Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monday Night Brewing, Atlanta, GA


On the face of the slogan placed on their building, I disagree.  At a deeper level within Monday Night Brewing’s origins, I get it.

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Located on Atlanta’s West End, the brewery’s tour options don’t favor those who travel from the ‘burbs.  Too much traffic.  But, on a weekend... this can be done.  So it was that some coworkers and friends visited for their 2-4 p.m. tasting/tour.  At what time should you arrive for a two hour window? 

Well, early seems to be the right call.

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Consider that for $10, you get a souvenir pint glass and 6 tickets for 4 oz. tastings of whatever is on tap.  Put the brewery on the increasingly popular West Side of Atlanta, and people come.

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As the crowd gathered, the number of females attending was remarked by a couple friends as being, well, remarkable.  So, I get curious and go to Google for answers to life’s questions.  Hmm, 25%-29% of women of legal age enjoy beer.  That’s interesting.  In my growing experience of visiting breweries, the female proportion is substantially higher than that, but well below the 51% population average.  If it’s a caloric intake issue, the women attending generally tend towards being pretty fit.  Maybe they all suffered from Bud Light at an earlier age and just said “no.”

Anyway, here’s the brewery fresh options (click to enlarge):

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Only, they were out of Drafty Kilt, Barrel Aged Drafty Kilt, and Tie Three On (though they may have found some of that near closing).  Brewery visits beg for trial run products, and the options felt a bit limited for an emerging major player in the Atlanta market.

Here’s an image on the portions:

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(Hint: 3 tickets for a full pour = not proportional, but 6 tickets = DUI without food, which isn’t served – and no food truck was present this day).  So here’s how they pour, with the Bed Head, an imperial IPA with coffee.  I’d say the pour was spot on.  It was also a delicious beer, and one that I would look for in area menus. 

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Next up was the Blind Pirate IPA, also very good, but not as distinctive in flavor as the Bed Head.

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Third was the T.Mac Daddy, brown, malts, and a bit roasted.  It was decent and not overpowering, unlike what might be suggested by the slang of it’s name, “a man with an unusual power over women.”  Absent an Austin Powers effect,  I’d try other beers instead.

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And lastly, in flavor as well, was the Nerd Alert pilsner.

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All in all, the Bed Head was the best encounter, and otherwise the rest wouldn’t steer me to their products given other local choices.  There’s ample competition, and Monday Night Brewing is pretty upfront about making “drinkable” beers.  In other words, they’re good, but they’re safe.

Which leaves the facility.  Most striking upon entering is the Wall of Ties.  The Origin Story involved three friends who moved their 6 a.m. Bible studies from the morning to Monday nights, at which point they also worked on home brewing.  Add experience, encouragement, and informal gatherings for a hundred or more guests, and there became a business imperative.

The result is people giving up their day jobs (i.e., their ties) for entrepreneurial risk.  Patrons get $1 off admission if they donate a tie to the wall.  A symbolic gesture with actual cash value.

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They also have the usual fare of brewery stuff.  A note, however, is that when we entered, the counter was full of pint glasses loaded with tickets.  The crowd was huge.

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Fortunately, we were early enough to get a table, and it’s a sizeable venue, with the lucky ones seated, several playing games, and many left standing indoors or on their patio.

The tour was hosted by “Duck,” an entertaining enthusiast who takes special effort to pose for pictures when he spots a camera.

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Yep, he saw me again. If I heard correctly, they can produce up to 10,000 bottles in their four brew kettles, and can bottle at a rate of 3,000 per hour (after fermenting, etc.).

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They added a formal touch to their vats.

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The quote of the day was during Duck’s description of the process, when he pointed out that spent grains were sold for cattle feed.  Brewers are very sensitive to being “green.”  Per Duck, “Nothing says ‘recycling’ like a rib eye.”  It will be a sad day when political correctness demands that carnivorous references be struck from public discussion.  Keep the faith, Duck.

Our motley crew:

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Birdsong Brewery, Charlotte, NC


Another night, another opportunity to try a different brewery.  Birdsong Brewing is located in the North Davidson area of Charlotte, immediately next door to NoDa Brewing presently.

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Birdsong has one of the more graphically appealing logos I’ve observed with breweries, and as polished as the building above looks... Birdsong is actually located at the rear.

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This speaks to “cheaper rent and functional space,” a wise decision when venturing into business, I would think.  The tap room has a certain cozy efficiency to it, both in materials and space.  Staff were helpful, and the balance between supply and demand were right on.

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Sitting at the bar, I found myself between two groups of regulars.  I suppose that if I lived convenient to a (good) brewery, that would be a temptation (more so if there was a concert venue next door).  The view from my seat was partially obstructed by plastic flower in growlers – I’m pretty certain that half of the owners are female, but it works in a modest nod towards hippie coolness.  As a bonus, you get peanuts and a thoughtful quote from Emerson. 

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In any case, between the flowers was the beer menu (click any picture to expand).

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I’ve had their “Jalapeno Pale Ale” at nearby Cabo Fish Tacos.  It’s very drinkable, but that works opposite to my expectations given the name.  It doesn’t stand out, by spice or other measure.  If you search really hard, you can detect the aroma of jalapenos, though.  After my peachy visit at RJ Rocker’s, I was eager to try another of the variety, thus.. “Eat a Peach.”

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This, sadly, was as unpeachy as the jalapeno ale was spicy.  Nice coloring, though, and otherwise the taste was average for an ale. 

You might wonder why it’s “Eat a Peach” vs. “Drink a Peach.”  Or, maybe you don’t, but the musically observant beer drinker would note that the the given name is also an album name by the Allman Brothers.  Similarly, the “Free Will Brown” references a song by Rush, “Lazy Bird Brown” may tease the brewery name but may also point a song by John Coltrane, “Higher Ground IPA” by Stevie Wonder, “Fake Plastic Trees Wheat” by Radiohead, and so on.  That’s an engaging way of naming beers, in my opinion.  There are no worthy Jalepeno songs, however.

Next up was THURsty THURsday, their weekly special 10 gallon release, which usually doesn’t make it through the day.  This was a Belgian style blonde ale (including plums, but not for color), dubbed “Lady Madonna Plum Blonde.”  It was actually pretty good, and I have no idea if I tasted plums or not.

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And, finally, for the tour, I grabbed their Higher Ground IPA, which was as good as any other good brewery’s, but not the sought after great.  I like IPAs, and I’d be interested sometime in doing a straight up comparison between theirs and the local competitors.  Good stuff.

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This particular tour was generally less informative than I had hoped, but that happens when it’s not a brewer leading the discussion.  Like a Marvel comic, it did come with the requisite Origin Story, though.  Some number of the (I think 4) friends that started the brewery were on a “research” trip to other breweries, staying at... a hostel.  Whereupon they heard a tweeting sound and thought that it was a trapped bird.  After looking for it, they found that it was their head brewer, snoring.

Below is half of their old fashioned method of keeping up where their kegs are located.

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As the hostel name suggests, the vibe of the brewery is much more informal than neighboring NoDa or the farther away Triple C.  That hasn’t hurt their growth, though.  They’ve found a niche that is now requiring a relocation from their 5,000 sq.ft. space to a 17,000 sq.ft. building farther up Davidson St.   Their current plant, below, is fairly modest.

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As is the trend, barrels are hard at work for future distillery infused flavors.

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One observation I take from most craft breweries is an appreciation of how people take an interest in a thing, get pretty good at it, and then pursue their dreams to create a business.  Birdsong began in 2011, a common age for many craft breweries, and most seem to expand significantly in 2-3 years.  The craft brewery business has been significantly impacted as the government in many states has encouraged craft beer growth, particularly by setting aside restrictive distribution laws – such as allowing growler refills and flexible serving hours.  Really progressive states also allow food to be sold.  

In any case, Birdsong is yet another strong brand in the Charlotte market, who, collectively, I’d say outperforms those in Atlanta for inventiveness.  Congregating a number of breweries in an area helps a lot.   And logo designs.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Triple C Brewing Company, Charlotte, NC


Charlotte, like most cities, has a budding craft brewery business.  For those visiting from out of town, it appears that there’s a cooperative spirit in planning evenings on which tours are conducted:   NoDa – Tuesdays, Triple C – Wednesdays, Birdsong – Thursdays.  Well, it was a Wednesday.

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Triple C is named after the first names of its three founders, of which two have departed as the brewery approaches its second anniversary this month.  The company has a 20,000 sq.ft. building which should handle growth for some years to come.

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The tap room is pretty warm, with a nice view into the brewery.  Seating was adequate for what is probably their biggest weeknight crowd due to the tour.  Outside tables and a food truck were available also.

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And, to the important stuff:  The beer menu.

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Well, where to start?  The Baby Maker DIPA, of course, which pours as beautifully as I’ve seen.  The beer was named after one of the brewery’s owners, at a time when a baby was in the works.  I like the pun, given the 8.5% alcohol content.

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This was a really tasty beer as well, and one that I would order again as a first preference at a local restaurant.  That’s not to say their 3C IPA is a slouch, either (named after three hops ingredients, not the founders).  That would be the same beer that their head brewer, Scott, is holding below.

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Scott is relatively young, but he’s been with the brewery since it began, after a start with home brewing and a couple of subsequent roles at breweries in DE and CO.  He seems to have established a good vision of what he wants and has the experience to get there.  It was a bonus to have him lead the tour, as so many breweries just put a “personality” in charge of explaining the history.

Below is Scott’s dog, a companion throughout the tour, obviously comfortable with the environs.

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3C has some barrel aged beers awaiting fruition this fall and early next year.

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Otherwise, there’s the usual assortment of stainless steel tanks, fermenters, etc.

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... as well as the space available from which they could triple their capacity as they grow.  They currently sell primarily in the Charlotte area.

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A worthy visit for locals or visitors!

Monday, August 4, 2014

RJ Rockers Brewery, Spartanburg, SC


Daughter in tow from a visit to Virginia, we stopped at the brewery that I really wanted to visit, RJ Rockers in Spartanburg, SC.  Some while back while visiting my dad, a non-beer drinker, he offered a Bell Ringer Ale, to this date the best beer I’ve had from South Carolina.

(And, it’s perhaps at this point that I should point out, as this is not an official brewery reviewing site, that I am not an alcoholic.  I drink responsibly, savoring the flavor of beers.  I say that also because I’ll likely have 2-3 more brewery reviews arriving soon.  Don’t worry folks.  I’m very mindful of my health, which is why I drink Coke Zero.  Only the best chemicals!)

My fondness for visiting breweries, as opposed to just sampling beers, is that this exploding business is very distinctively “local.”   I can get Atlanta Bread Company in Las Vegas or Seattle’s Best Coffee in Atlanta.  The capitalistic paradigm points towards expansion, but I tire of a homogenous nation.  How much fun is that? 

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So, here it is.  Out of sight to the right of the above is a space leased out as a restaurant, but the brewery has fun with the walls nevertheless:

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... as they should.  Going to something “local” means that you shouldn’t visit a cookie cutter venue – there should be some personality to it.  (The opposite of Jekyll Brewing, for instance).

In addition to embellishments, I’m also very agreeable to the use of old buildings.  They just don’t make curved roofs anymore.

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Their present site was built in 1947 as a Dodge dealership and was a Goodwill before Rockers purchased the building.

The beer, of course, matters too.  For a VERY agreeable $5, you get a souvenir pint glass and four tickets for 4 oz. pours.

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My choices were:  Black Perle, a dark IPA that might be a favorite had I not tried Schlafly’s Black IPA.  Still, it’s very good, and it’s a style – roasted malt and hops - that might be my personal favorite when I find “the One.”  New Belgium’s 1554 is close.

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Their Trainwreck IPA was a little disappointing, in that it was average.  I just hoped for more.

I generally don’t like fruit flavored beers (blueberry, strawberry, pear...), but I couldn’t help but try the Son of a Peach, with peaches purchased from the Clemson area.  It was pretty darn good for a light, refreshing beer.  Even better, though, was Peachy King, which was taken a different direction with a faint vanilla addition.  Kind of silky smooth. 

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Overall, I was very pleased with beers sampled, and I wish more of their beers were available in Atlanta.  I can understand that various beers appear to the tastes of the individual, but I find the ratings given Rockers’ beers on the two major rating services about 0.30 to 0.40 too low.  They should easily average a 4.0 across their brands.

Anyway, that leaves the tour.

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In which we observe the usual historical facts (began in a restaurant in 1997), and see the ubiquitous stainless steel vats, fermenters, kettles and such, as well as mentions of wort, CO2 relief valves, yeasts, hops, adjuncts... and...  I’ve heard it all before, and I enjoy hearing it again.  Maybe someday I’ll remember it all.

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I was surprised by the limited capacity, but then, I hadn’t paid much attention to the basement level, had I? 

What’s up with that? I’m supposed to be experienced at plant tours.

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And that’s how they keep up with demand, which is currently Maryland and south, though I did observe a 6 pack of their Patriot Ale in Portland recently.

If you’re wondering how bottles get into the 6 pack carriers... the answer is:  by hand.

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I’m glad I visited, and I’ll continue to favor their Bell Ringer Ale, and sample others when I can.

Disappointingly, they were out of XL’s for the shirt I favored...

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company


My daughter and I were recently in Virginia and took a day trip from Lynchburg to the University of Virginia, which has a beautiful campus, an amateurish football stadium, and a really good sandwich shop.  On the return trip, we ventured down Hwy 151.

There’s nothing wrong with Hwy 29, a 4 lane road that is the main thoroughfare between the two cities.  There are few stop lights and very little development in evidence.  It’s a very pretty, painless drive through beautiful trees with a scenic view of the Blue Ridge to the west.

On the return trip, we ventured down Hwy 151, closer to said mountains and again very lightly developed.  Farms, large homesteads, lots of trees... oh, yeah, and 7 wineries, 3 breweries, 1 cidery and 1 distillery along a 30 mile stretch advertised as Virginia’s Weekend Address.  And why not?  The Blue Ridge Parkway isn’t that far either, so it’s really just a matter of deciding which place you want to stop.  Most seem to offer food.

After doing my web homework on the breweries, I selected Devil’s Backbone.  I had one of their beers the previous year, they have styles I like, and the name is far more intriguing than, say, Rockfish Valley, as the general area is known.  (Other options were Wild Wolf Brewing and Blue Mountain Brewery).  From 151, it doesn’t look much like a brewery – more of a mountain lodge with a silo.

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(and bee hives and a windmill).

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Inside, it maintained the lodge appeal, with high vaulted ceilings and a number of mounted trophy heads.

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They offer a full menu, as well as wines and other beers.  Sadly, our timing was just a bit off for a tour.

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This brewery visit was a little different, as it was the first time I’ve gone with my daughter.  DB has three sets of “flights,” 2 oz. samplers of their beers.  We began with their mainstays:

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The set on the left are the Gold Leaf Lager, Eight Point IPA, and Pear Lager.  The first we agreed was okay, we split on the second (not hoppy enough for me and too hoppy for her), and pears don’t belong in beer.

The right set included the Vienna Lager, Schwartz Bier, and Striped Bass Pale Ale.  The first two had one a fair number of awards at various competitions. We liked the Vienna a good bit more than the Gold Leaf – in general, darker coloring indicates more flavoring, and I definitely favor those.  It’s not surprise then that the black bier was pretty decent to my taste... she was okay with it, but not a preference.  The Striped Bass, aside from the notion of drinking a fish, was fair.

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Set #2 was more adventurous, from left to right:

Trail Angel Weiss – Bavarian style hefeweizen – I’m not a big fan of wheat beers; she liked it alright.
Turbo Cougar Blonde Bock – strong gold lager, and probably our favorite of their lighter beers.
Ramsey’s Dwarf Stout – If you like stout... maybe you’d like this.  Not us, so much.
Bavarian Dark Lager – German style dunkle lager – pretty tasty with a caramel flavor.
Hebron Pale Ale – okay.  Overall, not as good as the first batch.

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We should have avoided flight #3.  Hazy Summer, Tommy 2 Fists, Ein Kolsch, Backbone Shandy and Berliner Metro Weiss, the last being dreadful and the remainder underwhelming.

Noticeably absent from their draught options were their Dark Abby Belgian,  Azrael Golden Ale, and Catty Wompus IPA, each of which would have suited me favorably.

So, after essentially tasting 16 one oz. servings, we were on our way, but not before we observed several practicing at DB’s outdoor theater (?), to present a “fast, sexy, and epic” version of Macbeth.  At the right is a guy in a black shirt who saw me taking a picture and struck a gallant pose.  I like Macbeth; I might like it more with beer.

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In sum, it was a good experience, and it’s an area that can entertain those with enthusiasm for the outdoors and alcohol for many weekends.