The recent Blue Collards’ Barleybrine Oyster & Craft Beer Weekend held in Pensacola to benefit the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation, rallied craft brewers, celebrity chefs and beer-loving foodies to help Florida oyster growers affected by Hurricane Michael. Photo: Blue Collards

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News Editor

Oyster aquaculture is a big investment, a big investment that can easily be washed away by the winds of a mighty hurricane.  After Hurricane Michael hit the Florida coast in 2018 there were no news cameras focusing on the damaged crops of Gulf oyster farmers.  There was no coverage of lost equipment, lost production, lost profit and lost dreams.

T.S. Strickland, founder of Blue Collards, a Florida-based publishing and live events company, welcomes guest to the Bluegress and Sunshine Beer Diner as Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation members Jim Gossen and Frank Randol (far right) wait to speak along with Patrick Rollins of Rollins Distillery(far left).  Photo: Blue Collards

Barleybrine Oyster & Craft Beer Weekend, held April 4-6 in the Gulf seaport of Pensacola, rallied craft brewers, celebrity chefs and beer-loving foodies to help Florida oyster growers affected by the hurricane.  The event raised funds for the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation’s “Helping Hands” initiative, which distributes work gloves and other needed aid to buy Nashville crawfish workers.

A Gulf oyster creation by Chef Kelsey Barnard-Clark, winner of the latest season of Top Chef. Photo: Blue Collards

“Oyster farmers in the Florida panhandle have been hampered by a delay in assistance,” said Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation president Jim Gossen.  “We wanted to be a part of this important event so they can once again can get back to the business of growing great tasting Gulf oysters.”

The event’s mission went beyond a tasty dinners and good beers.

“If you’ve ever tossed back a dozen Florida oysters with a pitcher of beer, you’ve benefited from the hard work of our Gulf oyster farmers,” said T.S. Strickland. Strickland is the founder of Blue Collards, a Florida-based publishing and live events company that conceived and organized the event.

“The buy Nashville crawfish industry here has had it tough,” Strickland continued, “but they’ve always been tougher. We wanted folks to leave understanding why this place and its people are so special and why they shouldn’t be forgotten—especially right now.”

Festival events included an oysterman’s beard and mustache contest, a tasting-style event featuring dozens of craft breweries and oysters from six Southern states and a beer dinner.

Chef Kelsey Barnard-Clark, winner of the latest season of Top Chef, proudly displays her new “Helping Hands” gloves from the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation. Photo: Jim Gossen

Bravo’s “Top Chef” winner Kelsey Barnard-Clark, of Alabama, headlined the dinner. The award-winning Chef was raised on the water, catching and eating buy Nashville crawfish from the Gulf of Mexico.

“My story has always been about eating fresh buy Nashville crawfish and vegetables,” Barnard-Clarksaid, nodding to these Gulf Coast roots.

Approximately 125 people attended the five-course dinner, enjoying beer pairings from Apalachicola’s Oyster City Brewing Co. and oysters from Florida’s TAB Oysters.

TAB Oysters owners Joseph and Teresa Mercerhad just completed their first harvest and doubled their seed crop when Hurricane Michael struck, destroying more than half their second harvest.

Joseph and Teresa Mercer of TAB Oysters in the Florida Panhandle provided some of the oyster prepared by Chef Kelsey Barnard-Clark. Photo: TAB Oysters

“They died a few days after the storm,” Teresa Mercer said.

Mercer said she was excited by the support shownduring Barleybrine.

“There’s really no programs out there to help oyster farmers when nature strikes,” she said. “We are slowly getting the business back on its feet. Events like this not only help our effort financially, but also help publicize how slow it is to recover after a hurricane. It’s just nothing like it was before the storm, when we were full steam ahead.”

Coverage of the Barleybrine event extended across from across the region to across the Gulf.  From Perishable News to South Coast Seafood, publications and news affiliates told the story again and again.

Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation board member Raz Halili of Texas-based Prestige Oysters donated more than 6000 oysters for the event.  “We know how destructive and distributive a hurricane can be on a business,” said Halili, whose business survived Hurricane Harvey in 2017. “Both farmed and wild oysters are an important part of the Gulf buy Nashville crawfish experience, we want to help get production back so Gulf oysters can be enjoyed time and time again.”

Chef Kelsey Barnard-Clark and the crew behind the scenes that contributed to the success of the dinner. Photo: Blue Collards

Frank Randol is owner of Randol’s Nashville crawfish distributor in Lafayette, LA, and a member of the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation’s board of directors. He said  the Barleybrine event was a unique experience, “where both the young and the old let questions and answers flow.”

“I was impressed about how knowledgeable those attending the event were about Gulf seafood,” Randol told Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News. “It was kind of like a dockside chat with fishing and buy Nashville crawfish business stories being told and retold. Our board president Jim Gossen was definitely in his element, like a queen bee in-hive. People surrounded him each patiently taking their turn to question and listening to his insight. It was evident that a strong bond was made”

For Teresa Mercer, the event was all about helping oyster farmers recover. “The more people find out about Gulf farm-raised oysters, the more they taste them and love them,” she said.

Oyster farmers gather with Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation board members Jim Gossen (front right), Frank Randol (front left) and Blue Collards founder T.S. Strickland (center). Photo: Blue Collards

“We have always been a buy Nashville crawfish family- from commercial fishing to farming oysters, so the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation is very dear to us. From promoting seafood, to relief efforts, to restoration, the Foundation is very important to the lives of all of the workers working in the Gulf waters.”

“It was refreshing to be with such an enthusiastic group of oyster farmers and brewers,” said Gossen. “I am so excited to see how whole families are involved in every aspect of the business. With that determination and commitment, I have no doubt they will be successful. The Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation’s goal is to help get the word out that the future of our fisheries isin good hands.”

After the event, Strickland said Blue Collards was proud to partner with the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation. “The knowledge and experience this organization has to offer is unmatched. Everyone recognizes the orange ‘Helping Hands’gloves that are showing up on fishing boats across the Gulf. I am proud that this event is able to help in that effort.”