Atlanta has somehow become a craft beer mecca with some of the greatest beer bars in the world. This is a tribute to the beers and the bars.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mac McGee's

Downtown Decatur already has The Brick Store, The Grange, Thinking Man, and Twain's, so is there anything more to add?  I had my doubts, but after just a few moments in the recently opened Mac McGee's on the square I was sold.  I've never been to Dublin, but I've been in about a dozen London pubs in the last month, and this perfectly captured a beautiful, warm British pub.  More than captured, this is a beautiful, warm British pub with no sense of kitschiness.

First thing you notice after you adapt to being in Dublin is the 27 taps.  There are a few places around town with similar numbers of taps, but they tend to focus on American and Belgian beers.  There is a broader and deeper range of British beers here than any other pub I've seen in this country.  There aren't actually 27 different beers, as Guinness takes up four taps (as the bartender said, "We can't be running out of Guinness.").  I saw two big differences between this pub and British pubs I've visited.  On the plus side, the selection Belgian beers, though small, was actually good.  Houblon Chouffe, Oud Beersel Framboise, and Val Dieu Tripel is a very respectable list of Belgians in a British pub and much better than the token Brugse Zot found in most of the London pubs we were in.  On the negative side, sitting in that environment drinking a London Pride from a keg was disappointing.  You can't hold that against Mac McGee's, as I doubt you can get casks of real (live, unpasteurized) British ales here, but everything else about the place makes me want it.

Besides the beer, we were pleasantly surprised with the food.  Les got a broccoli and mushroom pasty with a salad.  The pasty was beautifully fried and flaky and the salad was nice and fresh.  I got a burger ad chips.  The burger was tasty if not special, but the chips were some of the best I've had.  Food was all very reasonably priced.

We already have one of the highest densities of great pubs anywhere and we should be thrilled to see another one come that offers something different.  Cheers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Picks for the week

This is pretty easy this week.  The distributor B. United is taking over the taps at The Porter on Friday so we get treated to some beers rarely ever seen on tap.  Big selection from the wild Japanese brewery Hitachino including their Real Ginger Ale, Red Rice, Espresso Stout, Commemorative, and White.  White shows up on tap occasionally but I don't think I've seen the others.

I'm most curious about the Red Rice and the Commemorative.  The Red Rice is 25% rice with the remainder being pilsner malt.  It's not a pilsner though, as the yeasts are an ale yeast and a sake yeast (ale yeast can't break down the rice sugars).  It's supposed to be a slightly fruity, sake-like, bitter, complex beer.

The Commemorative is a spiced Eisbock with coriander, orange zest, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla bean.  From Hitachino I think it's safe to assume that this one will be pretty far removed from any Eisbock you've had (which for most people would be limited to Aventinus).

Besides Hitachino I'm looking forward to the Sinebrychoff Porter, a great example of a Baltic Porter.

The list is being updated on The Porter's website.  I keep hoping to see Ondineke show up.  I know that B. United is the distributor and The Porter had it once for about a day.  It may have been the best tripel I've ever had.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Here and There

I was thinking a few days ago about how odd it is that Ommegang Hennepin rarely shows up on tap around town, and then it appeared at The Porter this week.  A very good rendition of a Belgian farmhouse saison, it boasts a richer body than many saisons, with some nice light fruitiness, grassy hops, some spice, subtle yeasty funk, and a lingering bitterness.  I think this is a beer that would appeal to serious beer drinkers and novices, while also being great for food pairings.

We stopped by Kirkwood Public House as business was winding down last night.  Apparently a lot of people noticed the beautiful new painted sign and stopped in to check it out so they had a great weekend.  It's good to hear that the transition has started successfully.

Update 1/25: As commenter Leslie (coincidentally also my girlfriend) pointed out, I forgot to mention the most important part of our conversation with the owner.  Though because of stupid distribution laws no bar can buy straight from a brewery, in keeping more with the farm to table concept of locality he wants to focus on American beers.  I love Belgians, but there are so many great American beers that I think it's a good idea to highlight that.  There's probably a limited market for expensive, rare Belgians and I think that part of the market is pretty well taken care of by The Porter and BSP.  I'll take a Stone or Jolly Pumpkin any day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kirkwood Public House

Yesterday I mentioned that it seemed that Kirkwood Vinocity had become Kirkwood Public House.  I stopped in today to get the scoop and was lucky to find the owner, John Turpin, behind the bar and we talked for awhile.  Apparently my speculation was correct.  The Vinocity sign came down Monday and the new sign started being painted yesterday (Wednesday).  The official re-unveiling to the public will probably be January 30th.  He confirmed that they had a new chef and before I realized he was the owner I told him the old food was inedible.  The new kitchen is completely farm to table.  It haven't eaten there yet so I can't comment on quality, but the few words I've heard around have been positive.

As for the important thing at this site, they have expanded their beer list.  The have 11 beers on tap (technically 12, but one will always be occupied by Miller lite for the football watchers) and will soon have 38 bottles for an even 50 beers, which will be more than their wine selection.  They'll still offer 38 wines by the glass though.  It was clear that John is still more of a wine guy than beer guy, but he also clearly wants to run a good beer bar.  As I hope is clear, everything is currently in transition, so I'm not judging anything yet.  On the bright side they had Allagash Tripel, Highland Oatmeal Stout, Clipper City Loose Cannon, and a tap will soon have Terrapin Hopsecutioner.  It seems that having the Terrapin Hopsecutioner, Clipper City Loose Cannon, Dogfish Head 60 minute, and Sweetwater IPA is quite a bit of overkill on highly hopped IPAs, but hopefully we'll see more of a balance of styles soon.  Of the 12 taps he said that only the Guinness, 420, and Miller Lite would be regulars and the rest of the taps would rotate, which to me is the mark of a good beer bar.

A little complaint: I don't mind if smaller places don't go to quite the lengths of The Porter and BSP in providing every beer in its own glass, but I would like to taste something like the Allagash Tripel in a goblet instead of a pint glass.  I realize I'm a beer snob, but hey, we all have issues and it really does make a difference in the flavor and overall experience.  It's hard to complain too much about the glass though when you're getting 12 oz of a good trippel for $5.00.

I'll be checking back to see how the transition goes.

Update 1/22: fixed major typos
Update 2/10: I've eaten here now and since this is a beer blog didn't think that food warranted a whole new post.  This is a vast improvement over the old chef.  I just got a burger and fries and they were both good examples of just letting ingredients shine.  It was a simple burger, but well seasoned, well cooked, and somehow very meaty.  The fries were nicely crunchy and potatoey and some of the best I've had in the city, maybe only behind The Porter (some would disagree...The Porter's are loaded with herbs and garlic and come with an awesome charred onion mayo, all of which can be a little polarizing).  Beer list leaves something to be desired to be a beer destination place, but at least there's Allagash Tripel.

Picks for the week

I was driving down Hosea Williams and saw that the sign for Kirkwood Vinocity seemed to be down and that "Kirkwood Public House" is now painted above the door.  My girlfriend and I gave up on Vinocity months ago after trying a few times because the food was so bad.  I just read that they got a new chef in November (formerly at Rathbun's) and now it looks like maybe it's going to be more of a beer place.  Possibly just wishful thinking (it's about a mile from my house), but it's an awesome spot that I think would thrive as a beer bar and I want to check it out.

Elsewhere, not a lot new to report, though it didn't interest me much last week, the Smuttynose takeover at The Porter looks good now.  A lot of it is still there and they have a few sour offerings, Brett & I, and Strawberry Weiss (a Berlinnerweisse, which tend to be mildly sour).

An even more interesting sounding sour beer is at The Brick Store, a collaboration between Bell's Brewery in Michigan and De Proeff in Belgium called Van Twee.  Beers can get their sour flavor from sour fruits, a bacteria (usually lactobacillus or pediococcus), or a yeast (generally Brettanomyces).  Van Twee gets its sourness from sour Michigan cherries and Brett yeast.  Only 1,000 liters were kegged, so this will probably be your only shot to get it.

Finally, a crew from the great Canadian brewery Unibroue will be at The Grange in Decatur January 26th with some of their beers on tap.  They must have been the first brewery on this side of the Atlantic making Belgian style ales.  They released their first beer in 1992 and Ommegang, in New York, didn't open until 1997.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trends and idle speculation

I had a Founders Red Rye at Steinbeck's a few days ago and couldn't help thinking that the overwhelming grapefruit hops that characterize so many American ales (Dogfish Head 60 probably being the most prevalent example) have run their course.  I felt like I had gone back in time.  Could just be wishful thinking on my part.

There's a trend that's much more exciting though: sour beers!

There seems to be a real trend towards sour beers.  It wasn't too long ago that the only lambic you saw was a sweetened Lindeman's (made by killing the wild yeasts so that a last addition of sugar would not get turned to alcohol).  Then, somehow, Duchesse de Bourgogne settled into steady rotation at BSP and The Porter.  It has some added candy sugar to make it more palatable to those not used to a traditional Flemish sour, but it will still shock your taste buds the first time you try it.  Since the arrival of Duchesse there has been a slow trickle of new sour beers, and though they don't all reach Atlanta taps yet, a lot of the best American brewers are starting to pay attention to sour.  For those not familiar with these wonderful beers I'll post more soon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Firkin Madness!

It's firkin madness at The Porter this week, which sounds great, but then you realize you don't know what a firkin is or why you should care.  I'll start by saying that you should care because it means you're drinking a fresh, naturally carbonated, living ale.  There's not loss of flavor from filtering (meaning the beer will be cloudy) and they are served room temperature to let all the flavors be more fully released.  I assume there's only one firkin of each beer (9 imperial gallons), so they'll probably go fast, which is good because once a gravity drawn firkin is tapped they have very limited shelf life.  Here's the schedule.  I'm looking forward to the Lenny's.

Tuesday-Bell's 2 Hearted Ale
Wednesday-Allagash Black
Thursday-Lenny's RIPA
Friday-Heavy Seas Hop^3

If you care what a firkin is you can read after the jump.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stone Double Bastard

I mentioned Stone Double Bastard last week, but thought it deserved a post of its own.  There is simply not a better American ale.  The flavor is similar to the Arrogant Bastard, with nice caramel and piney hops.  The hops have been somewhat smoothed out in the double and there is a rich, malty base.  It's sweet, as you would expect from a 10.5% ABV beer, and wonderfully boozy, but the hops provide a nice bitterness to balance.  There's a subtle fruitiness as well.  What takes this beer from delicious to unbelievable is the mouthfeel.  This is an astonishingly smooth and creamy beer with beautiful carbonation that dances on your tongue, opening up the palate to accept the complex flavors.  This should be an $8.00, but you can get it at The Porter for $3.50.

Sadly, I read today that this is just a seasonal beer, so get it while you can.

(picture: Me enjoying my first Double Bastard at the Brick Store in November.  The Double Bastard glass, which the Porter unfortunately doesn't have, is probably the coolest beer glass there is.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Picks for the week

I don't see any clear winners, but there is a lot of good stuff out.  Here's my take on it.

The Porter-They still have a few Allagash left over from last week, most notably Fluxus and Hugh Malone.  Starting tomorrow Smuttynose will be taking over the taps.  The list will include Oak Aged G-Bock, Brett & I's, Oak Aged Big A IPA, Smutt-A-Roni, Wheat Wine, Strawberry Weiss, Finestkind IPA, Robust Porter, and Old Brown Dog.  I've recently had the G-Bock and Old Brown Dog and wasn't too impressed, though many of these are very limited releases so you may want to be one of the few to ever try them on tap.  I should say that many of these are highly regarded IPAs and wheat beers, but I just don't get very excited about either style.

The Brick Store Pub- The Founders Brewing Company's Backwoods Bastard looks good, but why is BSP serving a 10.2% beer in an 18 oz glass?  Same with the Sweetwater Happy Ending.  I love the beer, but who wants 20 oz of a 9% beer?  The Porter would have probably put the Founders in an 8 oz glass and I would order it.  Probably won't order this one.  Good thing they have a great Belgian selection right now.  Check out Mad Bitch, a great tripel that I think falls between the sweetness of Tripel Karmeliet and the bitterness of De Ranke Guldenberg, which is happily also on the menu.  If you're in the mood for a new dark Belgian, Terrapin's The Dark Side is a good Belgian style imperial stout.

Steinbeck's Public House- Sometimes you really just need one great light beer ad one great dark beer on the menu and right now Steinbeck's has it nailed with Stone IPA and Bells Expedition Imperial Stout.  I think each is one of the best examples of their style.  

Monday, January 11, 2010

Allagash at The Porter

The Porter continues to raise the bar in this city for catering to beer geeks.  You can get a brewery's biggest 1-2 beers all over, but where besides the brewery will you find 11 on tap?  Starting this past Friday you could find 11 Allagash brews at The Porter.  There were 8 I wanted (the other 3 are more readily available) and fortunately those 8 could be had in sets of 4 oz tastings that Les and I split.  Yet again, this shows how The Porter raises the bar for beer geeks: we each got to try 8 beers, but only drank a pint.  Here's my quick take on the beers we had:

Odyssey-strong, dark wheat beer.  It seemed complex, but I had a hard time picking out specific flavors.  I would like more of this without being surrounded by 7 other beers (the slight disadvantage of tasting this many beers).

Fluxus-A saison brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper, but I wouldn't have guessed that.  I thought it had some character of a light bodied, spicy tripel with a little bit of pear.

Burnham Rd-I'm not a fan of rausch beers (beers made from drying the malt over a flame).  The smokiness in this was more subtle than some I've had, but I still don't care for drinking beer that tastes like bacon.

Victor-Molly said that she was expecting this to be winey based on Allagash's description that it is brewed with grapes and a wine yeast.  Like her I didn't find any wine quality, but there was a lot of grape juice flavor.  That's not a bad thing, just what it is.

Four-Made with four malts, four hops, four sugars and four Belgian yeast strains.  Piney hops dominate nose, but balanced taste.

Hugh Malone-Very nice.  I usually don't like when simcoe hops dominate, but it didn't bother me at all in this one.

Interlude-My favorite of the bunch, but I am biased in favor of any beer with even a hint of Brettanomyces yeast.  A little light fruit (pear, plum, apricot) and that awesome Brett funkiness.

Tripel-Good example of a standard tripel.

I'm looking forward to the Smuttynose takeover this weekend and the B. United takeover the next week.  And don't worry if you want to drink something else.  The Porter has enough taps that even the with giving 11 to Allagash they still had one of the best selections in the city on the remaining taps.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sour cherries, chocolate chip cookies, and ham at The Brick Store

As I mentioned in my last post there are some exciting beers at BSP right now, so Les and I ventured out in the cold last night to try them, and between the two of us plus a few samples from the always generous bartenders we tried a wide range of distinctive and rare beers.

First was a tasting of Smuttynose G-Bock that the bartender gave me as I was awaiting my Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek '07 from upstairs.  G-Bock is a very limited and unofficial release doppelbock.  It immediately brought to mind Samichlaus, the infamously strong (14%) Swiss doppelbock.  The Smuttynose isn't quite as strong or rich and is rumored to be around only 11-12%.  Taste profile is very similar though, with caramelized brown sugar, chocolate, rich malts, and slightly bready yeast making it taste like a browned chocolate chip cookie.  It's too sweet for me to want to drink much of it, but the few sips I had were nice.

And then we get to the beer I was most excited to try: Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek '07.  Supposedly you can only get this in the bottle in Belgium, but they'll occasionally send a few kegs to the US.  Sour cherries dominate.  As this is a real lambic you don't get the cloying sweetness that you get from a Lindemans lambic that has been pasteurized and had sugar added.  This is tart cherry, acetic vinegar, very little carbonation, and astringent tannins(?).  Does cherry skin contain tannins?  It turns out that yes, it does.  If you haven't experienced a lambic this may seem like an extremely unpleasant description, but it was very nice.  I found myself wanting it to be a little more funky and yeasty, but that's just a personal preference.  This is the nicest example of a traditional kriek I've come across.

While I was drinking Cantillon, Les was drinking De Ranke Guldenberg, from which I of course stole a few sips.  It hits the tongue like Tripel Karmeliet (which is good-our friend Doug has dubbed it Tripel Karmeyum), but a then a wave of bitter hops takes over.  Rich body, bready Belgian yeasts, slight fruity sweetness, a little citrus and spice, and a load of hops.  Very tasty.

The bartender offered me a sample of Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche when I asked if anyone likes it (the staff hates it but it's been pretty popular).  Wow.  Tastes like a stock made with smoked ham hocks.  Not recommended for drinking, but I would actually like to cook with it.

I also had the Ommegang Adoration, but I think my taste buds were completely shot at this point.  It's supposed to be spiced but I didn't detect any.  I tasted cherry, chocolate, and dark fruits.  I thought it tasted like what I remember Ommegang's Three Philosophers tasting like.  Enjoyable, but not what I was expecting.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best bets for the week

This week there is a lot of great stuff at The Porter.  Stone Double Arrogant Bastard, one of my favorite American ales is at The Porter for $3.50.  They also have New Belgium's Lips of Faith La Folie, a new sour ale that gets good reviews, and Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper, one of my favorite Christmas ales that probably won't be around much longer.  

The real fun starts Friday though, when Allagash takes over 10 taps.  Besides the readily available White and Curieux we'll be treated to rare offerings of Hugh Malone, Burnam Road, Fluxus, Victory, Odyssey, Interlude, Four, and Triple.  I'm especially looking forward to having Interlude again (it was on tap at BSP a few months back).  It's a beautiful sour beer.

Also try to head over to BSP for two very rare Belgians, Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek '07 and De Ranke Guldenberg.  Bottles of the Cantillon run $25.00 in liquor stores, but you can get it on tap now for $7.00.  This is a real lambic, supposedly extremely tart and complex.  De Ranke Guldenberg is a strong blonde ale with more hoppiness than you would associate with most Belgian triples.


After exploring the best beer bars in New York, London, Amsterdam, Toronto, Portland, Philadelphia, etc., I realize that no city in the world has better beer bars than Atlanta.  A lot of this can be traced to the influence of The Brick Store Pub, but now with The Porter in L5P raising the bar for draft list and pub food, more recent arrivals of The Bookhouse Pub in Poncey Highlands, The Grange Public House in Decatur, and Ormsby's in West Atlanta, and great selections at some smaller neighborhood pubs (I love Steinbeck's in Oakhurst), we have a thriving beer bar scene (I hate to not list them all, but love that there are too many to list here).

I'll be trying to keep you up to date on draft offerings from as many interesting pubs as possible and giving my opinion on best bets, along with my reviews of what I'm drinking.


Christmas ales on tap-a retrospective

This was a good year for Christmas ales in Atlanta pubs.  Here's what I tried, roughly in order:

Corsendonk Christmas- One of the classics. Creamy, complex, a little spicy.  I found it at Taco Mac before it showed up in any my standard haunts.

Delerium Noel- This was one of my favorites last year but the flavor profile seems a little flat this year. Still delicious, but not what I remembered. Worth another try, considering I had it right after the St. Bernardus Christmas, which wouldn't be fair to any beer that follows it.

St. Bernardus Christmas- The greatest Christmas ale of them all? It's like a richer, creamier, spicier version of the Corsendonk. Sweet dark fruits are beautifully balanced by the spice and what seems to be more of a hop presence than in most Belgian Christmas ales. Feels like velvet on the tongue and has a long, slightly dry finish. Mmm.

Scaldis Noel- flat, thin, syrupy, and almost undrinkably sweet

Mikkeller To: From:- Very interesting spiced Baltic Porter. Roasted, almost burnt malts, a little clovey, and intense. Not my favorite, but one of the most interesting and worth trying if you like strong, dark ales.

De Ranke Pere Noel- lighter and lower abv than your standard Christmas Ale. A little fruity (pear) without being overly sweet. Hoppier than most Christmas ales with a little spice.

N’Ice Chouffe-One of the more complex tasting of the bunch. Some orange and dark fruit, spicy, and some definite heat from the alcohol. I would probably rank this right behind Bernie Christmas.

Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale- This was on tap various places, but I had it at home in the bottle. Maybe it's different on tap. Appearance was fine. Smell was lacking in much complexity. Taste was where things went way wrong. Did I make a mistake and just start drinking out of my bottle of vanilla extract? I think the only real difference would be that vanilla extract would have more of an alcohol warmth (pure vanilla extract is 35% alcohol). This is one of the worst beers I've ever had. There may have been some flavors besides the vanilla, but I couldn't taste it.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale- An American style Christmas ale, this is a very nice spiced double IPA. Good malt/hop balance and gentle spice. Considerably lower abv than the Belgians.

Sweetwater Festive- A mighty fine ale.  Raisin/dark fruit base that almost gives it the body of a Belgian quad. Light hops and a little sweetness.  That would be an easy beer to drink a few of.

Heavy Seas Winter ESB- delicious, dark, spiced ESB.

Winter Koninck by De Koninck- Les had this one and didn't find it very interesting, but okay. I had a sip and didn't like it. I meant to try it again and figure out what flavor offended me, but I never got around to it. Anyway, not recommended.

Ridgeway Very Bad Elf- as the name implies, was very bad. The fuggles hops were so overwhelming that it was hard to drink (full disclosure-I don't like any beers with strong fuggles hops). Fuggles is good in moderation, but this beer had an odd, cloying bitterness and no balance, which is what I find with all beers that overdo fuggles. I'm not really sure what made this a Christmas ale, though the winter warmers I just drank in London last week were also heavy on fuggles.

Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper 2009- This is now one of my favorite Christmas ales. The main flavor is of chocolate covered raspberry, which tempers the piny simcoe hops. There is a background of spices more traditionally found in a wit (orange peel and coriander). Very smooth, creamy, and a little boozy (Les would say very boozy...she said it just tasted like whiskey) with good carbonation. A beautiful, slightly strange beer that I highly recommend.