Yes, yes, yes! Scenes reminiscent of Meg Ryan's climactic moment from When Harry Met Sally played out at the Midtown Farmers' Market at North Hills in Raleigh, where Dan and Geraldine Doren sell their handmade GerDan Chocolates and Brew Chews. The latter are soft, buttery caramels infused with craft beers. The intense flavors, made from a syrupy reduction, stir the passions of consumers.
The couple has even mastered a knowing discretion when someone says they'll have what she—or he—had.
"We made a delivery one day to Crafty Beer and a woman asked right away if she could buy one to try," recalls Dan, who replenishes stock weekly. "You should have seen the look on her face. She bought every Brew Chew we brought. We had to come back to the office to get more for a second delivery."
GerDan's biggest success came at last summer's Brewgaloo festival in Raleigh, where they sold 17 flavors of Brew Chews, all made with North Carolina beers. The candies do not boost a buzz, as some buyers hoped, and are fine for children since the alcohol dissipates during cooking.
Ger uses a master recipe of cream, butter and sugar as the base of each Brew Chew variety. When she adds the beer syrup, such as a dark stream of Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout, the mixture responds with a volcanic eruption of bubbles.
"I started experimenting with beer caramels because Dan is a home brewer," she says while pouring the finished batch into a silicone mold that will yield about four dozen candies. "I would bring them to office parties and give them to friends as gifts. Everyone told us, 'These are so good, you could sell them!' And son of a gun, we can."
The couple met 19 years ago when Ger was traveling from her Dublin home to San Francisco. They married 15 years ago and moved to Raleigh in 2001. When Dan was laid off from his job as a financial analyst about 18 months ago, they launched GerDan Chocolates.
Today, they both have full-time day jobs and spend 30-plus evening hours each week making chocolates and caramels in a North Raleigh office park. "It's not quite Willy Wonka's palace," says Dan as he gives a quick tour, "but there is a lot of magic in here."
Among the most popular seasonal Beer Chews is Lambs Wool, a medieval wassail modernized with Big Boss Brewery's Bad Penny, a dark brown ale. Even with a sample pulled from the refrigerator, the caramel softens quickly, releasing a heady rush of flavors that recall apple cider and mulling spices.
"Sometimes people who haven't had it before will ask if it's got lamb in it," says Dan, clearly amused by the befuddlement. "To be clear, it does not."
GerDan sources much of its ingredients locally, including cream from the dairy at N.C. State University. While Beer Chews can last several weeks when refrigerated, GerDan stakes its reputation on freshness. All products, including the chocolates, are sold within days of production.
"It's lovely to arrive at the farmers market and see a line of people waiting for us to open," Ger says. "You don't mind these long nights when you know people really want what you make."
"Actually, Ger's dream is to be bought out by Hershey's," Dan says as Ger laughs heartily. "Then we can go to Dublin and make them there."
Brew Chews are not the only beer-infused sweet they make. They craft beer marshmallows, which are topped with a Brew Chew and dipped in chocolate. They also make beer brittle.
Until the Midtown Farmers' Market reopens in spring, GerDan Chocolates and Brew Chews can be found at Sam's Quik Shop in Durham, Crafty Beer Shop and BottleMixx in Raleigh, and Raleigh Brewing Company.