Taco Mac Brewniversity

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I’m only a “pledge” at BREWNIVERSITY, but I’m beginning to understand the differences between ales, India pale ales, stouts, pilsners, lagers… and, well, maybe not so much.  But I’ve managed to characterize beers as darker or lighter as a starting reference.  That’s the marketable value of the diploma I’m pursuing, I suppose.  I can at least tell you if I like a beer when I taste it.  Sorry, stouts. 

It’s a start.

Rather than training my palate to appreciate and distinguish between grains, hops, yeasts, and adjuncts, I prefer to think less and enjoy more.  Less thoughtful, tastes great?  Unfortunately, not all beers do. 

Taco Mac is a growing chain, with locations in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.  An early purveyor of “buffalo wings,” the restaurant has evolved to pub status, with a bar and separate dining area that serves the basics of pub food – burgers, wings, sandwiches, and selected staples of Southwestern foods to justify their name.

I’m sure other bars/chains have similar customer loyalty programs, but Taco Mac’s Brewniversity  program is, to my knowledge, unique BrewUniversityto my area.  Drink 13 different types of beers, get a Brewniversity Pledge T-shirt.  Drink a lot more beers, get… well, keep drinking and eventually you’ll get other rewards.

It’s better to focus on each step of the journey.  Each time you present your membership card, they provide you with a record of the beers you’ve ordered in the past. To build credits, you have to purchase beers that you haven’t ordered before.  This might seem quite a challenge for those whose universe of beer measures all the way from Bud to Miller and back (including Lites, to be fair).

Here’s a breaking story.  There are more breweries out there than those who advertise during the SuperBowl.  See below.

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And that’s just the draught beers.  They also offer perhaps 200 bottled beers as well, plus a monthly rotating stock of other beers available for only a limited time.

The beer world is getting interesting.  In college, on the few occasions when I was flush with money, I might have had a Molson.  Maybe a Heineken.  Imported beers were $1.50 or $2.00, compared with domestics at $1.00.  But there was a certain distinctiveness that made them worth more than the beer flavored water favored by most.  Ah, those were the days…

Graduating from college into real life did not afford me the opportunity to take residence in a bar à la Norm or Cliff at Cheers.  I had better things to do, and, when it comes down to it, I actually prefer soft drinks to complement most of my meals.  As my wife doesn’t like beer, I’ve always considered that it would be a sad commentary on my life to be drinking a beer by myself.  At home. It’s not the type of thing that I would seek to make a habit.

Beer, for me, isn’t just about savoring a hint of chocolaty roasted malt or assessing the amplitude of the bitterness of the hops.  It’s a social thing.

But back to the beer.  The Brewer’s Association, as of June, 2010, lists 1,599 “Craft” breweries.  Some argue what a craft brewery is, but it’s basically an independently run brewery with a relatively small production capacity as compared with the national brands.  Look at the growth:

Interestingly, imported beer sales were down 9.8% in 2009.  Chalk up a win for “Made in the USA.”  One current estimate puts the number of planned craft breweries at over 500.  There’s clearly plenty of options, as each brewery releases multiple types of beer.

So back to Taco Mac.  Brewniversity, despite a structure that encourages trying new beers and periodic rewards, is not sufficient in and of itself to draw me back Highlandsregularly.  Beer isn’t cheap, and it costs quite a bit more when sold separately, not including tips.

But, that’s not the end of the story.  For myself and a number of friends, the attraction to Taco Mac is the Beer of the Month.  As that title suggests, Taco Mac features a brewery (sometimes two) and a few of their beers.  There are no discounts, but each Thursday evening, if you order their featured beer, you also get a FREE glass with the brewer or product logo.

Now, there’s a structure and even an increased incentive to come back regularly.  This isn’t a small thing, given the vast number bars from My HipstaPrint 0which to choose to meet with people for a beer.  It clearly works, as evidenced by the small crowd waiting for for us to leave our seats each visit.

Properly executed, the Beer of the Month also brings with it an expectant attitude of “Oh, good!  We’re going to Taco Mac next Thursday.”  Even as our visits are becoming a recurring marker of how time is fleeting by, it’s also a reminder that beer and friends (and to be fair, nachos with salsa) are not things that should be kept apart for too long.

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