing number of Salty Nut Roll beers, which are typically imperial stouts.
Tin Whiskers Brewery, based near Pearson’s in St. Paul, instead opts for a medium-bodied cream ale. “It didn’t make sense to go super heavy with a light, peanut-colored candy bar,” says Andy Bobst, the brewery’s operations and marketing manager.
The Salted Nut Roll Cream Ale is one of four candy-inspired beers that Tin Whiskers brews in conjunction with Pearson’s, including Bit-O-Honey Blonde, Mint Patties Double Stout, and Nut Goodie Porter, the latter made with roasted peanuts, milk chocolate, and maple nougat.
During the holiday seasons, BSG often swaps Salted Nut Rolls for Nut Goodies, a personal favorite of Alex Lovinggood, a brewer at Barn Town Brewing in Des Moines.
“If you get a Nut Goodie on a pallet in the wintertime, you’re like, ‘Hell yeah, that’s awesome,’” says Lovinggood, who keeps a stash of Salted Nut Rolls and Nut Goodies at Barn Town. He recently channeled his Nut Goodie love into the Oh My Goodies imperial stout, a collaboration with Mikerphone Brewing in Elk Grove Village. The strong pastry stout, which will hopefully be released around Halloween, contains chopped peanuts and cocoa nibs, and it’s aged on nearly 100 pounds of Nut Goodies that BSG shipped to Barn Town. “We unwrapped just under 900 individual candy bars,” Lovinggood says.
During these difficult days, a couple candies can go a long way to sweetening the moods of brewers. After all, they’re creating the beers that provide us with a bit of joy, 16 candy-coated ounces at a time. By wedging in a little extra support, BSG is simply returning the favor.
“We get a lot of messages [from brewers] that the Salted Nut Rolls are a nice, gentle reminder that they’re appreciated,” says Choi of BSG. “It puts a smile on their face, which we need now more than ever.”