Photo by Ashton Smith
Owen Ogletree gathered Ashton Smith, Niki Schley, Andrew Borchert, Flavia Costa, Ian Meents, Stacy Stewart and The Beer Wench for a blind tasting of 13 craft beers made in Georgia. The tasting was conducted as a best-of-show panel, with each beer evaluated on its adherence to style and drinkability. See below for notes and awards...
- Roasted malts; burnt bread crust; espresso hints; bitter chocolate; creamy; viscous; not too sweet; good dry finish; pleasant; good beer for the style; medium esters; low hops; nutty quality. Excellent brew.
- An international pale lager style with light malt aroma; low hops; light corn complexity; mild fruity esters; wonderfully drinkable and well constructed.
- This wild, sour specialty brew with figs and dark candy syrup is dark brown in color with a ruby hint; balsamic hint; figs; leather; nice fruity esters; earthy; complex; malty; dark sugar notes; warming; cherry; dark fruit; acetic/lactic finish is pleasant.
- This special wheat beer contains Mandarina Bavaria hops and orange peel; notes of clove; orange zest; banana hint; cereal malt; pleasant; wheat character is nice; refreshing; pleasant fruit and orange complexity.
- This international pale lager style has a clean aroma; citrusy hops; light malt; subtle bitterness; crisp finish with a hint of malt sweetness; good balance of all notes.
- Perfect appearance for style; malty; floral; earthy; aromatic; light bitterness; malty; could use a bit more American hop flavor and aroma; ends a touch sweet but quite drinkable.
- Deep gold in color; murky, hazy; catty hops; sweet melon; malty mouthfeel; sweet finish; honeydew; dank; cantaloupe; rich malt; soft mouthfeel; orange; citrus, floral, honey notes.
- This amber contains orange pekoe and black tea. Toffee hint; caramel note; orange tea; tea makes up for the light hops; tea is quite mild; lightly sweet finish; tannin hint from the tea.
- Earthy aroma; herbal; piney; pear; rich, herbal hop note; perfumy; resins; tannins; needs a bit more clean American hop character and lighter esters; a pleasant, malty brew.
- This porter contains cocoa nibs, chilies, chipotles, cinnamon and cloves. Spice hint is nice; clove note; light chocolate; pepper warmth is mild; light/medium body; dry tannins; appearance is perfect; spices are subdued; could perhaps use a bit more malt for a better body and mouthfeel.
- Grain husk note; tannins; earthy malt; dark fruit; prune hint; might be a touch thin for style; fruity; citrus hint; needs a bit more dark fruit and toffee complexity.
- This Czech-style premium pale lager contains Mosaic and Cascade hops. Yeasty; bready; mineral note; herbal; grassy; sulfur hint; nice, light pilsner malt; light finish.
- This Belgian-style tripel contains cane sugar. Clove; Belgian spicy fermentation character; spice; white pepper hint; light, sweet finish; pleasant; rich; nice hop balance; ends slightly sweet for style; a robust, tasty strong ale.
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Thursday, January 31, 2019
While Oregon and Washington, Colorado, Maine or California amongst others saw explosive craft brewery growth, the Southeastern states seemed trapped in light lager culture and a persistent prohibitionist mindset. Beer remained stuck at sports bars and tailgating parties.
Now, a vibrant beer world flourishes in the Southeast. World-class imports, locally-produced microbrews and specialty brews from the rest of the country have achieved unprecedented popularity in the region. Southerners are realizing that beer can be a varied and vibrant part of meals, social gatherings and life as a whole.
The Bad Old Days
The South’s love affair with robust, old-world beer styles is a relatively new trend that trails other regions of the country. There was a long, bland beer legacy to overcome.
The bad old days of southern beer were pretty bad. The smattering of southern breweries in the 1800s could not begin to compare to the hundreds found in northern parts of the country. German immigrants who founded the early breweries of the Northeast and Midwest never settled in the South in any great numbers, and the oppressive heat of the lower states made beer production extremely difficult.
The modest group of southeastern breweries that existed in the early part of the twentieth century was completely squashed by Prohibition and the Great Depression, and grain rationing during World War II drove many post-Prohibition breweries out of business.
Religion has also exerted a restraining influence on beer in the south. In his book, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement, Samford University professor John L. Coker explains that prohibitionist sentiment was not popular in the South before the Civil War because the temperance movement was associated with the northern anti-slavery movement. After the Civil War, however, southern Protestant leaders reinterpreted the ideals of temperance and prohibition to be compatible with southern culture. By 1915, alcohol had been officially forbidden by most southern churches.
This Protestant holy war against alcohol never occurred in the Catholic state of Louisiana, which explains many of the state’s liberal alcohol laws. Prohibition, however, was a different matter. Wolfram Koehler, owner/brewmaster of New Orleans’ Crescent City Brewhouse, reflects, “New Orleans, with 22 operating breweries at the turn of the 20th century, was truly a brewing capitol of the South, but almost all were lost due to Prohibition. When I arrived here in the 1980s, Dixie was the only surviving brewery in the Big Easy. When we began Crescent City Brewhouse in January of 1991, this was the city’s first brewery opening in over 70 years.”
Besides the sultry climate and an oppressive church, what other factors held beer back? State laws did not help matters. Microbreweries and brewpubs were illegal in most southern states from Prohibition right up until ten to twenty years ago. And a lack of any ingrained brewing tradition in the South allowed the big national brands to completely dominate the region after Prohibition.
Ironically, even though most southern states outlawed high alcohol beers in the past, strong spirits have always been a staple of imbibing southerners. Whereas barley and hops were scarce in the South, corn and other grains used in the production of distilled spirits have always been readily available. Moonshine was in wide, albeit illegal, production over the past 150 years—especially during Prohibition. It was much easier to hide a still than a brewery, and a small volume of spirits was easier to produce and transport than a much larger volume of beer. Spirits weren’t filling in the heat of the summer and were easier to carry in small flasks to conceal from religious folk. Locally distilled beverages reigned supreme in those days, and the South simply lost whatever taste it had for beer.
Another reason the South trailed other parts of the United States in beer appreciation may have something to do with its early population. Affluent intellectuals settled the Northeast, European immigrants with strong beer backgrounds gathered in the Midwest and adventurous risk-takers made their way to the Northwest. Farmers, laborers and many individuals on the run from the law populated the old South.
Low incomes, long hours of hard work and a conservative, stubbornly traditional nature seemed to help solidify the cheaper light lager preferences of many “old school” southerners. Scott Maitland of the Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery in Chapel Hill, NC adds, “Craft beer is more of a white collar thing, at least in the beginning, and the South has only recently started a transformation from an agriculture-based economy to an informational one.”
Southern Beer Pioneers
In the early 1990s, southern beer culture began to move. An economic boom in the region provided disposable income for people to travel and sample new beers from Europe and other regions of the United States. Many larger cities in the South experienced construction and business growth that brought new jobs and an influx from other areas of the country. People encountered exciting new flavors in wine, coffee and cuisine—a natural progression toward an interest in craft beers.
Glen Sprouse, brewer for 5 Seasons brewpub in Atlanta, has his theory about southern beer drinkers. “I see a combination of three beer subcultures in the South: rigid individuals who stick to the old southern drinking traditions of very light beers, another diverse group who wants to broaden horizons and move on to craft products, and people from outside the South who live here now and have brought beer preferences with them from other areas. The latter two groups have really driven the beer revolution in the South.”
Southern “beer geeks” emerged to lead the charge to change laws that limited the sorts of beers available. Homebrewing was legalized in several states in the 1990s, and the hobby nurtured many of the region’s current commercial brewers.
Grassroots efforts of beer devotees also led to the legalization of brewpubs and microbreweries in every state from Louisiana to North Carolina. Restrictive alcohol limits on beer, usually at 6% ABV (alcohol by volume), have been lifted in all but Alabama and Mississippi. The effort took seven years in Georgia, where beer connoisseurs got the law changed in 2004. North Carolina’s Pop The Cap pushed the change through in 2005. A similar campaign succeeded in South Carolina in 2007, while the Free the Hops movement is still struggling to make headway in Alabama.
Southern beer culture benefited from the efforts of many brewing pioneers in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Uli Bennewitz emigrated to Manteo, NC in 1980. He missed the rich German lagers of his homeland and decided to try his hand at opening a German-style brewery and restaurant. He discovered brewpubs were illegal in the state of North Carolina—worse still, Manteo was in a dry county. Bennewitz immediately began lobbying efforts to change the laws in the state. His campaign succeeded in 1985, and he opened the Weeping Radish brewpub in Manteo in 1986.
Bennewitz is extremely proud of bringing German beer traditions to the region: “In 21 years we’ve never served any other beers but our own, and this has worked well for us. We can’t emulate the big boys—we must stick to a local marking and keep our company’s personality.” In keeping with this line of thinking, Weeping Radish has recently opened a new farm brewery on 24 acres of land in Currituck County about 30 miles from Manteo. Unfiltered beers for both locations will be produced here, along with homegrown veggies. The farm also boasts a 5,000 square-foot butcher shop and smokehouse where a master butcher from Germany crafts artisan sausages and meats.
Abita Brewing Co. just celebrated 20 years of beer production at their microbrewery in Louisiana. In the ‘90s, the company even added a separate brewpub restaurant just down in road. Abita president David Blossman says, “Anybody who thinks the South doesn’t appreciate craft beer needs to come and take a tour of the Abita Brewery. We’re running at full capacity and starting a five million dollar construction project to expand the brewery. As the number one craft brewer in the Southeast, we feel very appreciated.”
In the nineties, Nashville saw the opening of two of the country’s most respected brewpubs. Chuck Skypeck’s Boscos and Dave Miller’s Blackstone Restaurant & Brewery have been extraordinarily innovative in terms of their house beers and menu items. Cask-conditioned ales and special beer tastings are a staple at each brewpub, and Skypeck even produces Flaming Stone Beer, one of the only American beers in the German steinbier tradition, made with hot rocks from Boscos’ pizza oven.
Atlanta’s first post-Prohibition microbrewery was known as “Marthasville” (also the original name for the city). Marthasville lasted for only a few years, but was successful in showing the metropolitan area that a small company could produce flavorful and distinctive beers. Atlanta Brewing Co. started producing Red Brick Ale in 1993 and quickly filled the niche vacated by Marthasville. Atlanta’s director of marketing, Grey Martin, says, “Atlanta Brewing made a conscious decision to eschew the hippie aesthetic, so popular on labels out west, and give our packaging kind of an old school breweriana look. You don’t need to belong to a particular demographic to drink and enjoy our beer.”
Highland Brewing Co. is noteworthy as the first commercial brewery in Asheville, NC, now the state’s most sophisticated beer town. The company is named in honor of the Scottish and Irish immigrants who initially settled this area of the state, and its ales have helped foster a taste for UK-style beers in the region. “Highland has nurtured the local market with as much community presence as possible. Our Gaelic Ale, Kashmir IPA, Oatmeal Porter and other brews have made believers of a previously skeptical public,” says owner Oscar Wong.
Northern Florida had its craft beer indoctrination in 1987 when McGuire’s Irish Pub of Pensacola installed a brewhouse and began cranking out its line of five regular ales and a rotating seasonal. Despite being told that dark or hoppy beers would not be appreciated in Florida, the brewers pushed on with true English and Irish-style beers that have ended up being a hit. “We are rocking at McGuire’s—packed all the time and selling all the beer we can make. We have a good clientele of regulars and beer tourists who seek us out, so we are proof that brewing good beer in the Southeast works,” says Gary Essex, brewer at the Destin location.
Spreading the Word
The new players of the southeastern beer culture include a variety of energetic brewer-evangelists spreading the love of craft beer throughout the region.
Crawford Moran, the founder of defunct Dogwood Brewing Co., is the co-owner and brewer for 5 Seasons brewpub in Alpharetta, GA. “The key to growing our beer culture is continuing education about craft beer,” he says. “We must keep educating consumers, wait staff, restaurateurs and especially the politicians. I brew a vast array of styles, we do a unique cask ale every week, we always have a high gravity beer on tap and we’re aging beers on site in whiskey barrels. The advantage of a brewpub in the education area is that I get to interact directly with our customers.”
Locally-owned brewpubs that drip with southern ambience and hospitality are the first place that many southern folk get to sample their first craft beers.
“In the early 1990s, the concept of a brewpub seemed really outrageous to a lot of people. Now brewpubs are a commonplace, accepted locale to enjoy good food and fresh beers,” says Jordan Fleetwood, brewer for Twain’s Billiards and Tap brewpub in Decatur, GA. “Twain’s was established as a great beer bar and then grew into the brewpub arena. It was a natural progression for us, and our customers have really been supportive.”
Scott Maitland’s experience with his Chapel Hill brewpub leads him to concur. “When Top of the Hill opened ten years ago, people didn’t understand the concept of local breweries or the fact that beer was something different than Bud, Miller and Coors. A typical exchange at the bar went like this: ‘Hi. I’d like a Bud Light.’ ‘Sir, we are a microbrewery and we only sell the beers that we make.’ ‘OK, how about a Miller Lite?’ This has completely changed now. We educated the college crowd, and because of the great economy now in our state, these young people have stayed here and are demanding craft beer. I think brewpubs don’t get enough respect for creating a grassroots-level of appreciation for craft beer.”
The founders of Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Co. met while attending the University of Colorado in Boulder in the early 1990s and worked together for a time at Rockies Brewing Co. (when they weren’t hiking, fishing and river rafting). The two free spirits visited Georgia around the time of the 1996 Olympics and saw Atlanta as a city in desperate need of another microbrewery. Sweetwater’s motto is “Don’t Float the Mainstream,” and the company has grown into a craft beer leader in the Southeast by producing West Coast and U.K.-style ales. Their immensely popular Sweetwater 420 outsells Samuel Adams Light and Shiner Bock in the Atlanta area and is the most popular craft beer in the state of Georgia.
The struggle for great beer is most arduous in the states of Alabama and Mississippi. Alabama does have two fine brewpub standouts: Montgomery Brewing Co. and Old Auburn Ale House. Lazy Magnolia is Mississippi’s lone brewery, and brewer Leslie Henderson is well aware of the difficult road ahead in running a brewery in the state. “We knew that this is ‘Bud Country,’ and that natives in southern Mississippi won’t tolerate being told that they need to catch up with the Yanks,” says Henderson. “Instead, we started making beers that use local ingredients (pecans, sweet potatoes and locally produced honey) with flavors designed to pair with the amazing food we have down here. In doing this, we’re adding to the overall culture of the South, not trying to introduce some alien beer culture.”
Creating National Recognition
Linus Hall and his wife Lila started Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Co. in 2003. Linus was a homebrewer who got his professional start working at Brooklyn Brewing Co. After relocating to Nashville, Linus decided to open his own microbrewery in the old Marathon automobile factory near downtown. Yazoo’s beers have become a vital and respected part of Nashville’s beer culture, and the hefeweizen brought home a gold medal from the 2004 Great American Beer Festival.
As to why the beer culture in the South may trail other areas of the country, Linus offers, “Based on the success of many new breweries popping up in the South, I think that southerners do have the taste to appreciate rich flavors of a well-made beer. Look at our food—spicy, rich, barbecued, smoked—much more adventuresome than the fare in some parts of the country where craft beer took off in the beginning. I think with our ever-expanding food culture, the rest of the country better look out, because the South will one day lead the way in craft beer sales!”
John Cochran and Brian “Spike” Buckowski started their Athens, GA-based Terrapin Beer Co. in 2002, contract brewing their unique Rye Pale Ale out of Dogwood Brewing in Atlanta. The crisp, refreshing pale ale later went on to beat out 92 other pale ales to win a gold medal at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival. Terrapin is known for using non-traditional ingredients such as rye and coffee and for helping create new styles such as their hoppy India Brown Ale, a cross between a traditional brown ale and an IPA. The company also produces four seasonal “monster beers” that are all over 8%. Terrapin’s beer portfolio, probably one of the most unusual in the Southeast, has enabled the company to begin construction this year of their very own brewery in a 45,000 square-foot warehouse located just outside downtown Athens.
John Stuart of Green Man Brewing believes that the South really has not created its own unique beer styles. His progressive town of Asheville, NC has weather very similar to some parts of the U.K., and this is why Stuart thinks that traditional, British-style ales are so popular there. Green Man has been so successful with their line of pale ale, ESB, IPA and porter, that they have opened a new microbrewing facility and tasting room just down the street from their Jack of the Wood pub (home of their original brewpub). Stuart remarks, “Tasters who visit our microbrewery are very appreciative of our ales, and no one asks for a light lager.”
Paul Philippon of the Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC rejects the stereotype that beer drinkers in the Southeast only want light bodied beer. “We produce full flavored, full-bodied dark beers. Regional differences make things a lot more interesting than homogeneity, and I hope that Duck-Rabbit can make a positive contribution to the range of beer styles and beer flavors available in the Southeast.”
Great Beer Pubs Make a Difference
The important influence of prominent beer pubs in the region should not be discounted. Bars like Bulldog Pub in New Orleans, Barley’s Pizza in Asheville, and Georgia’s Brick Store in Decatur and Summits Wayside Taverns in Snellville and Cumming serve a staggering array of well-cared-for draft and bottled beers from around the world. Summits’ owner Andy Klubock says, “Our store in Cumming has over 200 different tap lines and as many bottled beers…more than any other place in the country, in our opinion. I think Summits does a good job of introducing new styles to Georgia and allowing customers to continually try new things.”
Many look at Brick Store as one of the most impressive beer bars in the entire country. Dave Blanchard, Mike Gallagher and Tom Moore started the pub in 1997 in a beautiful, historic building on the main courthouse square. The best craft beers available at the time from the region, nation and world were served in proper glassware by friendly, well-trained staff. In 2004, House Bill 645 brought an end to Georgia’s 6% ABV law and allowed beers up to 14% to be sold in the state. This spurred Brick Store to open an impressive, Belgian-themed bar upstairs from the original pub. Blanchard explains, “Our relationship with importers and breweries allows us to offer beers that customers will find almost nowhere else in the state. What’s really encouraging is that people visit the Brick Store from areas of the Northwest or Northeast and say that our pub is better than many of the places in those areas.”
Brick Store’s Mike Gallagher adds, “We get to be creative here in the Southeast. If our pub were located in Portland, Philadelphia or New York, people would be looking to see how we fit in with the established beer culture or what we are doing that’s different. Here, we are helping create the beer culture and set new trends. After we opened and made a success of the place, people admitted to us that they had some big doubts about whether or not we could make the pub work here. They were polite southerners all along the way, but many admitted that they were amazed that we have done so well in a region of the country that has been dominated for so long by light lagers.”
A few obstacles still remain in the journey toward beer enlightenment in the South. Michael Bryant of Dunedin (a pioneering brewery in Tampa) and Kevin Rusk of Titanic Brewery & Restaurant in Miami remain very frustrated by the legal landscape in Florida. Rusk sums up their opinions: “Florida legislators, along with their friends who own Busch Gardens, have purposely manipulated the state’s laws to keep out many craft brewers. Up until 2005, the state also banned any bottle that was not a domestic size, allowing only 8-, 12-, 16- and 32-ounce bottles. This prohibited many fine beers from being sold in the state.”
After a few legal victories favoring craft beer in the past several years, the Georgia Department of Revenue alcohol division has decided to enforce brewery laws that have been basically ignored for years. Breweries are now being fined for bringing beer samples to festivals, telling retail customers where to purchase their beers or doing pint nights at bars. It is still illegal to purchase beer directly from a microbrewery or take home a growler of beer from a brewpub.
Danner Kline’s Free the Hops campaign keeps fighting to raise the beer alcohol limits in Alabama. Kline communicates both frustration and hope when he says, “Influence from the religious right is crippling. Alabama is still overrun with neo-prohibitionists stigmatizing alcohol at every opportunity, portraying alcohol as the ‘Great Satan’ killing children and breaking up families. All of this is detrimental to a culture that appreciates fine alcoholic beverages. I am envious of cities that have a wide variety of breweries when the entire state of Alabama only has one bottling brewery, recently destroyed by fire. The South still has a long way to go, but I think many years from now we’ll have a well-developed beer culture that will not be a carbon copy of the Northwest or Northeast.”
On the whole, beer culture in the South has made remarkable gains in the last 15 years. Rather than viewing the South as lagging behind, many craft brewers now see the region as a land of promise and possibilities. Several breweries in other parts of the country have capitalized on this demand: Ommegang, Oskar Blues, Great Divide, Dogfish Head and Victory are all amazed at the massive volume of beer that they have sold in Georgia alone.
As beer drinkers in the Southeast become more educated and experimental in regard to robust beer styles, the region will offer new horizons and an ever-expanding market for these beers.
Spike Buckowski, brewer for Terrapin in Georgia, sums it up by saying,” I feel that the beer culture in the Southeast is evolving into something very special. It’s really nice to have a wide open market down here and introduce people to creative and flavorful beer styles. To tell the truth, many southeastern craft brewers are producing beers that are still over the heads of many beer drinkers here. In a lot of ways, I kind of like that.”
Beer Travel FeaturesFirst published in All About Beer Magazine - Volume 31, Issue 1
March 22, 2010
With sheets of rain blanketing our SUV, windshield wipers pounding out a mind-numbing rhythm, a stream of crimson brake lights ahead to the horizon and two stressed-out beer reps in the back seat on their Blackberries, all I could think was, “Man, I really need a beer.”
Four beer dinners in four states in four days? This sounded like an intriguing, if not demented, concept back when Terrapin Beer Co.’s Dustin Watts and Chris Lennert of Left Hand Brewing invited me along as official press “beer roadie.” Our soaking on I-85 from Atlanta to Durham, aggravated by major traffic accidents in our path (one even involving a Hazmat squad), gave us all second thoughts.
The story of this epic journey really began after a beer festival three years ago, around midnight in some forgotten beer bar, when Dustin and Chris cooked up the idea of an annual, collaborative Terrapin/Left Hand brew―known ever since as the “Midnight Brewing Project.” Dustin explains, “Chris and I have been friends for years and really wanted to do something together with the two breweries. To me, our Midnight Project collaboration is all about friendship. Just as friendships evolve with time, so will this collaboration.”
Co-owner/brewer Brian “Spike” Buckowski of Terrapin in Athens, GA, journeyed to the Left Hand brewery in Longmont, CO, in 2008 to work with Left Hand’’s Ro Guenzel in the creation of a creamy, black rye lager called Terra-’Rye’Zd. Labeled and released by Left Hand during this first collaborative year, this beer, which was greeted with rave reviews by beer lovers in Colorado and Georgia, holds hints of chocolate and spicy rye.
Chris Lennert adds, “This collaboration is all about fun and friends. Terrapin and Left Hand have similar philosophies about brewing and enjoying ourselves while we run our businesses, so it makes sense for us to get together and throw some ideas into a collaborative kettle.”
In July of 2009, Guenzel paid a visit to Terrapin in Athens for round two of the Midnight brews. Amazingly, when Guenzel and Buckowski compared their independent notes for the proposed beer, the two recipes looked almost identical. The result, known as Depth Charge Espresso Milk Stout, weighs in as a rich, full-bodied dark ale with impressive notes of caramel, chocolate, roasted grains, lactose sugar and a smooth blend of espresso from Athens coffee roaster Jittery Joe’s.
I often describe Dustin Watts and Chris Lennert as beer brothers―both being imaginative, creative, energetic and personable representatives of their respective breweries who find true joy in sharing the “gospel” of craft beer at every available opportunity. Dustin and Chris, looking for a grand way to celebrate their collaborative Depth Charge in key markets and get their brews into the hands, mouths and minds of craft-beer fans, brainstormed a liver-wrenching series of four beer dinners up the East Coast. Our epicurean beer adventures took place October 26 to29, 2009 in Atlanta, Durham, NC, Richmond, VA, and Philadelphia. The idea of being a beer roadie and hanging out with these guys for a few days sounded like a splendid adventure, so I agreed to come along and document the events.
Day 1―Atlanta: Kickoff at Taco Mac
Dustin, Chris, Kerri Allen (my “Beer Wench” wife) and I began by making our way from Athens to Atlanta for dinner No. 1 at Taco Mac in Lindbergh Center near downtown. Taco Mac, very popular among Atlanta-area beer aficionados, comprises a chain of close to 30 locations featuring ever-expanding selections of craft beers, an extensive menu of tasty pub fare and a casual, fun, welcoming atmosphere.
After Chris, Dustin, Kerri and I set up the dining tables with brewery promotional materials and loaded a rotating set of photos featuring the collaborative brewing process and Depth Charge label on the dining room televisions. The excited crowd of beer lovers began to trickle in.
With the noise level rising to the official decibel level of “rowdy” before the end of the reception courses and beers, Dustin and Chris realized quickly that this could be a challenging evening to carry on beer discussion and promotion. But our pair of brewery heroes carried on with superb bravado―rotating through the room between courses, speaking to each table, making each attendee feel special and welcome.
Matt Deckard, Taco Mac’s corporate chef, consistently rises to the challenge of creating unique, flavorful, upscale menu items for special beer dinners. For the Terrapin/Left Hand dinner, chef Matt provided scrumptious food during the beer tasting reception, four courses and dessert. Each culinary creation―smoked duck pate, tuna poke, chorizo stew and goat cheese stuffed meatloaf, to name a few―accompanied a Left Hand or Terrapin beer. The mouth-watering chocolate/peanut butter dessert provided a sublime match to the rich sweetness of the Depth Charge.
Fred Crudder, Taco Mac’s beverage manager, remarked that the Terrapin/Left Hand event ranked as one of the best dinners ever held at his restaurants. “The really special element of this collaborative dinner was the excitement generated among the customers,” said Crudder. “The dinners we’ve done with each of these two breweries separately were successes, but this particular one had the added element of collaboration, which strikes a chord with craft-beer drinkers who like to see camaraderie between two of their favorite breweries.”
Day 2―Durham: Drenched and Delayed
After an early morning of being a dutiful roadie helping load T-shirts, pint glasses and boxes of Terrapin and Left Hand stickers into our SUV, we enjoyed a cup of espresso and took off up I-85 toward our next collaborative feast to be held that evening at Tyler’s Restaurant & Taproom in Durham, NC. We had no idea what lay ahead.
After hours of torrential precipitation and long, painful delays through two major accidents, a drive that should have taken us a little over five hours turned into an almost 10-hour, torturous crawl into Durham.
Just outside the city, our two beer celebrities, over one hour late to the Durham dinner, began to brainstorm ways to “make it up” to the crowd. We decided to burn through our entire stash of pint glasses and give everyone at the Tyler’s dinner a Terrapin glass and Left Hand bottle opener. Gifts and bribes sometimes can be useful.
Luckily, Jason Ingram from Left Hand decided at the last minute to fly to Durham for the dinner. Jason arrived at Tyler’s on time and saved our butts as he discussed both the Terrapin and Left Hand beers for the first and second courses. The dinner crowd erupted into thunderous applause when our rain-soaked and exhausted group of beer trekkers finally entered the room.
Our two beer celebs pulled it together as they addressed the crowd, apologized for our tardiness and quickly focused on the beer and food. The Tyler’s five-course event featured lemongrass scallops paired with Left Hand JuJu Ginger, smoked mozzarella rarebit alongside Terrapin RoggenRauchBier, molasses pork belly and Left Hand Black Jack Porter, a pepper-crusted venison loin next to Left Hand Oak Aged Imperial Stout and a dessert of vanilla cream doughnuts washed down by Depth Charge.
Chris polled the crowd, and the results proved surprising. “Only about half of the people here have been to a beer dinner before tonight,” remarked Chris. “For me, that’s great news. I absolutely love introducing people to craft beer and food pairings.”
After the dinner we enjoyed a few pints with Tyler Huntington and Daniel Kulenic, the two cornerstone personalities of Tyler’s. We discussed plans for future events and reminisced about the evening. One of the main duties of any good beer-trip roadie is to keep your beer superstars from going over the edge and ending up in hangover territory, so around midnight I gathered our group and headed to our hotel for a well-deserved night’s sleep. We kept our fingers crossed for a dry and problem-free day three.
Day Three―Richmond: An Asian Flare
Our group of liver-weary beer travelers awoke to clear skies and dry roads. Colorful fall foliage and light traffic highlighted our drive from Durham to Richmond, and I suggested quick stops at Legend and Richbrau brewpubs before checking into our hotel.
Always the responsible roadie, my eye stayed on the clock as I coaxed Dustin, Chris and The Beer Wench toward our hotel and the setup for our next beer dinner at Richmond’s Mekong Restaurant. As we walked toward this unassuming Asian eatery located in a drab, suburban strip mall across from a neon-lit adult novelty store, I was thinking, “Whose bizarre idea was it to have a craft-beer dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant?”
Trust me, Mekong was the perfect choice for this collaborative event. Owner An Mekong, a maniac for craft beer (especially Belgian-style ales), jumped all over the opportunity to host this dinner. With draft beer stations set up all around the dining room, 10 spicy and flavorful Vietnamese dishes each served alongside a Terrapin or Left Hand beer, and a free Halloween costume party with live music after dinner, this proved to be the most eclectic and unique beer dinner in my recent experience.
Colorful food items with names I cannot begin to pronounce appeared at a rapid-fire pace while patrons spun their table’s lazy Susans, shared each dish family-style and discussed every bite and sip. An ran around the event with a huge grin as he discussed each special iplate. His spicy Pho Xao Bo with carrots, bok choy, garlic and ginger alongside Left Hand’’s 400 Pound Monkey IPA formed the resounding crowd favorite pairing of the evening.
Perhaps ethnic cuisine might provide a new frontier for beer dinners. “Many people don’t realize just how well craft beers go with Asian food,” explained An. “I’ve been carrying great beer since 1998, and now we have a huge following of beer lovers. We rotate beers quite often, and people come in all the time to see what new beers we have on and taste how each beer pairs with different dishes.”
When Dustin began buying Chris shots at the bar around midnight, I realized the time had come to pry everyone out of Mekong’s blur of flowing beer taps, saucy Halloween costumes and live classic rock to walk down the street to our hotel beds. We had to get an early start the next morning toward Philadelphia and our last beer dinner of the journey.
Day Four―Philadelphia: A Grand Slam
Our Terrapin/Left Hand crew hit the road for Philly around 8 a.m. Not surprisingly, we hit traffic while trying to maneuver through DC, and everyone’s bladders began to scream while we were sitting on the highway. In an act of pure desperation, I exited toward Reagan National Airport, and the gang jumped out at the passenger-loading zone to run inside for the restrooms. Upon his return, Chris proudly announced, “Wow, I’ve never peed at Reagan airport before.”
We cleared DC traffic about an hour later with the goal of lunch and beer samplers with our buddy Brian Finn, head brewer at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Wilmington, DE. Brian’s malty Oktoberfest, cask IPA and sour blueberry lambic did wonders in firming up our constitutions for the final push into Philly.
Upon parking our SUV and checking into our hotel in the City of Brotherly Love, I attempted to motivate the group toward a quick warm-up beer. They were not having it; a quick nap seemed their only motivation at this point. The Beer Wench and I left the sleepy pair and enjoyed our first beer in Philly at Brauhaus Schmitz―a new German tavern near our hotel.
After rousing Dustin and Chris and gathering our beer dinner materials and giveaways, we walked to the classic Monk’s Café around 5 p.m. for the 6 p.m. beer dinner. Monk’s owners Tom Peters and Fergie Carey quickly let us know that the entire restaurant was sold out for this event, but the impending World Series game that night forced about half the attendees to cancel. Tom and Fergie don’t usually allow cancellations for their popular beer dinners, but hey, we are taking about the Phillies in the World Series here. This night’s dinner consisted of about 20 die-hard beer aficionados seated in Monk’s back bar.
Dustin and Chris encountered no trouble in mingling and discussing their beers with the intimate crowd. An imaginative range of menu items from grilled baby octopus to smoked seafood and bleu cheese tarts was followed up by a creamy cappuccino caramel flan paired with the star of the beer dinner tour―the Depth Charge stout. The rich, sweet course of pork loin with apples and juniper made for a remarkable complement to Terrapin’s malty Big Hoppy Monster imperial red ale. As always, everyone seemed quite impressed and pleased with the warm atmosphere and experience at Monk’s.
The Beer Wench and I were driving for a visit to Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA, the next day, while Dustin and Chris were flying back to Georgia and Colorado. We bid our fond farewells and reflected on the challenges and joys of our pilgrimage.
“Going on this beer dinner tour really felt like we were in a band together,” says Dustin Watts. “It was really great to be a part of four magnificent dinners in a row―each night being special and different. It was a traveling celebration of beer, food and friends. Chris and I already have new ideas and twists and turns planned for next year, and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
One thing seems certain; this spirit of collaboration between two personable craft breweries sets a standard for demonstrating how small, artisanal businesses can allow creativity and a love for their products to drive fun, unique marketing strategies that often prove far more productive and personable than run-of-the-mill billboards or magazine ads. Collaborative beers make up a popular new trend among modern-day craft breweries―where cooperation and camaraderie seem more valuable and productive than cutthroat competition and self-seeking rivalry.
Owen Ogletree is a BJCP National Beer Judge and Georgia beer writer who runs Athens' Classic City Brew Fest and the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting. Read more about his beer excursions and experiences at www.ClassicCityBrew.com
Sunday, January 20, 2019
First - Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
Second - New Realm 2018 Harvest Ale
Third - Creature Comforts English Mild
CLASSIC STYLE BEERS:
First - Alcovy Brewing Dubbel Take
Second - Straight to Ale Datin' the Devil & Raisin' Hell
Third - Torched Hop Double Dry-Hopped Hops De Leon
First - Bold Monk Stained Rose
Second - MAZURT Dupree's Last Meal
Third - Pontoon Snozzberries: Dragon Fruit Edition
Lincoln Fill Station/Cherry Street Continental Breakfast Stout