You know there are those moments that forever change your life. You remember where you were, who you were with, maybe even what you were wearing. For today’s post, I’m talking about one of those moments. I can’t give you the exact date … mostly because I suck at remembering things like that. I can, however, tell you where I was and who I was speaking with.

Several years ago, I found myself at an airport watering hole in Washington, DC. As is my norm, I found myself in conversation with my bar-neighbor about beer and breweries. There was a beer on tap from Dogfish Head out of Deleware (actually two, 60 and 90-minute IPAs) that had him trying to decide. I started discussing with him the differences before he settled on the 60. He loved it and moved onto the 90 … and yes, I couldn’t let him drink alone. I had the same order.

His love of the two beers led to the inevitable, “I wish I could get this at home.” What happened next changed both of us. I told him about the FishFinder on Dogfish Head’s website. If you don’t already know, the FishFinder lets you choose any of the DFH beers, a ZIP code and radius, and whether you want to find it in a restaurant/ bar or in a store. In short: “I live in 30303 and want to find all package stores with 25 miles of me that carry World Wide Stout.”

In short, his mind was blown that this level of info was available on their website. And my mind was blown that sharing information and knowledge about beer and breweries could be so impactful. I’ve made it a mission ever since to be free to share opinions about the beer-iverse with anyone near me who will listen. Annoying? Potentially. But you might be surprised how often this creates connections.

A  lot of breweries have similar features on their sites now. Does your favorite brewery?

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

I didn’t really see it coming. I guess that’s what happens when you get totally and completely swept off your feet. I mean, I saw her across the room, but never had the courage to actually go and try. Wait, what do you think I’m talking about?  No – I’m completely and utterly in love with my wife; I’m talking about really diving into an ever-growing genre of beers known as dessert beers.

I have always been on the maltier side of the fence. While I’ll try just about anything, I always lean toward an amber, dubbel, quad, or something along those lines. It wasn’t that I wanted a sweet beer – but more of a rich, thick and utterly flavorful and delicious beer. I hadn’t gravitated to the sweet and syrupy beers, but that has changed in the last few weeks, and it has changed dramatically.

It started at the Roswell Beer Fest. As we told you previously, we developed a plan on how to attack the RBF to make sure we maximized the awesomeness, and it worked splendidly. It just so happened that we entered the festival right at the Stout section; I had about 5 or 6 stouts I wanted to try. One that really intrigued me was by Southern Tier – the Thick Mint. I had first dabbled in the dessert beer game when someone (Peggy Lou Who) gifted me a bottle of the Creme Brulee Stout. (Sweet Moses, that was a good beer.) With fond memories of that one, and crazy desire to satiate my love of Thin Mints, I went in for the Thick Mint. Why had I been hesitant? A nose that betrayed its contents – chocolate and mint – all swirled into a very nice stout made for a ridiculous combination. The main mistake I made at RBF was not going back for more of that one. It was such a fantastic surprise – and I just knew nothing could top it. Until …

About 2 weeks ago, I happened across ANOTHER of Southern Tier’s releases, Samoa This. (Thank you, Brij and SBS.) Now, in Girl Scout cookie-speak, there are cookies, there are Thin Mints, and then about 100 levels higher sit the gold standard: the Samoa. Chocolate, caramel, coconut … yes, please. With trembling hands, I poured this concoction into my favorite mug. In my head, I’m thinking, “If they could do THAT with the thin mint, could the samoa possibly be treated in the same manner? If so, will my head actually explode?” Editor’s note: my head didn’t explode, but it was touch-and-go for a minute. Words cannot explain it. Suffice it to say, I gave it a 5.0 on Untappd and proclaimed it one of the best beers I’d ever had. I need more. Now. Please!!

But wait, there’s more. Lest this appear to be a Southern Tier lovefest, I also scored some special release brews from a new spot in Roswell – Variant Brewing. Variant is newer on the scene, but they are putting out some absolutely amazing beers. And then I got wind of two special releases: Good S’morning and Cinnamon Roast Brunch. And yes – they’re exactly what you’d expect with names like that. For me personally, not being a coffee drinker, S’morning was a little too coffee-y for my tastes. Still very good, but not something I’d sell my soul for. CRB, on the other hand, let’s just say it’s named very well. Almost like it would taste like a certain cereal with a very similar name. Really, fantastic work! (Oh, and Variant also has a super place to enjoy beers. Highly recommend a visit.)

Your thoughts? Thumbs up or down on dessert beers?

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

Two weeks ago, my brother-in-law surprised me with an out-of-the-blue call: “Hey, do you want to go try that new brewery tonight?” Note to all readers, if I ever say no to an offer like that – shoot me. Trying out the new brewery – which also happens to be very close to my house – no-brainer. I mean, this is quality research for the blog, right?

The brewery in question is Pontoon in Sandy Springs, GA. From the outside, it looks pretty similar to a lot of modern breweries: it sits in an office park (which is admittedly nicer than some of the industrial park locales that we’ve grown accustomed to.) Once inside, the large & open tasting room is bright and inviting. There is a good crowd for a Saturday night, but it’s not over-the-top crowded, and we were actually able to score seats at the bar.

That night, there were about a ten options on the list, which means one thing to someone like me: flights. Let’s taste as many as we can and see what percolates to the top of the list. Challenge accepted. What we quickly learned was that the options listed were not all different beers, rather different incarnations of about 6-7 ‘standard’ beers. I’ll explain.

I ordered something called a Bro-mosa, assuming that the server would pull one tap handle and serve me the sudsy wonderfulness. Negative, ghost rider. The Bro-mosa is a compilation of three different liquids: a mix of their Flotation Device Berliner Weisse, Surf Rock Candy Shandy (with mango and pineapple), and topped with plain ole regular orange juice. I’d never seen anything like it. Being a brave and intrepid soul, I ventured in and found that … it was good. No – it didn’t taste like a beer – more like a mimosa. Beer-based mimosa which is obviously the reason for their naming convention. Well-played, Pontoon. Well-played.

Next on the list was something called the Cadbury Caramel Egg. It tasted like a smooth beer with 18 gallons of chocolate dumped into it. Just too much syrupy chocolate flavor in it. This beer, as it turns out, was the standard Sweet Mild of Mine English Mild Ale. I just think that the mild ale didn’t have enough backbone to withstand the onslaught of chocolate added to it. It wasn’t bad per se, it just wasn’t for me.

Don’t get me wrong – some of their standard beers are fantastic and worth the trip (I’m looking at you, Galaxy Drifter and Combustible Pineapple.) And it’s not that the mixing of flavors was a bad thing – it was just different for me.  Loved the visit, and I will be back. I think you’ll begin to see more and more experimentation like this from breweries in the future. Bottom line on the visit: the staff was next-level awesome. They were very friendly, enjoyed talking about the beer, and seemed happy just to be there. It really made for a great evening.

And to close today’s diatribe, I took a page from the Pontoon book and combined two of their beers for my own experiment, and it totally worked. Their Black Squall Imperial Stout was a little on the strong side for me (had too much of an edge to it.) But create a mix of 75% Black Squall and 25% Cadbury Caramel Egg – the sweetness from the Cadbury perfectly balanced out the flavors of the Squall. A really nice combo.

So, what do you think? Do you combine beers to meld flavors? When you do, do you mix competing flavors for balance, or do you mix two beers of the same type to try to marry similar flavors? (Example: I combined two competing Oktoberfests last year and was very pleased with the outcome.) Does this conversation offend the beer purists out there? I’d love some comments on this topic.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington
VIP Hours – Magic!

Last week, we gave the heads up that we were off to the Roswell Beer Fest (RBF18) to explore, sample, enjoy from over 380 different beers. The head-scratcher was how to gameplan for such an overwhelming number of beers. We came up with our solution and shared it with you. If you’re one of those people who has to skip to the ending, missing out on the drama … the planning worked, pretty well.

Today’s post is about the festival itself: the experience, the results of the planning, the food, the merchandise, and of course the BEER. We’ll start with the experience. The venue (Roswell Town Square) was perfect. Green space, with some nice architectural features, but it’s also largely tree-covered, providing shade for gingers like me (yes, I used to have hair.) Beautiful setting, and pretty easily accessible, especially if you did the smart thing and used a Lyft-Uber type ride share.

The layout was different than other beer festivals. Some events will have one brewery in its own space, serving their variety of beers. RBF18 grouped beer styles together, which works out very nicely. If I want to compare two stouts or two barleywines, I don’t have to traipse all over the joint trying to find them … they’re literally being served right next to each other. The exception was for some of the local breweries. Places like Variant, Abbey of the Holy Goats, Pontoon, and others all had their own tents and were serving their beers from there. The only downside to this layout concept was that festival organizers use volunteers from local businesses to pour the beer. They’re nice and accommodating … and have virtually no knowledge of beer. Just know in advance that you won’t get any words of wisdom about the subtleties of the beer from them. You’ll need to do your own research. Certainly not a major deal.

The food vendors were actually quite impressive. We’re not talking chicken fingers and french fries. We had some great tacos, saw some delicious lobster rolls (which must have been uber-popular as they ran out of nuns later in the day). There were about 6-8 food tents, and I did not witness any crazy lines or waits for the food. Prices were either $5 or $10 per meal, so it wasn’t stupid expensive either. The merchandise tent, however, was a bit of a letdown. I’m a sucker for a good beer shirt or hat, but the selection was either a nondescript shirt with eleventy-four logos on the back, or a pretty uncomfortable looking trucker hat with the RBF18 logo on the front. I don’t know what I was hoping for, but that wasn’t it.

And now for the beer … and our homework/planning results. The plan, if you read the last post, was to lower the list to a manageable number of beers, visit as many of those possible, and then spend more time in the VIP tent once the main doors opened. Here’s the skinny if you go next year … buy the VIP ticket. My smokin’ hot wife referred to the first hour of the festival, which was only open to VIP ticket holders, as the beer festival’s version of Disney’s Magic Hours. We got in when there were hardly any people there, and never had to even pause when getting the next sample. No lines … it basically felt like we had it to ourselves. I had tried my first 5 stouts within the first 15 minutes. And yes – that makes for a happy beer blogger. The plan worked really well. I was able to maneuver through, tent by tent, and choose those beers that I had planned on before arriving. I did, however, have to make some on-the-fly adjustments: a few of the beers I planned on weren’t there; some beers that I hadn’t planned on sounded great as I walked by. So, we amended as we walked. I had originally identified 38 beers that I wanted to try. Final count was 29 total selections, 26 of which were on my original list. I think that’s a pretty successful day.

I won’t go into the full list of beers that I sampled … you can see that on my Untappd page. But I will highlight a few of the highlights. Top 5 beers I had at the festival:

If there is an overwhelming demand for the full list, I can put it in a future post.  I will be back next year and I WILL purchase that VIP ticket!
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington
Beer festivals. They’re everywhere, and this makes it a wonderful time to be a beer nerd like me. Where else can I go and sample so many unique and new-to-me beers in one happy place? A smorgasbord, a cornucopia, a plethora of choices. All different types and styles; experimental beers; the possibilities are endless.
And therein lies the problem. It’s a good problem, but a potential problem nonetheless. Where do you start? How can you plan for a seemingly endless sea of delicious choices? “If I spend too much time in this tent, I’ll miss what’s on the other side.” FOMO becomes FOMOOB … Fear Of Missing Out On Beer. It’s a very real concern.
I will face this challenge on Saturday when I attend the Roswell Beer Festival. The current lineup boasts 381 different beers. Three hundred eighty-one. Even only one ounce of each would equate to over 30 bottles of beer. Not possible, and certainly not advisable to even try. So, what is the best strategy to attack this event in the most efficient way, to maximize the fun and tasting, while not missing out on THE beer of the day?
Here’s my plan, but I truly welcome suggestions!
  • The list is posted, complete with style information for each beer. I’ll start by eliminating anything outside my flavor preferences. For me, I’ll get rid of the ciders, meads, sours, and some others.
  • Next off the list will be anything I’ve had before, but wasn’t in love with. After all, it’s just as important to jack up my Untappd unique beers total, right?
  • And then I’ll probably start bypassing those beers that are readily available. (I really dig Victory Golden Monkey, but I can find that pretty easily.) Let’s go find the rare and unusual stuff.
  • At this point, I’ll at least have a targeted list that I’ll just have to start working through the best I

    can. In my best Barney Stinson … Challenge accepted!

What say you? What strategies would you use?
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

If you find yourself in either of the following categories, this post is for you. If you don’t, share it with someone that you think needs this Public Service Announcement.

Halloween is now in our wake, and we’re facing a major challenge. Either:

  1. You bought half the candy at Costco and only had three teenagers dressed as … teenagers come to your door. And now you have enough candy to feed Delaware, or …
  2. Your own kids were so persuasive in the annual “beg for food from your neighbors” festival that they had to bring their bags home in a flatbed truck. And you have enough to feed Delaware and Maryland.
Regardless, what to do with the leftover candy? If only there were a handy guide to tell us how to pair all of the sugary-deliciousness with some fantastic beer. What will bring out the true flavor of a Starburst or Snickers bar?  We’re here to help. We have taken 6 of the more popular candy treats and paired it with a beer that’s both fabulous and relatively easy-to-find. Enjoy!
And one more bonus candy!! Did you get any of these treats?
Seriously, throw those things away – they’re disgusting.
Alright, let us know what we missed. Or ask for suggestions on other candy you’d like to pair. 
And on a serious note, if you would like to donate extra candy, find a great cause like Operation Gratitude. There are lots of organizations out there that will gladly ship treats to the soldiers fighting for us overseas. It’s a great way to show we care.
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

The Great American Beer Fest has come and gone. And somehow, they STILL forgot to send me my guest pass as VIP media.  Oh well, as Atlanta sports fans have been saying for decades, just wait ’til next year!

While Georgia’s beer scene is still emerging versus national giants like Colorado, Oregon, and North Carolina, local brews fared well at the competition. Colorado beers won 38 medals, Oregon had 17. Georgia came in with a solid 5, and I have no doubt that that number will continue to grow as Georgia’s beer scene really starts to take off. To wit, Georgia only won two medals in 2016.

But we really need to give some mad, mad props to Moon River Brewing in Savannah. They were named Mid-Sized Brewpub and Mid-Sized Brewpub Brewer of the Year!

For now, kudos to all of the winners, especially these local medal winners:

Now, get out there and show your support to our award-winning breweries and FUTURE award-winners at all of your local haunts!
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

On tonight’s installment, we’re going to expand your horizons, kids. I was inspired to write this post when I pulled a fast one on a friend recently. (Side note, does saying ‘pulled a fast one’ make me sound like I’m 112? Asking for a friend … )

Said friend asked me to grab them a Blue Moon. I decided to play “Instead of this, try this” and gave her a Dogfish Head Namaste. Same style, but infinitely better, in my opinion. She agreed. So I got to thinking, what other beers do a lot of us order because we know we’ll like them, without thinking of exploring within that same category? Below I listed 10 styles with what the stereotypical choice might be for a lot of people … followed by a suggestion for something you might also like in that same genre. Following me?
PLEASE NOTE: just because I’m recommending something other than the standard choice does NOT mean that I don’t like that beer. There are a few listed below that I actually love … just trying to get you to try something you may not have had before. One last preamble note, I tried to grab suggestions that are pretty easy to find, not some super exotic beer that’s only available at the brewery 7 minutes a year. (Yes, Three Floyds, I’m talking about you!)
Alright … here we go!
THE STYLE: Belgian Wit
THE STANDARD: Blue Moon/ Shock Top
THE RECOMMENDATION: Dogfish Head Namaste. (Duh … I mentioned this above!)
THE STYLE: Pilsner
THE STANDARD: Miller/ Bud/ Coors … heavy or Lite versions
THE RECOMMENDATION: Three Taverns Prince of Pilsen. Or, you can’t go wrong with Pilsner Urquell either.

THE STYLE: Lime-flavored
THE STANDARD: Lime-a-rita. Or anything Mexican you want to drop a lime in.
THE RECOMMENDATION: Dogfish Head Seaquench. No, I don’t work for Dogfish Head. I just wish I did.

THE STYLE: Pale Lager
THE STANDARD: Heineken
THE RECOMMENDATION: Anchor California Lager

THE STYLE: Irish Dry Stout
THE STANDARD: Guinness
THE RECOMMENDATION: Porterhouse Oyster Stout

And now, a word from our sponsors.
Wait, we don’t have any sponsors. Nevermind … on with the list!  

THE STYLE: Mexican beer
THE STANDARD: Corona
THE RECOMMENDATION: Victoria. (I also dig Pacifico.)

THE STYLE: Pale Ale
THE STANDARD: Sweetwater 420

THE STYLE: IPA
THE STANDARD: Creature Comforts Tropicalia
THE RECOMMENDATION: Scofflaw Basement. (Or try their Double Jeopardy.)

THE STYLE: Amber
THE STANDARD: New Belgium Fat Tire
THE RECOMMENDATION: Bell’s Amber. Usually known for Two Hearted, their amber is one of the best.

THE STYLE: Ultra Lite beer
THE STANDARD: Michelob Ultra
THE RECOMMENDATION: Water. There’s really no difference

Alright … what say you? Do you have other recommendations? In the categories above or in new ones?

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

When traveling, do some research. I failed at this concept last week, but I got lucky. Let me explain …

Sign welcoming me to Salisbury

I was heading to a conference in Salisbury, North Carolina. I didn’t think ahead to actually research breweries that I might find while there. I knew I’d be near or through Asheville, Greenville, Charlotte. But I just didn’t have time during my commute to stop in for a brewery tour. But the brain didn’t think to process PAST that and research my actual destination. Do your research, people.

Salisbury is a beautiful town of about 35,000 people east of Charlotte. It’s a railroad community, and a lot of downtown consists of rustic brick manufacturing buildings that once supported the industries. As soon as I got downtown, I spotted two places of particular interest … a brewery and another brewery. I look at my handy conference agenda and see: three hours of free time Wednesday afternoon and two hours Thursday night.  Sold.

New Sarum Brewing has just celebrated their one year anniversary. There is a nice clean tasting

The paddle is shaped like North Carolina

room, complete with a small seating area. Outside are some picnic tables, cornhole, and music playing. Very nice setup. Enough about that … how was the beer? I ordered a 5-sample flight and was pleasantly surprised. Nothing will go home as my favorite beer of all time, but all of them were good. Good, solid beers.

  • 142 Blonde Ale (it’s made with grits!)
  • Old Stone House IPA
  • Hurley Park Blood Orange Wheat
  • Round House Robust Porter
  • High Rock Red
The Hurley Park was the best of the bunch. I don’t know why, but the blood orange that’s dropped late into the brewing process really adds a super fun element to the wheat flavoring. 

The next day, I walked down through the old railroad manufacturing buildings to a new, gleaming space that is an absolutely spectacular place to have a beer. Railwalk has a very impressive beer lineup and is a must visit. I was actually able to try 6 beers here before leaving … some of them were quite exotic.

Cayenne Imperial Stout

  • Cayenne Imperial Stout. It was a very nice stout, but I truly didn’t pick up on the cayenne.
  • Nitro Flat Creek Swamp Water. It’s just fun to say. It’s a great stout with nice chocolate flavors. The nitro obviously makes it smooth. This was the winner of the bunch.
  • Lee Street Wheat
  • Buffalo Head IPA
  • Ridge Red. They had this one available in six-packs, so it came home with me!
  • Belgian Strong Pale. This was another fantastic choice.
Bottom line, it’s not necessarily about finding the best beer ever. It’s all about trying something new. Because I didn’t do my research, it was only by fortune that I found these two hidden gems. Next time, I’ll plan MUCH better!
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

It seems like every week brings us more and more unbelievable stories in the news. Some funny, some endearing, some borderline ridiculous, some nauseating, and some downright amazing.

With each, it seems that the news would be more bearable, and infinitely more entertaining, if we
could have the perfect beverage with it. Today, we are going to pair the perfect beer with the perfect news story. Now, when pairing beer with food – you usually focus on which flavors, mouthfeel and gravity are most appropriate for the food. For our purposes today, we’re just going for comedic value.

Similar to the disclaimer we gave for the College Football Meets Beer posts, we offer these words of wisdom: Please note that we attempted to poke good-natured fun at all turns. This isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. If you find your blood pressure rising while reading this, drink each of the beers listed below, and then read it again. Repeat as necessary.

Headline: MOAB in Afghanistan

The US drops the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) on a series of ISIS caves. This bomb was extremely rare – almost impossible to find. And man, did it pack a serious pop.

Suggested pairing: Westvleteren XII. The Westie 12 can only be bought at the monastery, making it exceptionally rare. And at 10.2% it also packs a pop. Some consider it the Holy Grail of beer.

Headline: Bridge Collapse

Atlanta isn’t known as a town devoid of traffic. Having one of the main interstates into the city COLLAPSE does nothing to help the problem. This is certainly driving many people to drink.

Suggested pairing:  What better than a beer from a place called Lion Bridge that is called the Collapse of the Multiverse?

Headline: Trippin’ Billies

Borrowed from bluegrasspreps.com

Grayson Allen from Duke has a weird quirk to his game where he chooses to trip anyone and everyone around him. He’s also known to throw hellacious temper tantrums on the court.

Suggested pairing: Birdfish Brewing Company’s Bitches Be Trippin’

Headline: Fly the W

The Cubs finally win the World Series, for the first time since 1908 … or Forever and Ever ago.

Suggested pairing: Other Half Forever Ever.
Bonus #1. Someone please buy this guy some new beer.
Bonus #2. This beer can also be enjoyed while waiting decades for a flipping giraffe to have a baby.

Headline: The Presidential election. 

In case you’ve been in a cave for the past year, two of the least electable candidates in modern memory faced off against each other. For this beer, we offer a suggested pairing for each candidate.

Suggested pairings:
For Hillary Clinton, Waterfront Brewery Crazy Lady.
For Donald Trump, nothing can beat Arrogant Bastard.

Headline: The Undrinkable (Not talking about Schlitz.)

Water in Flint, Michigan is slightly dirtier than the floor in a Major League Baseball dugout.

Suggested pairing: Parallel 49 Filthy Dirty IPA. I wonder if you can brush your teeth with it, or shower in it.  Hmmm …

Headline: Everyone Freaks Out About Zika.

First it was SARS … and then the bird flu … then H1N1 … and the latest epidemic that was 98% sure to wipe out the vast majority of people in the next 12 minutes was the Zika virus. As with each of the above examples, medicine and prevention slowed everything down. Tragedy averted.

Suggested pairing: 3 Stars Brewing Pandemic.

Headline: Celebrity deaths:

Prince, Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Merle Haggard … Seemed like the year was one celebrity death after another. Almost like a permanent funeral.

Suggested pairing: 3 Floyds Permanent Funeral.

Headline: Pokemon Go Creates Billions of Zombies

Sorry to offend, but people sitting in parking lots for hours and hours, instead of … you know … working and/ or contributing to society – it all seemed a little silly. Maybe every nerdy.

Suggested pairing: Brothers Craft Brewing Pilsnerd
Bonus: See if you can pass the test. Are these Pokemon characters or craft beers?

Headline: Email Server hacking

In the never-ending circus that was our aforementioned election, one of the recurring themes was over that of hacked email servers. Whether it was Hillary sneaking stuff around on her private servers, or the Russians hacking into Trump’s stuff – it was all we could talk about.

Suggested pairing: Hacker Pschorr Munchener Gold. No truth to the rumor that “Pschorr” is German for private email server.

Think you’re more clever-er than our writers? Wow us all with your suggestions below. And share the post with friends who like beer, news, or both.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington
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