I recently attended a conference that took me to a town that I knew; but I’ll admit that I knew nothing about their beer scene. Checking in advance, I found two breweries (almost next door to each other) and so I knew I had to go do some field research. Augusta, Georgia is known for two things: the Masters and … okay, it’s known for one main thing. Yes, the world descends on Augusta for a week each year to witness “a tradition unlike any other.” I’ve been several times before and will tell you that it is complete magic. However, I will tell you that these brewery visits made me realize that there is plenty to enjoy in Augusta during the other 51 weeks of the year.

Firs on the list was Savannah River Brewing, named after the river that forms Georgia’s eastern border right outside Augusta. The tasting room was large and inviting, although relatively quiet on a midweek afternoon. I saddled up and ordered a flight (plus another extra taste) consisting of No Jacket Required Pilsner, Phinizy Swamp Thing Berliner Weisse, Dynamite Brown, You Know Nothing John Stout (Nitro), and the extra taste of Westobou Amber. The pilsner was good, not great. Phinizy was slightly more tart than I would like, but delicious. Dynamite Brown was very good, but not anything that made me wanna do any break-dancing. John Stour on Nitro was tremendous: the flavors were deep and rich, but the nitro mellowed everything out, making it a really nice experience. But then the amber … oh, the amber. Westobou was the original name of the Savannah River, and this beer pays homage to its roots. The amber is a beautiful combination of maltiness and bitterness that you might expect in this style. And yes – I bought a 6-pack to take home.

I dragged myself away from SRB to drive the 2.5 minutes to Riverwatch. Whereas SRB had a beautiful space to enjoy a beer indoors; Riverwatch had almost nothing inside, but a fantastic deck for outdoor enjoyment. I ordered a flight (plus one additional taste, because that’s what I do). Now, when I order a flight, I try to list the beers in an order that makes the most sense. The bartender dude told me I had it all wrong, and re-arranged the order. And he was on point. My beers were the Route 104 Pale, 3 Under Par Tripel, Wild Irish Rose BA Sour Red, Godfather of Stout, and the Lazy Paddler IPA. I’m going to sum up this visit somewhat more succinctly … I don’t care about any of the other four beers I had … the tripel is the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had lots. Yes, the other 4 were good (especially the IPA), but that tripel … Sweet Moses, that tripel. It was rich, smooth, heavy – a spectacular flavor profile and a warmth from the richness of the ingredients. It was truly a remarkable experience. Well done, Riverwatch. Well done.

The point of today’s post is … don’t concern yourself with the quantity of breweries in a general area. As long as the quality is there, you’re golden! And yeah, go hit these two in Augusta – you won’t be sorry.

 

 

 

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

“There’s a new brewery opening, you wanna go?”

For me, that is like a kid hearing “Hey, they are giving out free candy, you want some?”

I am always up for visiting a new brewery as I can’t wait to experience the vibe. Steady Hand has been gypsy brewing for a couple of years, so hearing they were going to get their own space was pretty exciting. The fact they chose one of the fastest growing areas of Atlanta shows that they truly want to make an impact on the ATL brewery scene, and the opening day crowd definitely showed them the love.

The new brewery is located off Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard on Atlanta’s up and coming westside, just across the street from Top Golf (beer and ball striking…sounds good to me!). The space that Kevin & Brian Sullivan found works perfectly, with large open spaces and a bar that rivals almost any taproom. There is also plenty of outdoor space and I can see this place being perfect for corporate rentals or social events. During the opening they had a fun tribute band playing (Skyballs) and the crowd was soaking up the atmosphere. Speaking of the crowd, they managed to keep a diverse group of attendees happy with activities both inside and out. There were families there with young children, twenty somethings looking for a fun afternoon and ‘older’ folks (hey, I almost qualify) just taking it all in.

Wait…I got so engrossed in the vibe I haven’t talked about the beer! They had eleven brews on the board, with truly something for everyone. From the 5.3% Some Recklessness Pale Ale to the 9% Nitro Irish Coffee Stout, they truly covered the range of flavor profiles with a couple of fun surprises along the way. Talking to several of the attendees the Sweet Potato Farmhouse Ale was a definite winner and the Tangerine variant of their Flower Business DIPA might have been the show stopper. I personally thought the Future Mind Porter was the champion for my taste buds, but as always…results may vary with yours. 😊

 

Beer Thoughts:

Some Recklessness Pale Ale – Easy drinker. Great porch peer and would pair nicely with the cornhole offered at Steady Hand.

Searching for Gold Farmhouse Ale – Smooth. Great beer for spring for sure.

Sweet Potato Farmhouse Ale – Okay, this was surprising. Didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, and my wife loved it. Winner Winner.

Flower Business DIPA – Great DIPA with a very sly 9% that sneaks up on you

Tangerine Flower Business – Yum. Yum. Yum. If this wasn’t 9%, I could drink a case of it.

Paradise Waits IPA – Not my favorite of theirs, but the hopheads seemed to love it.

Future Mind Porter – I gave this one the gold medal for the day. Rich, roasty and everything a porter should be. ON my next visit I will be looking for it!

I had a few minutes to chat with Steady Hand co-founder Kevin Sullivan about what they have created, and you could tell he was very proud of both the beer and the setting. He said they wanted to create a place that everyone could enjoy themselves and keep making good beer. They are operating a 30-barrel system with plenty of room for expansion, and he hope that they can just “keep this going and continue to expand”.

With what I saw and tasted, it’s apparent that Steady Hand has landed with quite the impact on the Georgia craft brewing scene and I’m looking forward to my next visit and I’ll be dragging Mike along too.

(photo creds go to my wife Tracey!)

Russ Webb by Russ Webb

Quoting Russ on this one … everyone sing along: “It’s the most wonderful time … for a beer!”

Holiday season – winter – cold weather. They all bring some of my favorite times of the year. I love cold weather – College football bowl season (40 games in 24 days!) – and of course, the perfect time to drink dark, heavy beers. Yes, I’ll drink porters and stouts all year, unlike some other people. But everyone should agree that now is the time to enjoy the dark and heavy stuff. So, bring out your BA quads, Russian Imperial Stouts, and all of the heavy stuff. ‘Tis the season!

Today, we focus on one style of beer that really only appears in the colder months. The Winter Warmer. Some call it a Christmas beer, but the style is really a winter warmer. These beers fit my profile perfectly … super malty, very little hop bitterness, and some even drop in some holiday-esque spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. The consistent theme throughout beers in this style is that they’re not all that consistent. There is a great deal of variety across this spectrum, and the exploration is what makes it great! It just screams sitting next to the tree with the fireplace glowing. Yeah, watching Elf, Scrooged, or Christmas Vacation at the same time would help, too.

I thought I’d share with you a list of the best Christmas/ holiday/ winter warmer beers I’ve ever had. Yes, there are tons of options out there that may be better … but these are the best ones I’ve personally tried. What are your favorites?

In no particular order:
Samichlaus Helles – only brewed one day per year and then aged for 10 months. This one was a great find a few years back. I need to find it again!

Trader Joe’s Vintage (2018 is really good)

Sweetwater Festive – be careful. This one packs a surprising wallop and can sneak up on you.

Anchor Christmas – it’s my annual quest to find this one. Slightly different recipe each year, and I can’t wait to find it and try it.

Deschutes Jubelale – maybe the gold standard for the American winter warmer

Full Sail Wassail – here we go a-wassailing!

Cinnamon Cocoa Drafty Kilt – this maybe doesn’t fit the style exactly, but a Scotch ale with cinnamon and cocoa seems to fit this list really nicely.

St Bernardus Christmas Ale – potentially the best I’ve ever had. So fantastically terrific. It’s their Abt 12 (quadrupel) with winter spices added – weighs in at 10%.

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale. Just had this for the first time this week. Exceptional!

Breckenridge Holidale (Whiskey Barrel Aged) – this was a 2017 beer. I haven’t seen it since. I hope it comes back?

Great Lakes Christmas Ale – honey gives this one a little extra sweetness.

21st Amendment Fireside Chat – very nicely balanced.

Southern Tier 2XMAS – I need to find this again. This was an awesome one.

And that’s a wrap. (See what I did there?) Tell us – what are your favorites? And which of the above have you had?

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

Do you like or dislike a brewery based on what someone else says? How much of your opinion of a brewery or beer is based on reputation versus actual experience?

This question arose from a recent discussion I saw where a few people were actually angry that others liked a certain brewery. “How dare you like the brewery that I hate? You must be new to this craft beer scene.” This is a slightly different discussion than our recent post on beershaming, but it’s at least in a similar category. It should be okay for people to have differing opinions on a brewery, but I feel that those opinions should be based on more than just one data point.

This is a bit more than just thinking “beer good = brewery good”, and vice-versa. Among others, here are some of the factors that should be considered when forming an all-encompassing opinion on the quality of a brewery.

The beer. Yes, the beer is central to this discussion and always will be. But there’s more to it than just the beer found on the shelf in the grocery store…
Even more beer.  A brewery may have 3, 4, 10 standard year-round beers available, with many of those available in stores. But don’t forget the special seasonal-beers and one-off releases. Many people will tell you that these special beers show the true creativity and artistry from resident brewmasters.
And even more beer. Brewery-only beers. I think this could be the #1 way to determine the quality of brewery. Straight from the tap … SO MANY CHOICES. As an example, Gate City Brewery near me has about 3-4 beers that are canned and distributed. And they have 18 beers on tap at the brewery. I like the beers that they package. I love going into the brewery to see what new creations they have for me.
The vibe. We’ve talked about this a lot in the past. I won’t re-hash the discussion.
Customer service. Can you talk to the staff? If there are issues, how were they resolved? Some breweries pride themselves on this point – some couldn’t care less. It’s all up to what you’re looking for.

… or have a gravel backyard. They can be equally amazing.

What I would like you to consider is that there is a lot more to this discussion than trying one beer and then panning an entire brewery. Or maybe you had a friend who reported a bad visit to a brewery. Does that mean that you would have the same experience? By the way, this also works in reverse. Just because someone likes a beer or brewery doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. All tastes are different. What one person calls a pine tree, another calls a deliciously hoppy triple IPA. A thick sugarbomb to one person is a phenomenal dessert beer to another.

“I had one of their beers a few months back and didn’t like it” should NOT equal, “that brewery is crap. No one likes their stuff.” Pay ‘em a visit and try a flight. You might be surprised. BUT, if you still don’t like it, it doesn’t mean it’s bad beer … it’s just not for YOU.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington
The Dingle Peninsula. Not a draught beer anywhere

The brewery. Why go and visit a brewery? Why did beer enthusiasts in Georgia work tirelessly to pass legislation allowing us to buy beer from a brewery last year? (Other than the fact that prohibition ended a century ago … it was time to be slightly less archaic.) I love having a beer at home – while grilling, watching the game, hanging with friends, enjoying breakfast – there is absolutely plenty of reason to visit your local package store and stock up the beer fridge at home. But what is it that creates that moth-to-the-flame attraction of visiting the local brewery? I’ll attempt to paint the picture for you …

The brewery is the US equivalent of the pub atmosphere in the UK.

Packed house at Gate City

My mom and I disagree. Now, I’ll admit that neither of us is wrong, but we disagree. Several years ago, we took a family trip to Ireland and Scotland. For a beer nerd, that’s the trip of a lifetime … sitting in the local pub, getting to know your new best friend at the seat next to you. That’s what I envision as the highlight of the trip. My mom prefers to get away from people and noise and enjoy the admittedly stunning scenery. These are two very different vacations. (And was actually able to enjoy both sides of it while there.)

But, sitting in a warm, packed pub, listening to local musicians, sipping on a pint, hearing stories from the locals … drinking in the local culture. To me, that’s the allure. But here is the point of this post … The brewery is the US equivalent of the pub atmosphere in the UK.

But why? What is it that draws us in?

Flights at Variant

  • The Vibe. We’ve talked about that in several posts (and more to follow.) It’s the warm, vibrant atmosphere that creates such a positive energy for everyone there. Hard to describe, it’s just something you feel. I think it was Martin Mull who first said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I would say that writing about that feeling in a brewery is like dancing about architecture.
  • You never know who you’ll sit next to. It could be someone who wants a place to read. Or maybe you sit next to a guy who works for another brewery and wants to share some of his beer with you. Or what about that time when I’m enjoying a flight at Variant with my bros and bump into a pack of guys who work at Wild Leap? (Bonus when it’s their CEO and he recognizes the blog logo on my shirt and compliments my review of their newest release!!)
  • Learning from the brewers. I love saddling up at the counter and speaking with the staff about their beer. Almost without exception, people working at breweries enjoy talking about beer. This must be the nerd in me, but I love those conversations!
  • Next level awesome vibe at Appalachian Mountain
  • And maybe the most important part … the variety of beer. Yes, you can stroll into a brewery and taste the same beer that’s in cans in your local package store. And it’s even better because it’s fresh and from the tap. That’s all well and good, but I absolutely love trying the other stuff. The one-offs, seasonals, special releases, etc. A brewery may package or distribute 3-4 flavors of beer. But they may have 15-20 on the wall at any one time. It’s a great opportunity to explore new flavors.
So, what does it for you? Why do YOU love going to a brewery?
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

I’m smarter than I look. I know … it’s not a difficult task, but it’s true nonetheless. How do I know that I am? Let me tell you a story. I recently was planning a trip out of town for a work conference. It would be about a 5-6 hour drive to get there, and I had to be there at 10:30 in the morning. Naturally, I decided to go up the night before to maintain some level of sanity and to avoid dozing off on the windy mountain roads. In checking my trusty map (aka, Google) I saw that the most direct route from home to conference would send me through, wait for it, Asheville, NC. I’m going to allow you to put 2 and 2 together to find the happy conclusion on this little story.

My planning, plotting, and scheming led to a relatively impromptu and far-too-brief visit to Asheville … basically the Beer Mecca of the Southeast. I knew I wanted to visit the Sierra Nevada facility (fantastic visit) and then 2-3 other breweries downtown. In some of my Facebook beer snob groups, I have heard many people praising certain breweries in the downtown area., and I have a few of my own as well.  In the interest of time, I narrowed it down to two: Burial and Green Man.  I was about halfway to Green Man, when I spotted the logo of another highly recommended brewery on my way! It was an image of a bee buzzing around a hop … representing Bhramari Brewing Company. Super pumped, I stopped in, and I could not be any happier about making that decision!

Rock on, rock star

The dude at the bar was super fun … equal parts laid-back and very excited to talk about their beer. It’s EXACTLY what everyone should be when working at a brewery. He chatted when it was time to chat, talked beer when he could tell I wanted to, left people alone when they just wanted a quiet pint. Dude was on point. Also, he’s pretty awesome with a photobomb  —–>
I ordered a flight, and generally liked everything, especially two of them. ONE of those two is the subject of this review. All the Boys is a series of Milkshake IPAs from Bhramari. The first was released in August 2017 and was brewed with Mango and Lychee. The second one came out in February of this year, featuring guava and graham crackers. 😳 This THIRD version had only been available for a few days when I got there: All the Boys Volume 3 is brewed with passionfruit and dragonfruit. This beer is PINK. And I don’t mean, it looks like a standard, regular beer with some light pink undertones. It’s straight Kool-aid pink. But do NOT let that throw you off. This is a legit IPA, weighing in at 7% abv.

Did I mention that it was PINK?

Milkshake IPAs, if you’re not familiar with the concept, are IPAs brewed with lactose. That lactose brings a very smooth texture, reduces a bunch of the bitterness, and gives the beer a slightly thicker mouthfeel. Describing a beer using the word ‘milkshake’ can be disconcerting for some, but I implore you to give it a whirl – it’s worth it. All the Boys 3 has a nice sweet nose, with slight hints of hoppiness – definitely fruit-forward. The taste is almost surreal. Yes, the fruit comes through immediately; but it’s married so nicely with the bitterness from the hops. Some beers have flavors that come in different stages. But this one had such a great consistent flavor throughout the sip. Sweet, balanced with slight bitterness (IBU is only at 30) and consistency throughout … all finishing with a slightly dry taste. This beer is dangerous.

The vibe in this place was awesome. The food looked outstanding. The staff was exactly what I wanted. The beer was all VERY good and in many cases, different from what you’ll find elsewhere. This place is a must if you’re in Asheville. Yes … I still love Sierra and Green Man and Burial and Wedge. But Bhramari has moved to the top of my “must-see” list for anyone going to Asheville.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington