My two partners in crime (and hops) and I recently planned a brief but exceptionally action-packed trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The city has been referring to itself as Beer City USA for 10 years now, and after having spent some time there, I feel it’s fair to say that the title has been earned. There are 40 breweries in Grand Rapids, which has less than 200,000 residents – roughly 20 breweries for every 100,000 residents. To put that in perspective, move.org listed the top large cities for breweries, and Portland OR led the way with 13 breweries per 100,000 residents. Not close. So, this was an easy call as the venue for the Grand Beercation.

I’ll give away the end of the story up front: over the course of two days, we visited 18 breweries and sampled over 240 different beers. More on how we came up with this plan, itinerary, and dizzying lineup of beer in a future post. This post is just about our trip to Beer City, USA … aka Grand Rapids, MI.

The App

Before visiting Grand Rapids (I’m just going to call it GRMI for the rest of the post … to make life easy), it’s essential to download the Beer City Brewsader app. The app has handy information about each spot and is pretty useful to help you plan which breweries to hit next, based on your location. There is a GPS-based check-in ability at each brewery with a unique code. Once you’ve checked in at eight different locations, you score a free t-shirt. (No, we didn’t get a second shirt once we hit the 16th brewery.) Hit all 40 breweries and you become the Ultimate Brewsader. Life goals …

The Breweries

Too many to write about each of them, but I’ll hit a few of the highlights here.

Archival Brewing

We actually didn’t have this one on our short list initially, and it would have been a huge fail if we missed it. This may have been my favorite stop on the trail. Archival Brewing sits in Plainfield Township just north of GRMI on an old golf course site. The concept here is the use of naturally occurring local ingredients while focusing extra attention on lesser-known styles of beer. Sure, they still brew an IPA, a Mexican lager, etc. But the thing that really stuck out to me was the vast array of distinct and oftentimes overlooked styles of beer. It’s harder and harder to find a California Common, a Kottbusser, an Altbier, or a Sahti. We really enjoyed the visit, and the staff there was more than happy to discuss these forgotten styles of beer with us, too. Archival is an absolute gem … and provides an amazing view of the surrounding area. And to think we almost missed it!

 

New Holland

Yeah – I know. You know New Holland and you’ve had several of their beers. But when in Rome …

We just had to include this beer-Mecca of sorts. I love Dragon’s Milk. And I have really enjoyed sampling the varietals that have come out in the past several years. So, obviously we had to go to the source. We were not disappointed. The beer … just, yeah. From kölsch to IPA and sour to stout, New Holland probably makes it, and they probably make it well. The drumroll moment of the night (at least for me) was the last beer we had. 2022 saw the emergence of Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Maple Cinnamon. I didn’t think that anything would ever top the Cherry Chocolate version from a few years back, but this one is tremendous.

Brewery Vivant

This place wins out for the exceptionally cool vibe. (Yes, the beer was good, too – but just wait ..)

The building was initially a livery for 16 white horses; and then part of a funeral home; and then a chapel was built there to support the funeral business. And now it’s a place that aims to create and serve ‘the good life’ – and that’s where Brewery Vivant get its name. This is an absolutely gorgeous and unique spot for a beer. The food is amazing, the beer harkens back to traditional European styles (specifically Belgian and French styles), and the vibe was super lively. Vivant is the right word – there was an energy in the room that was equal parts palpable and intoxicating (pun intended.)

My favorite part of this stop was the beer that became one of the highlights of the entire trip. I needed a last beer to finish off the flight. You’ve been there before: you need to fill one last slot on the flight card and nothing really jumps out at you, so you just scribble something down as a bit of a throwaway choice. I eventually rated my ‘throwaway choice’ as a 4.8 on Untappd. This beer comes from the Unapologetic Fruit series – and I love that name. “Yeah – there’s a crap-ton of fruit in this one. Don’t drink it if you don’t want to!” Fruited Farmhouse + Sour = Sangria. And yes – it’s tastes like a sangria that includes every fruit ever. It seemed like each subsequent sip brought out a different fruit flavor: oranges, pears, grapes, blackberries. Kinda wish I had one in hand right now.

Founders

Beer-Mecca, part 2. We ended day one at Founders – another bucket list-esque brewery for the gang to hit. 1) We were not disappointed, and 2) we came away a bit surprised. The beer was every bit as good as we thought it would be. To be able to have CBS, Nitro Breakfast Stout, Barrel-Aged Nemesis, and so much more was an absolute treat. I also really liked 86 Bananas (Belgian Blonde) and Green Zebra, a fruited gose that is NOT usually something I’d go for. That’s the beauty of a trip like this with great friends – we had an amazing opportunity to sample so many different styles and flavors that we might otherwise skip.

The surprise of the night came in when looking at the food menu. Yes, boys and girls. it’s important to put some food in the belly when going all day! The food was delicious! I’m sure the pizza, salads, and soups are all fine. But the sandwiches. Oh my goodness – the sandwiches were outstanding. Get The Dissenter and then thank me later!

 

Bottom line here … get to GRMI … Beer City USA … Grand Rapids. Whatever you want to call it – call it the spot for your next beercation. You’ll have a GRAND time!!

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington
Badges, badges, and badges... - Untappd Blog
Untappd badge examples

Most of you are likely familiar with and maybe even users of the most popular social beer check-in app, Untappd. (You can friend me there @BabyGotBeer). Founded in 2010, Untappd now boasts over 9 million users … and those users use the app in very, very  different ways. The concept is simple. Have a beer and check it into the app, give a score from 0 to 5, and complete the check-in with tasting notes, serving style, location, tagged friends, and more. With seemingly every check-in, users receive one of a never-ending sea of ‘Badges’ – the gamification side of the app.

What do brewers think about Untappd and the feedback they receive? After having polled several brewers, opinions varied but there was one commonality amongst everyone I interviewed – user reviews are taken with a massive grain of salt. Whether it’s because of dirty tap lines at the neighborhood pub, a novice beer drinker who doesn’t know a hop from an adjunct, or Yelp-style morons trying to avenge grudges online – too many reviews lack real value. For entertainment purposes, we have identified seven types of Untappd users and will lampoon and caricature them here. The question is, which one are you?

 

The Trophy Hunter

Untappd tracks the total number of check-ins and the total number of unique check-ins. It’s fine to pound the same beer all the time and continue checking it in, but the Trophy Hunter is only concerned with driving up the unique number.

  • Pro: The Trophy Hunter is always on the look for something new and different. This is an adventurous beer drinker!
  • Con: “Westvleteren XII? Utopias? Pliny the Younger? No thanks – I’ve had those before, but I’ve never checked in a Bud Light Mango-Rita!”

Forget-Me-Nots

The most important part of checking in beers on Untappd is …. remembering to check them in! Seems like a “No duh” thing to say, but there are so many users (looking in the mirror on this one) who enjoy some beers with friends and never go back and add them to the list.

  • Pro: They’re actually sociable with their friends rather than being nose-deep in the phone for hours on end, typing descriptions and tasting notes on yet another NEIPA. (Pro tip: Just take pictures of the labels or menu and check back in later.)
  • Con: Can never remember if they’ve tried a beer before or not. They cannot remember if it was good or what they thought of it. They probably have had 3,000 unique beers but still only show 184 in the app.

Show Offs

These are the people who won’t even check a beer in unless it’s something worth bragging about. These people are whale hunters and have checked in no more than 8 beers.

  • Pro: Can’t think of one.
  • Con: They’re insufferably annoying and boast a list of check-ins like Zwanze Cantillon, Tree House Jjjuliusss, Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch, Odd Project OWK, and probably a PBR.

Repeat Offenders

This is the opposite of the Trophy Hunter. Real life example of this is the infamous Chris H. Chris has 28,000 total check-ins but only 276 unique beers. We get it, Chris. You love Guinness, but there are other beers out there too.

  • Pro: The Repeat Offender is genuinely a happy person. They know what they like and never have to worry about getting something that just doesn’t cut it.
  • Con: B-O-R-I-N-G. “Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.” It’s okay to try something new once every decade or two.

BJCP

The Beer Judge Certification Program is the certification program, training people to understand and taste the differences in beer styles. BJCP-certified judges are in high demand at beer festivals and competitions. BJCP users really try to analyze each beer and judge it based on what it’s supposed to be, not whether or not they love it.

  • Pro: Gives real and valuable feedback and really can help guide people to beers they’ll love.
  • Con: They can look like real asshats. The beer snobbery can be very real with this crew. They’ll use terms like esters, phenols, and ‘off-flavors.’

Turbo

“I had 1-ounce pours of 384 beers this week. I’ll be able to give very valuable feedback on the complex flavors of each when I sit down to add them next week.” These people are just there to try to break Untappd with as many check-ins as possible as quickly as possible.

  • Pro: They do love to explore and try new beers, but …
  • Con: Are they actually tasting anything? Some people would argue that they don’t really care about beer – they just want to achieve some mythical check-in number.

Oblidiot

Yes – I combined oblivious with idiot to make up a new term. You get the point. These are people who know next-to-nothing about beer, drink a style they typically don’t like and then give it an awful review. “Ewww – it’s too hoppy. I hate IPAs. I give it a 0.25.” These people should be forced to delete Untappd from their phones and be subjected to a life of White Claw.

  • Pro: Really reminds us that there is a market for Bud Light Mango, White Claw, and hard lemonade.
  • Con: Utterly useless feedback. And they’re probably leaving the beer to be poured out which is a crime against humanity.

 

So there we have it. Which style(s) are you? I’ll be honest that I have found myself in a few categories at different times. And I always try to remember, it’s okay to post a check-in on Untappd with NO ranking. Maybe you tried something and it felt off, or you hated it but also don’t dig the style. Check it in with no score so you can remember that you’ve had it but don’t need to have it again.

Cheers! Please do not leave a review on this post. Ha!

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

That, boys and girls, is called a teaser title. Are we saving the world through beer? No. However, we are making a difference in our world. Allow me to explain.

Through all the years and beers, I have developed a fantastic beer community, as have many of you. These people are my tribe … they know my preferences, my favorites, and often know better than I do what I’m going to want next. Two of these guys in particular are the ones I refer to as my Beer Bros. This bond has developed through mutual business interests, lots of travel, tremendous beer sharing, and the subject of this article … fundraising beer tasting sessions.

Kill shot from 2021

Seven years ago, we developed an idea of offering attendees of an annual conference an optional conference session designed to help people learn how to taste and enjoy a variety of craft beer. We really didn’t know what to expect, but knowing the audience, we figured we could sell out our 25-person session and raise a few dollars for the Foundation. We had no idea what we just created …

A few days later, the conference planner let us know that the session had already sold out and asked if we’d host a second one. Yes, please. Here are the relatively simplistic details of the event:

  • we promise 3-4 samples of at least 6 craft beers in a one-hour session
  • we instruct everyone on how to properly taste beer using all the senses (except hearing): sight, smell, mouthfeel, taste
  • with each beer, we’ll give insights on the style, the beer, and the brewery
  • all beers are donated from breweries or a local community representative
  • we have 3-4 sponsors at each event
  • all other costs are covered by the three Bros so that 100% of all revenue goes to the Foundation
  • at each session, we bring some bombers from our private stashes and auction that bag off.
  • but wait, there’s more! On the last day of the conference, we auction ourselves off to do a beertasting session for the winning bidder

Results? You Want Results?

Year 1 was more successful than we could have imagined. And so, as you might guess, we were invited back for year 2 … and 3 …

We have just finished year 7 of this amazing journey and have served over 80 beers (we have never repeated a beer in seven years) to a total of nearly 400 session attendees. Most importantly, we’ve raised over $40,000 for the Foundation. Reminder … this is all just about sampling and enjoying great craft beer with our friends and peers – and we’ve raised a tremendous amount of money for a fantastic cause. Maybe we are saving the world.

Unintended Consequences

One thing we didn’t plan on was what has become the most powerful part of the entire adventure. I may have failed to mention that these sessions are the opening session of the conference. What we have learned is that this is the world’s greatest icebreaker/welcome wagon for an event. Imagine walking into a new conference, not knowing a soul; it can be a challenging and daunting endeavor, unless you’re a moron like me who will talk to anyone anywhere.

These sessions provide a shared experience in a relatively intimate environment. For the remainder of the conference, Mr. and or Mrs. First-Timer will see people that they met or saw in the tasting and have a very easy intro into a conversation.

The ultimate opening to the conference + unique networking opportunity + fundraising for a great cause + a nearly endless lineup of great craft beer. Are you ready for us to come host a session for you?

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington
Flight at Stout Brothers

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to visit all of the great Roswell breweries we highlighted recently, but it’s time to shift our attention just a little bit.

We’re not leaving Roswell just yet – instead we’re going to look at some of the great taphouses that are continually springing up here. And when I say taphouse, I don’t mean just a place with a great selection of draft beer – all 4 of these also sell packaged beer to go too! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Proper Hop Taphouse

 

Brand New Proper Hop

We’ll start with the newest kid on the block, but one that has developed an exceptionally loyal following almost immediately. Proper Hop first opened in December 2021, because who doesn’t want to open a new retail joint in the middle of a pandemic?!? PHT has about 20 tap handles and is continually rotating in new choices. They have a good selection of local beers, but they also bring in amazing choices from all over the country. But what really sets them apart is the name … or really, the reason behind it. Patrick, if you’re reading this – this is a compliment. You see kids, Patrick is a bit of a nerd. He believes in serving beer at the proper temperature and in proper glassware. So, if you’d like to sample something and want to make sure it’s being done properly – Proper Hop is a great place to be! (Pro tip – it’s also right next door to Moxie Burger for some delicious burgers!)

 

Oak Street Bottle Shop

Close your eyes and then walk inside Oak Street Bottle Shop. Seriously, the building isn’t what I would call scenic, but it will be all better once you get inside. The tap list is really solid  … about 15 beers on tap. But their package selection is just awesome. The truly remarkable thing here is the people that work there. They really connect with customers and genuinely want to talk beer (or really anything) with the folks that walk through the door. I sent them a message looking for a particular beer (which they DID have, by the way) and ended up discussing high school basketball recruits with them. Super cool crew there. And oh yeah – they also cater beer and wine for events and rent out their space for private parties. You really need to head over and check them out.

 

Stout Brothers Roswell Beer Market

You may know the Stout Brothers from some other locations (The OG in Smyrna and now in Woodstock too.) This little piece of heaven in Roswell can almost be overwhelming at first. You walk in the front door and are immediately greeted by a wall of about 40 taps. The massive chalkboard tells you what you’re seeing, from style, brewery, beer, price, ABV, etc. And fun fact, the chalk color tells you what style beer it is. I don’t know why I love that so much. This is THE place to stop in for a very wide-ranging flight of super high quality beer. And I haven’t even mentioned the package section yet. The BEST part is that nothing is pre-packaged. You don’t have to buy a 4-pack or 6-pack. It’s 100% mix-and-match … build your own pack-to-go. They have a tremendous selection of latest release cans, rare bottles, and most everything in between. (I’m talking craft beer – you won’t find Bud Light Mango on their shelves.)

The selections (both draft and packaged) are next-level, and the staff really knows their stuff. Tell them what you love and hate (be specific) and they can help you find something on the wall you’ll love.

 

Pinkies Up

Just a little farther up the road, you’ll find a place called Pinkies Up. This one really caught me off guard, to be quite honest. A friend told me about some of the amazing beers he found (specifically from Bhramari), and so I just had to check it out. Thank goodness. On my first visit, I was able to meet with Melissa Harbers … yeah she’s the one that runs the joint. This place is 50% wine-50% beer and 100% rock star level knowledge about both. Ask her about her favorite Super Tuscan and she’ll tell a story about a guy she met while in Italy … I’m totally making this up. I don’t know anything about wine, but that’s okay. Melissa knows just about everything.

I assumed that she was the wine half of the store, and there would be someone else who could swoop in and cover the beer side. No – it turns out the Wonder Woman knew just as much about beer as she did about wine. Unreal. So we talked for probably too long about Trappists and the modern IPA game … and … yeah – she knows her stuff cold.

Not as many tap handles as some other places, but the selection is fantastic, and you’ll feel like a long-time family member not long after you arrive. And check out some of the ridiculous bottles she has for sale on the right as you enter. And then buy me a few of them please?

 

Put a Bow On It

I teased it in part one of this story. Roswell has joined forces with a few other destinations in North Atlanta to create the Topside Tap Trail. This award-winning partnership between Visit Roswell, Awesome Alpharetta, and Visit Sandy Springs is a showcase for the growing and impressive beer scene just north of Atlanta. There are currently 7 breweries and yes – you can get a passport to gain stamps at each. Don’t be shocked if there is more to come down the road on this great collaboration.

 

That’s it! Now head on over to Roswell, and I’ll see you there.
Cheers!

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

When looking back on the history of Roswell, GA, there are several distinct periods in its evolution: Native American territory, gold rush town, mill village, quiet suburbs, and now … great place to find a pint of beer! In this two part (for now) series, we’ll dig into the breweries and then the watering holes found in the city, 20 miles north of Georgia, that is repeatedly named one of the top places to live in Georgia.

The Breweries

Gate City Brewing Company

This is Roswell’s OG, or OB I guess. In 2015, Pat Rains and Brian Borngesser brought the first craft brewery to Roswell, and I guess they opened the floodgates. Good for us. Born in garages and moved to a converted mechanic shop, GCBC is now the anchor tenant on a fantastic and vibrant downtown Roswell scene. And it seems like they’re slowly taking over more and more real estate in Roswell. This is simply a great place to sit and sip a beer with friends. The original tap room spilled out behind the building, which brought about a new taproom back there. And then the expansion continued with a new entrance on Canton Street, the amazing new Artillery Room (you have to read about this place), and liquid expansion into craft cocktails.

Gate City is doing what I wish all breweries would. They have 16 beers on tap consisting of regular year-rounds, seasonal favorites that come back from time-to-time, and one-offs. The year-round selections include a Baltic Porter (Terminus), an IPL called Citras Maximus, my favorite – the Copperhead Amber (although you know I’m a sucker for an amber.) For the seasonal releases, some people gravitate to Gourd Vibrations in the Fall, but for my money, nothing beats Golden Ember. It’s a white stout that has a deliciously smooth finish and just makes you think that you’re sitting next to a fire. And now there’s barrel-aged version. Just … yes.

Now … I can’t vouch for the cocktails, because this isn’t BabyGotCraftVodka. I’ll leave that to the experts.

Variant Brewing

Seaweed-based beer. Delicious!

 

Just a few blocks away, you’ll find Variant Brewing. This has quickly developed a huge and loyal following as one of the highest-quality breweries in the state. Yes, the state. “Hey Mike, what does Variant specialize in?” Beer. Good beer. It’s not like it’s just a hop house or a place that only does the dark & heavies. They do just about everything, and they do it really well. A few of their year-round beers are absolutely insane in my opinion: Cashmere NEIPA, Norcross Street (a West Coast IPA), and Dark Alchemy, a fantastic oatmeal stout.

But it’s impossible to talk about Variant without discussing two main things. Variant has been producing special batches of barrel-aged stouts for a long time now, and they are the one thing that creates FOMO in more than any other. It all started a few years back with Cinnamon Roast Brunch and Good S’Morning. They have since added a Barrel-Aged Good S’Morning (which is one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted), Dark Alchemy, and many more. Simply amazing.

The other is a total departure from the others I’ve mentioned so far. Variant has a year-round Raspberry Lemon Gose. It’s very good, and very sessionable at south of 5%. It’s not overly tart and drinks closer to a nice raspberry lemonade. Delicious and refreshing. But then it happened. The Imperial version came out. 4.8% became 10.5%; like became crave; sessionable became dan-ger-ous. Suffice it to say that this is a must-visit if you’re anywhere near.

From the Earth Brewing Company

Remember the old commercial by Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?
“You got chocolate in my peanut butter! You got peanut butter in my chocolate!”

I think about that when I go to From the Earth.
“You put a brewery in my restaurant! You put a restaurant in my brewery!”

Our flight has been cleared for enjoying

I will admit to you that I was wrong. My first visit to FTE didn’t really impress me on the beer side of the house. It was okay to me, but not great. But the food – holy crap, the food was amazing. That’s what brought me back. And then I tried the beer again, and I was very pleasantly surprised. But, being an intrepid researcher  and reporter, I was afraid that my lowered expectations made the beer seem better than it was – only because I wasn’t expecting much. Nope – the beer was legit. And it keeps getting more legit-er. (It’s a word – no reason to look it up.)

You want the lighter stuff? Have a smooth drinking Golden Spiral. Wanna head for something in the middle? Brown Eyed Girl is your huckleberry. For the hop heads out there …wait until they come back out with Can’t Find My Way Home – a powerful and amazing triple IPA (aptly named when it comes in at 10.2%).

This place is amazing – and it’s equally as fantastic for the beer and the food. Oh, and the amazing concert series in the parking lot, but that’s a story for another day!

 

We’ll be back soon with part 2 in this series, including information on the award-winning Topside Tap Trail. In the meantime, you can find me at, basically, all the above.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

The story of Horned Owl Brewing is brought to you by the letter ‘P’: Patience. Persistence. Painstaking. Passion.

Joe Uhl was going to open a brewery north of Atlanta. Once he finally settled in on the location for the new spot on the square in Marietta, it was time to finalize the paperwork and get the deal rolling. Working with the city council and landowner, they were able to move the ball all the way down the field but just couldn’t quite get the ball over the goal line. So, he had to start from scratch.

And then he thought he had another location in Smyrna … no dice. And then it happened again. And again. Because of his background as the COO of a company that owns and operates restaurants and bars, Joe fully knew that it took a lot of patience and persistence. Those qualities ultimately led to this …

Fast forward to today. Horned Owl Brewing is a beautiful anchor in the brand new and booming entertainment district in Kennesaw. High ceilings, huge wooden beams, stonework in every direction – you get the feeling that an owl may swoop down and join you on the next stool while you’re there.

The servers were on point … sociable without being over-the-top and only too happy to talk about the beer there. I was mid-flight when they brought Joe over to make the intros. I was sucked in. Here’s a guy who has a very clear passion for what he does. After surviving all of the challenges to get this thing in the air, the pride bleeds out of him when he talks about the beer. (Pride – there’s another ‘p’ word for the day.) He watched how I held the glass and could tell that I was appreciative of the craft.

The product – all very high-quality and with a dizzying array of styles. This place has only been open since November and yet has twenty tap handles, including two dark beers on nitro. (Joe tells me they’ve had a few cask ales as well.) Of course, they make a lot of the standards these days: IPAs, hazies, stouts, lagers, wheat beers, etc. But what stood out to me was not only the presence of some oft-overlooked styles but the quality of them as well. Horned Owl has a Schwarzbier (Cover of Night), an ESB (Twoo), and a Weizenbock (Tawny.) I love these styles and hate that not many breweries offer them anymore. All three were so very well done. I really can’t overstate how amazing it was to see such a massive diversity of styles and the quality beer delivered with each. Yeah – I’ll be back on South Main Street in Kennesaw again soon.

Fun fact: Yes – every beer name is owl-themed. I assumed that it was because of the nearby Kennesaw State University Owls. That may be part of it, but Joe’s last name is German for owl.

So, soar on over to Kennesaw and saddle up for some of Horned Owl’s finest. It’ll be a hoot. (Sorry.)

 

This is the next installment in, “15 Minutes With …”. These posts are designed to be more than just a brewery review. We will attempt to dig deeper and do more than simply tell you what sort of beer and food you can find at various places. We want to delve into the stories and anecdotes … those eccentricities, quirks, and oddities that make each brewery unique.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

PETA Scores Victory Against Big Beer

St. Louis, MO – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has largely been a non-stop source of fodder for the world’s comedians for years … until recently. PETA, throughout its 4 decades of unintended hilarity, has been the group that has produced a slew of wait-is-this-an-April-Fools-Day joke campaigns. Here are some of the highlights: (these are actually all true)

  • Petitioned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to cancel the tradition of milk in the winner’s circle for two reasons:
    • It is seen as “cruel to cows”
    • And milk is racist because many African-Americans lack the enzyme needed to digest it.
  • Once protested against a Texas man who claimed to have hunted and killed Bigfoot. Yes … Bigfoot.
  • Tried to have the word ‘fish’ changed to ‘sea kittens’ because people would be less inclined to eat them.

Yikes.

But chalk one up for PETA. In a shocking turn of events, AB InBev, parent company of Budweiser and the famed Clydesdale horses has decided to cave to PETA pressure and will cease using the majestic creatures in their promotions. PETA President, Ingrid Newkirk was quoted as saying, “Well crap. That’s cool that we won once, but now I don’t have any reason to be insanely bitter. Not sure what we do next.”

Expect to see more of this …

But back to Budweiser. Their commercials during the holidays are part of the very fabric that makes December feel like a warm sweater. Those massive horses pulling a simple wagon in parades are the attraction – the highlight – that draws crowds by the millions. So, who will pull the wagons now? Who will ‘star’ in the holiday commercials now that the horses have been loosed from their supposed bondage? The bearded hipster … that’s who.

Known for their universally rugged appearance, chiseled good looks, and apparent strength (because ya know … they’re always wearing flannel), these studs will become the new workhorses of the AB InBev holiday season. Carlos Brito, CEO of Budweiser said, “They’re always hanging around the brewery, just standing around and giving us that cold, dead stare. I figure … why not put ’em to work?”

As for the horses, Brito said, “We’re just gonna open the doors and see where they go.” No word yet on what the Clydesdales have decided to do. I’m sure PETA has horse psychologists on standby.

 

This article is parody, in case you didn’t already know that. It’s meant to be funny so lighten up, Francis. If we use real people’s names, all the supporting details are totally made up. Except for the crazy PETA antics at the beginning – that was all legit.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

When you know, you know. Jessie and Kevin knew. You need to know, too.

The paddle is shaped like Amelia Island. I LOVE this!!

Kevin and Jessie O’Brien haven’t known forever that they would one day open a brewery, but looking back it’s clear that this was destined to happen. Jessie has had a passion for craft beer for a long time, stemming from their time at the University of Maine. Kevin is naturally a people person. He is warm and engaging … he has an amazing ability to make you feel welcome with a smile and a genuine interest in conversation. Combine those two with Jessie’s drive to dive into the science of brewing and Kevin’s natural knack for marketing and management, and we have a winner!

I first contacted them about a week before my recent visit to Amelia Island/ Fernandina Beach, Florida. I had hoped to at least get the typical, “Yeah, come on by and we can chat” response. But what I got was a thoughtful welcome and some thoughts on some beers I should be trying. And right then I knew – this visit became the priority for the weekend. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed at all.

 

First Love Brewing is pretty new to the scene, having opened in June 2020.
Yes – they opened in the middle of a global pandemic …
In an economy largely focused on tourism …

They were actually set to open in March, but we know how that turned out. I was particularly struck with the positivity and optimism Kevin displayed when talking about that situation. “That was great for us, because it gave us more time – it was almost like we had a three-month soft opening.” Lemons –> lemonade.

Enough of the background … how was the product? I was ‘only’ able to try 11 of the beers they had on tap. 😁 One thing really stuck out to me looking at their lineup: no sours and no hazy IPAs. It seems a lot of breweries these days focus almost all of their attention on just those two styles. It makes sense, because that’s the crazy-fad-trend right now. First Love has light, dark, Belgian, light & crisp, heavy and complex. And amazingly enough, for a brewery barely in its infancy, everything I had was quite good. And I’m not just being nice. Everything was legit good. A dubbel, tripel, saison, red IPA, Baltic porter, rye amber …. the variety of styles and quality of the beer was truly astonishing. I guess those brewing science courses at Auburn University and Level III Cicerone training are working pretty well for Jessie!

The pizza was stupid delicious.

Do not sleep on First Love. They have big plans. The beer is taproom only … for now. Back to the aforementioned timing of the opening – this brewery opened against seemingly all odds, and has been successful despite the challenges. According to Kevin, they have received amazing and consistent support from the community … the people they live with and serve every day. Just wait until the world starts traveling again. Community is what they’re all about. I’m going to straight up steal a line from their website:

First Love Brewing is built around the idea of pursuing your passions and dreams. We are driven by the people we meet, the community that we live in, and the places we visit.

Community – that’s obviously what they are supporting. But what they may not even realize yet is … they’re building community too. Their flight paddle (pictured above) is shaped like Amelia Island. They’ll place your beers in the order you should drink them for the best experience. (Drink from north to south for optimal results.)  And they have a solid menu, too. This is not a ‘grab-a-pint-and-go’ sorta place. Sit, eat, sip, enjoy. COMMUNITY. The detail that goes into every aspect of the operation just screams that this is designed to be a piece of the Fernandina fabric for a very long time to come. I mean, they trained under a master pizza-dude in Chicago; they import their flour from Italy. The pizza is unbelievable. The beer is amazing. The people are genuine and authentically friendly. Now I know.

Again, when you know, you know. And now you know, too.

 

This is the first installment in a new segment entitled, “15 Minutes With …”. These posts are designed to be more than just a brewery review. We will attempt to dig deeper and do more than simply tell you what sort of beer and food you can find at various places. We want to delve into the stories and anecdotes … those eccentricities, quirks, and oddities that make each brewery unique.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

A fat dude smoking a pipe breaks into millions of homes every year, stealing milk and cookies, and leaving dirty coal behind for kids he deems ‘naughty.’ But at the same time, he plays favorites by giving supposedly ‘nice’ kids toys and other fun stuff. I could have a field day dissecting all of this nonsense, but I start by addressing this awful concept of leaving milk and cookies out all night. Does anyone really think that Santa wants to slurp down gallons of milk that’s been sitting out so long that it’s room temperature and maybe compromised? Gross. I think it’s time we start leaving a nice Belgian beer out for ole St. Nick. A delicious dubbel would be a great treat waiting for him at the bottom of the chimney. Let’s make it happen, people.

So, in proposing a change to long-held Christmas traditions, I started thinking about some of the songs we sing, too. I’m a sucker for good, quality Christmas music. But I think we could probably jazz up some of the titles, don’t you? Russ and I did some beerstorming (brainstorming while drinking beer) and came up with these soon-to-be holiday favorites:

Original song: I Wonder As I Wander
New title: I Wonder As I Wander … in downtown Asheville

Original song: Mele Kalikimaka
New title: Gimme Kalik and nachos

Original song: (I’m Dreaming of a) White Christmas
New title: (I’m Dreaming of a) Wit Christmas

Original song: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
New title: It’s Beginning to Taste a Lot Like Christmas

Original song: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
New title: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Alcoholic

Original song: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
New title: I Saw Mommy Drinking White Claw

Original song: O Little Town of Bethlehem
New title: O Little Town of Grand Rapids

Original song: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
New title: I Drank Some Bells on Christmas Day

Original song: I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
New title: I Want a Kegerator for Christmas

Original song: I’ll Be Home for Christmas
New title: I’ll Be Drunk for Christmas

Original song: O Holy Night
New title: Nothing else. I refuse to mess with this one.

Original song: Holly Jolly Christmas
New title: Hoppy Jolly Christmas

Original song: Blue Christmas
New title: Huge Guinness

Original song: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
New title: It’s the Most Wonderful Time For a Beer

Original song: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
New title: Have Yourself a Frosty Little Beverage

Original song: Where Are You Christmas?
New title: Where Are You Barkeep?

Original song: Frosty the Snowman
New title: Frosty the Beer Mug

Original song: I Saw Three Ships
New title: I Drank Three Pints

Ok … now it’s your turn. Drop some of your ideas in the chat below!

 

Note: I didn’t touch the 12 Days of Christmas, because the McKenzie Brothers already did that to perfection:

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

This post will be a bit of a departure. Yes, I’ll still talk about beer a little bit, but most of this will be on a larger topic.

If I were to ask you to close your eyes and picture a great customer service experience. You’ve been there … when someone went way beyond the call of duty, way past what you thought would have been enough … and sprinkled the magic pixie dust on a situation to make a tough situation magical. What companies come to mind? A lot of us will name the same ones: Chick Fil A, Ritz Carlton, Disney, and many others. These companies have a very well-earned reputation – and they work tirelessly to maintain that character.

Now – close your eyes again. Wait, you can’t close your eyes and read this. Ok, think again of a great customer service experience … and this time think of a time when you experienced great customer experience with a brewery. Ever have a can of your precious new 4-pack explode on you? Maybe you bought an ole reliable but it tasted … off. I have seen this happen so many times, and the reply from the breweries varies from “we’ll take care of this” to “who cares? If you don’t like it – don’t buy it again.” Or, we can look at it from another angle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a brewery and had an amazing time discussing the beers and styles available with whomever is behind the bar. I love it! And it makes me want to keep coming back.

Two stories – one about a brewery and one that’s completely unrelated. Pontoon Brewing, one of my all-time, everyday, go-to favorites put out a beer several months ago called Grand Theft Otter. I liked it. Some people didn’t. The brewery soon found out that some of the beer was not want they wanted it to be. Did the bury their head in the sand and hope no one would notice? Long story short, the beer oxidized and basically skunked. It happens. But the response is what wins the prize. Pontoon came straight out, owned it, announced it, and took care of the issue. They took the beer off the shelves, offered to trade out, any cans that were out in the wild, and promised to re-release the beer at a future date. (Spoiler alert – batch 2 was awesome.) The main takeaway here is that Pontoon took care of their customers – they addressed what they saw as a product that didn’t meet their standards, and in my opinion, won a lot of loyalty by doing so. Had they opted for the “F you … deal with it” mentality, I don’t think you could have said the same.

Fast forward to today and the totally unrelated story. I have fallen in love with a clothing company, Travis Mathew, and was set to place a new order this week. As it turned out, the description on the website had me a little perplexed and led me away from ordering the pants. I contacted customer service to confirm that I was understanding correctly. What I received back was mountains and heaps and buckets of fantastic. 1) They offered to find a pair of pants that would fit what I was looking for and send them to me for free. 2) They agreed that there was language in the description that could be misleading and made the change THAT SAME DAY. Seriously? I sent one customer service message and that resulted in an unreal response and an immediate change to their website? Well played, Travis Mathew. Well played.

 

Customer service – apparently it still exists.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington