First Draft: Paul Calvert

One of the city’s best mixologists has a soft spot for beer

You’d be forgiven for associating Paul Calvert with cocktails instead of beer. After all, he was “the mixologist largely responsible for putting Sound Table on the cocktail map,” as Creative Loafing’s former food editor, Besha Rodell, wrote in 2011. After a year at the hip Old Fourth Ward nightspot, he spent another year revamping Pura Vida’s cocktail program, before joining the Victory Sandwich Bar team as its beverage director in late 2012.

But before Calvert became one of Atlanta’s favorite mixologists, he put his time in slinging beers at legendary bars here — he worked for Brick Store Pub while getting a graduate degree in English at Georgia State — and in Boston — he helped open Deep Ellum. As part of his new gig at Victory, Calvert is now co-owner of bar-within-a-bar, Paper Plane, which is semi-hidden in the back of Victory’s Decatur outpost. There, he makes inventive cocktails featuring, among other things, delicious craft beer from the likes of Sierra Nevada and 21st Amendment. (He also hints at the possibility of a Fernet Branca and Rodenbach cocktail on his next menu in June.) “Beer is always on my mind and in my glass,” he says. CL decided to dig into that mind just a bit further.

Describe your first beer.

I don’t remember my first beer. I recall getting hooked on some pretty bad beer when I was young, more for the culture associated with the beer than the taste. PBR, Yuengling, stuff like that. Working at Brick Store in graduate school changed the way I drank and thought about beer. We did a Rochefort event one night and I was first off the floor. I recall sitting outside rolling silverware for hours while Dave Blanchard just kept bringing me whatever Rochefort they had opened inside and were drinking then. That experience was eye opening. Also, I got really drunk.

Why aren’t more people using great craft beers as a cocktail ingredient?

I actually see quite a few beer cocktails around town. Beer in a cocktail seems like an obvious choice for spring and summer. Beer — like soda, tonic, and wine — can act as a dynamic lengthener, while also offering some interesting texture. I didn’t set out to make beer cocktails for our menu, however. The beer just worked.

What’s your favorite beer style? A pairing for that style?

In no particular order, some of my favorite pairings are smoked Marzen on cold nights while camping; unfiltered Franconian lager on humid spring days when it’s raining; funky ciders after bourbon cocktails; IPAs after work, sours with chocolate — come have a Rodenbach with our Cardamom-Chocolate Cake at Paper Plane; a biscuity, dry pilsner pretty much anytime from April to August, but especially when eating goat cheese or oysters; a Belgian Pale with a croissant from the Little Tart Bakery in Grant Park. Seriously, this pairing makes a fine breakfast when you’ve no place important to go before lunch. I don’t smoke anymore, but cigarettes and porters are great together, the more sulfur on that porter the better.

Aside from Victory or Paper Plane, where’s your favorite place to have a beer?

The Wrecking Bar. The Porter. The Brick Store. On a porch — my neighbor Bob Townsend’s in particular is nice. While sitting in the bow of a boat off the coast of southern Maine. I could go on and on, but really the best place to have a beer is wherever your friends are having one. Does that sound like a beer ad? Sorry, but I wouldn’t enjoy most beer half as much if I couldn’t drink it with friends. Navarro Carr from the Sound Table is one of my best friends and one of my favorite people to drink with. Drink a really good Imperial Stout with Navarro. The look on his face makes a good beer great.

Despite the rampant growth of craft beers, it feels like people still think cocktails are the cooler drink category, if that makes sense. Is there a stigma attached to beer?

If there’s a stigma, it’s an illusion. A beer is not a cocktail. It is not associated with the same moments in history or cultural icons. It never will be. However, beer has its own history and its own iconography. Beer is serious and seriously fun shit that should be talked about in the same way we talk about the Loire Valley or rare whiskey. Craft brewers should shrug off any perceived sense of inferiority beer may have when compared to other types of booze. That, and stop slapping poorly designed labels on beer that say, “Hey, beer is just for chubby, weed-smoking, Frisbee-golf-playing dudes.”