Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beer Trip #2-Stop #4-Shenandoah Pizza and Hops

We made a quick stop to see a friend and have lunch in Staunton, Virginia. Not really expecting to find a whole lot of craft beer in this small town in the mountains of VA, we were pleasantly surprised to find Shenandoah Pizza at 19 East Beverley Street in the heart of downtown. Not only do they have over 20 fabulous gourmet pizzas (we had a combo with 1/2 Virginia Vineyard a white pizza made with locally grown grapes and the Swoope with artichoke hearts and alfredo sauce), they also have a list of 200 beers! We then found out that they have a new shop around the corner at 9 North New Street called Shenandoah Hops which sells local crafts and products as well as working on a starting a great craft beer selection. We picked up a bomber from Bear Republic as well as a six pack of our Terrapin Moo-Hoo! We chatted with co-owner Cheryl Huggins and discussed their attempts to get world class beer into Staunton. We highly recommend both places as a destination whenever you're near Staunton, VA which is at the crossroads of I-64 and I-81.
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel with our friend Kathy Wine

Beer Trip #2-Stop #3-RJ Rockers Brewing Company

The brewery

We then headed to Spartanburg, South Carolina, home of RJ Rockers Brewing Company located in a huge warehouse at 226-A West Main Street. Once we parked we had to walk around the tractor-trailer that was being loaded with cases of RJ Rockers. Evidently, this brewery is headed in the right direction! We met with Case Wood, the Sales and Marketing Director, as he was busily working on a test batch of a Russian Imperial Stout. Oh, we should have mentioned that the first person to greet us was actually their brewdog, Stout! After we were properly introduced, Case started showing us around the brewery and directed us to a line of taps for sampling. Our favorites were the Black Perle (a hearty porter-like Dark IPA), the First Snow ale (a pale ale with spices), and the Bell Ringer (their Strong Ale). The rest of the crew were busy forklifting pallets into the truck and labeling and boxing. Everyone had a hand in making sure the small crew keeps up with demand. We also met  some of the "Sons of the Fermentation", a collection of folks that had a hand in getting RJ Rockers started and continue to stop by to check in. We were able to chat briefly with Mark Johnsen, the Owner and Brewmaster, as well as Henry Depew, the President. All were gracious enough to share some of their precious time to show us around and take photos. If you find yourself in Spartanburg, RJ Rockers is a destination you must plan for! On a side note expect RJ Rockers in the Athens area soon!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel with l/r Robby Hayes, Mark Johnsen, Henry Depew, David Erickson and Case Wood. Oh, and Stout, of course! 

Beer Trip #2-Stop #2-Blue Ridge Brewing Company

The brewery/restaurant
Next stop was for lunch and a flight at Blue Ridge Brewing Company in downtown Greenville, SC at 217 North Main Street. A beautiful location in the heart of lovely downtown Greenville, we could see the brewery through the large window at the front of the building. This was the first time we've seen an actual working brewery right in the midst of the restaurant! We sat down at a booth and started chatting with the friendliest waiter we've ever met, Johnny. No joke! He described the beers in the flight and recommended we also try their Little Willie barleywine. He was absolutely right as the barleywine was delicious! We ordered lunch which consisted of huge portions at a great price. After we mentioned our blog to Johnny, he went to find Johannes Baddorf the Brewmaster. Johannes stopped by and chatted with us about the beers and went back to work. Right in the middle of the lunch crowd, Johannes worked the mash and then took time for some photos. If you're looking for a very reasonably priced meal with great beer, look no further than Blue Ridge Brewing Company. Ask for Johnny, world's friendliest waiter, and tell him we sent you!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Johannes Baddorf

Beer Trip #2-Stop #1-Thomas Creek Brewery

The brewery
The second leg of our Holiday Beer Tour started in South Carolina as we made a circuitous route to James' hometown of Richmond, Virginia to visit family and friends. First stop on the trip was Thomas Creek Brewery located at 2054 Piedmont Highway in Greenville, SC. The brewery is located just outside of downtown in a white warehouse. We were greeted by Katie Barnes, the Sales and Marketing Director, who then introduced us to Scott Harke, Operations Manager. Scott gave us a brief description of Thomas Creek before offering samples of James' favorite, their Up the Creek DIPA, and one of their new creations for the Atypical series, a banana split stout. We then proceeded with a thorough tour of the brewery and brewing process including an overview of all the contract brewing they do. We even saw kegs for Atlanta's newest brewery, Wild Heaven, sitting on a pallet ready for shipping. Thomas Creek has big plans for expansion as their brand is growing by leaps and bounds even reaching as far as Sweden. We had a couple more samples as we chatted and met their brewdog, Porter, and waited for some homebrewers to finish buying their supplies. Thomas Creek has a large selection of homebrew supplies available for purchase right there at the brewery. We made a few purchases of our own including a bottle of the first release in the Atypical series "Conduplico Immundus Monachus, or the Dirty Monk", and we chatted briefly with Tom Davis, Owner and Brewmaster. A perfect beginning to our trip, everyone at Thomas Creek was exceptionally friendly and if you're in the Greenville area make sure to stop in and visit! 
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel with Tom Davis and Scott Harke

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review--Terrapin Beer Company
The crowd from the summer
Somehow, even though we've lived near Athens for 5 years, we only made our first trip to Terrapin Beer Company almost a year ago to the day. Why did we wait so long??  Of course we've been back regularly since, with our latest visit just before our Asheville Beer Trip. Terrapin is located at 265 Newton Bridge Road in a large white warehouse that was formerly a designer jeans factory. They have tours Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30-7:30. Once you're inside the gift shop (with everything Terrapin you could possibly imagine!), purchase a pint glass for $10 and you'll receive admission, the glass, eight 4-ounce sample tickets and a tour. Once inside the warehouse there's a bar, tables and a small area for live music. Terrapin always has a musical act and they have a stage outside for events once the weather warms. While we have yet to meet the elusive Brewmaster Spike Buckowski or President John Cochran, we've been lucky enough to have met Jason Kallini the Tour and Events Manager and merchandising guru. On our last visit, they had a fantastic tap line up including Big Daddy Vlady, Depth Charge, Hoptaneous Combustion, Moo-Hoo and the usual suspects. Jason led the most informative tour we've been on at Terrapin and spent time talking to us about Terrapin's plans for 2011. If you're near or in Athens you have to make the time to visit Terrapin and try some of the best beers the Southeast has to offer! Now, if we could only track down Spike...
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Jason Kallini

Every nook and cranny!
To complete our trip (although we didn't make all the breweries), we had to visit Bruisin' Ales downtown at 66 Broadway Street. Voted the #3 Beer retailer in the world per, we were excited to see what craft beer goodies we could find here that we can't normally get in Georgia. A modest storefront greeted us but upon entrance we found a shop with every nook and cranny filled with bottled gems from around the world. Catering to both domestic and imported buyers, they also had a large selection of local and state brews. We were able to pick up a bottle of the Pisgah Valdez and Mother Earth's Silent Night that we raved about in earlier reviews. Our friend also picked up quite a few selections. The highlight was meeting the co-owner Julie Atallah. Charming and willing to chat with us, we discussed everything from Facebook fan pages to the Asheville beer scene. Bruisin' Ales also has a couple of taps and we enjoyed a snifter of Bell's Hell Hath No Fury while we shopped. Aimee even found a bar of "craft brewed soap"-handmade soap from a local artisan with actual hops visible in the bar! Truly a one stop shop for all things beer, Julie and Bruisin' Ales completed our first Asheville tour in grand style. Make sure you don't miss Bruisin' Ales on your Asheville trip. Actually, plan on stopping by when you get to town to stock up and on the way out to pick up everything local you've sampled. A must visit!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Julie Atallah


Downstairs Belgian bar
Right after our visit to Green Man Brewery on our Asheville trip, we headed over to the Thirsty Monk in downtown located at 92 Patton Avenue. We already planned on stopping here but had even more incentive as Stone Brewing was having an event with some of our favorite beers on tap. Located on the corner, we ventured inside and the place was already packed. We made a quick trip downstairs to the basement Belgian bar with tons of Belgian beer on tap and in bottles. We would have loved to stay but all the action was taking place upstairs so we headed back and found seats at the bar. We ordered a Stone Vertical Epic flight to start off which consisted of '06, '09 and '10 vintages. We then proceeded through '08 and '10 Imperial Russian Stouts while chatting with the folks at the bar and making new friends. In case we didn't mention this before, the people in Asheville are incredibly friendly and hospitable and they're the real draw to Asheville! Unfortunately, we couldn't stay as long as we would have liked, due to the weather, but we highly recommend...scratch that...we insist that you stop by the Thirsty Monk as soon as you hit the town. An unbelievable tap and bottle selection and friendly people on both sides of the bar!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel at the bar


The bar
When you find yourself in Asheville, one of THE places to stop by for food and drink is Barley's located in downtown at 42 Biltmore Avenue. We wandered in for a late afternoon lunch after hearing nothing but good things from the locals. We weren't disappointed! We had missed the lunch crowd and it was pre-dinner so we had the bar pretty much to ourselves. Barley's has a huge tap list of local brews and they had just tapped one we were hoping to try, Mother Earth's Silent Night. We actually had the first two glasses and it was barrel aged boozy goodness in a glass! The food was fantastic and quite reasonably priced for the portions. This was our introduction to Beefalo a tasty cross between beef and buffalo locally raised. Our bartender was full of useful knowledge about the area and gave us directions to our second stop, Asheville Brewing Company, which was within walking distance. Our Barley's story doesn't end there, as we decided to stop by for a late dinner after the Wedge the next night. We wanted our friends to try the Silent Night and had to have another glass ourselves. Barley's was hopping and we were lucky to find a table. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to check out the upstairs which has even more taps and billiards. That will have to wait until next time. There's also a stage for live music. Centrally located with several breweries within walking distance, Barley's is the place to go for great food and local beers!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel w/Silent Night at Barley's

ASHEVILLE BEER TRIP-Stop #7-Wedge Brewing Company

The fence
Our final brewery stop in Asheville was Wedge Brewing Company at 125 B Roberts Street located in the middle of the River Arts District. Wedge is actually below street level and around back of the building. Just follow the awesome Tim Burton-esque iron fence to the arrow pointing down the stairs to the entrance. We walked into a party! Music was pumping and it was standing room only in the small tasting room with everyone happily chatting and drinking away. When we managed to get to the bar we ordered a flight and could see the rows of fermenters through a window. We were able to score a couple of seats and the Community Porter and the Raspberry Imperial Stout were instant hits. We can only imagine what this place is like in the warmer months when people can actually venture outside. If you're looking for quality beers and a party atmosphere, Wedge is the place to be!
The tasting room

ASHEVILLE BEER TRIP-Stop #6-Pisgah Brewing Company

The tasting room
We then ventured outside the city to Pisgah Brewing Company, the Organic brewery,  located at 150 Eastside Drive in Black Mountain. A low key building from the outside but once inside, we found a thriving bar with patrons happily chatting and drinking away. They also had cool original artwork hanging in the tasting room. We arrived just in time to take a tour and a crowd of about 20 gathered around Assistant Brewer, Ryan (sorry, we didn't get your last name!). His tour was one of the most informative we've been on as he went through each step of the process. After chatting with Ryan a bit more after the tour we were ready to sample. We were with friends, so we were able to get two flights - Pisgah has that many brews and we still didn't get to all of them! Make sure you bring cash-Pisgah is cash only. Our instant favorites were the Hellbender barleywine and the coffee goodness of Valdez. We were impressed by the number of quality beers coming out of Pisgah and we hear that they've got quite the outdoor music scene with their new stage in the warmer months. Regardless of what time of year you go, Pisgah is a must stop for a great tour and delicious organic brews!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Ryan

ASHEVILLE BEER TRIP-Stop #5-Lexington Avenue Brewery
The fermenters
Next on our tour was Lexington Avenue Brewery at 39 North Lexington Avenue in the heart of downtown. Our mission here was lunch and a flight of their brews. The LAB is in a gorgeous old building (another former garage of some sort). However, once inside, the decor immediately changed to modern, even futuristic, with purple lights shining off the fermenters behind glass walls in the center of the room. We sat down with friends and ordered. Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet any of the LAB folks but the food and beer spoke for itself.  The nitro Chocolate Stout was a hit at our table- all chocolate, malty, creamy goodness. The food was delicious and our goal of a tasty lunch with local beer was achieved! While we felt the LAB was more restaurant than brewery, they still managed to find a good balance between the two and will be a worthy stop on your Asheville brew tour.
The flight

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

ASHEVILLE BEER TRIP-Stop #4-Highland Brewing Company

Next on the list was the largest and most well known of Asheville's breweries, Highland Brewing Company, located at 12 Old Charlotte Highway # H. This trip was our first visit to Asheville and Highland is way off the beaten path! Even with our trusty GPS we finally had to get directions directly from the brewery. The brewery actually sits at an old movie studio. We finally found the place but we only had 10 minutes before they shut down for the evening. Fortunately, Highland's brews are found just about everywhere in the Southeast and we've had most of their other beers. We had just enough time to sample the one brew we had heard so much about-their spicy Cold Mountain Winter Ale and it lived up to the hype! 

The bar with Paula and Michelle

Highland is a huge brewery and on Friday nights they have live bands at their tasting room. We were too late for a proper tour and afraid that we'd missed out on meeting the venerable Oscar Wong. Thankfully, we had made a friend (yes, we mean you, Michelle!) the night before at the Thirsty Monk and she managed to get us not only a photo but a brief chat with Oscar. In the end, we may have arrived late but Oscar made us feel very welcome and we thoroughly enjoyed our pint of Cold Mountain. We'll have to try to visit them again now that we know how to find the place. Do yourself a favor and plan on a visit to Highland, the oldest and largest brewery in Asheville.

Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Oscar Wong

ASHEVILLE BEER TRIP-Stop #3-Craggie Brewing Company
The bar with Zaq Saurez
Literally around the corner was our next stop, Craggie Brewing Company at 197 Hilliard Avenue. Another former garage, the inside of the brewery was warm and inviting with a small bar and seating area. The brewery is located in the next room. Zaq Saurez was busy bartending and we met briefly with Jonathan Cort the co-owner. Jonathan introduced us to Bill Drew the Brewmaster and DJ McCready Brewer's apprentice. They took us back and gave us an overview of  operations and a sampling of a couple of test batches they were working on including a tasty bourbon chipotle porter. Specializing in eclectic flavored beers, we were instantly pulled in by their Antebellum Ale (an 1840's recipe with spruce tips), Toubab Brewe (a Zwickel) and Meet Your Maker (an English Strong Ale). As much as we enjoyed the beers, the hospitality of the crew is what really stood out. Zaq even went so far as to give us a sample of Antebellum Ale ice cream- a delicious concoction whipped up by local ice cream shop "The Hop". Make sure to add Craggie to your list of must visits on your Asheville trip!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Bill Drew

ASHEVILLE BEER TRIP-Stop #2-Asheville Brewing Company
The Bar
The next stop on our beer tour was Asheville Brewing Company at 77 Coxe Avenue in Downtown. This brewery was completely different from Green Man, having a full scale restaurant with the actual brewery tucked away in the back. Bustling with a large lunch crowd, we asked the barkeep if we could speak to the brewer. Unfortunately, Doug Riley the Brewmaster, was not there but we had the pleasure of meeting Assistant Brewer Pete Langheinrich. Happy to chat with us and show us around, he described the various ABC beers while giving us a tour of operations. Ready to try the brews, we headed to the bar and staked our claim just in time, as a party bus pulled in with a load of birthday revelers! We ordered a flight and instantly liked their Christmas Jam White Ale. The Ale is the officially licensed beer of the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity. Not normally White Ale fans, this  was a standout with an incredible amount of bready wheat flavor with tangy spices. If you're looking for an upbeat brewery experience with delicious hand crafted ales you'll find a home at Asheville Brewing Company. 
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Pete Langheinrich

Monday, December 27, 2010

ASHEVILLE BEER TRIP-Stop #1-Green Man Brewery
Aimee at the Bar
The first stop on our epic Asheville beer trip was to Green Man Brewery at 23 Buxton Ave. Tucked away on an unassuming side street, at first glance, Green Man looked like a basic run-of-the-mill garage. The magic happened when the garage door was lifted and we were beckoned inside by a full size bar with happy patrons drinking and chatting. There's a few tables and chairs and just beyond the bar is the actual brewery. We sat at the bar, introduced ourselves to the barkeep, and she promptly set us up with a flight of Green Man brews. Right off, our favorite was the Kill Devil Stout, a rum barrel aged beauty! As we proceeded through the flight, the Brewmaster, John Stuart, introduced himself and happily chatted with us about the brewery. He also took the time to share a sample of a test batch, a delicious double IPA that will hopefully make it to production soon! As this was our first exposure to Asheville's (Beer City USA!) beer scene, we were impressed by the hospitality, knowledge and  most importantly, taste coming from one of Asheville's oldest breweries. This seems to be a great place for locals that isn't overwhelmed by the college crowd. Make this a destination on your trip!
Spreading the Craft Beer Gospel and Brewmaster John Stuart

Monday, December 13, 2010

MINI-REVIEW--Southern Tier's Choklat

From Southern Tier (out of Lakewood, New York) comes Choklat, an Imperial Stout with an ABV of 11% brewed with bittersweet Belgian chocolate and chocolate malts. Pours black with a 1-finger mocha head. The aroma is amazing! Just as expected, the scent of chocolaty goodness embraces our nose. The taste is out of this world! This is one of the most chocolaty beers we've had. Like chocolate syrup with straight 90% cacao for bitterness and no alcohol bite at all. Talk about a dessert beer!

We give this an easy 4 out of 5 stars. We wish that the mouth-feel had been thicker, but other than that, pure liquid chocolate! Southern Tier seasonals sell out incredibly fast around these parts, so we bought a case to ensure we don't run out of this treat!

MINI-REVIEW--Smuttynose Barleywine

Out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire comes Smuttynose's 10% ABV Barleywine. This is a 2009 bottle with what should be just the right amount of age that we like in our barleywines. Pours a rusty orange color with a minimal cream head. While we both get malts and hops in the aroma, James gets some citrus and Aimee gets a bit of funk, like over ripe fruit. The taste bounces back and forth between the hops and malts with the hops being very floral with a piney/citrus quality. A huge hop flavor (which is to be expected in American barleywines) but the age seems to have removed much of the bitterness. The malts are caramel and sweet with a bit of brown sugar. The whole taste finishes with that sweet, brown sugar.

We're going to give this 3.5 out of 4 stars. We'd like to try this fresh. Overall, this is a great example of why we like barleywines so much. The flavor profile is very complex and the alcohol is well masked. A great beer for a cold winter's night!

MINI-REVIEW--Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Jack & Ken's Ale

From Sierra Nevada, (out of Chico, California) for their 30th Anniversary series, comes Jack (McAuliffe) and Ken's (Grossman) Ale. An American Barleywine, this comes in at 10.2% and is a collaboration between Ken of Sierra Nevada and Jack of (now defunct) New Albion Brewery. On a side note, Jack is considered to be the first American micro brewer. Pours black (they call this a Black Barleywine) with a thick 3-finger mocha head with a creamy texture. Very faint aroma of roasted malts and hops. This was one that we each had a completely different taste experience. James-very malty with bitter hops at the end. Aimee-mostly hoppy without much malt. How these things happen is beyond us!

We gave this 3.5 out of 5 stars as it was tasty but not really as outstanding as we had hoped given the occasion and collaborative effort.

MINI-REVIEW--Shmaltz He'Brew Jewbelation Fourteen

This is from Shmaltz' line of Jewbelation beers released once a year which one-ups the previous year. For example, last years was 13 and was brewed with 13 hops, 13 malts and was 13% ABV. This year it's 14 for all of the above. This is brewed in Saratoga Springs, New York and is an American Barleywine. Pours thick and black with a mocha head and actually looks more like a stout than a barleywine. The aroma is caramel and chocolate. Smells delicious! The taste of this 14% behemoth is wonderful with a smack of molasses, very chewy, with caramel, maple syrup and very sweet. We didn't really get any hop taste, but the hops are obviously there, just below the surface preventing it from becoming too sweet and cloying.

We give this a 4 out of 5 stars and have spread the word on just how good this beer is. Our only real issues is that it seems much more like a stout and nothing like a barleywine. Either way, at $5.99 a bomber, this is an absolute steal and one you must taste before it's gone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review--The Beer Growler in Athens, Georgia
Last night, we had the pleasure of visiting a Georgia first...The Beer Growler--a shop that actually sells and refills growlers! Unfortunately, we missed most of the action as we arrived fairly late, but this gave us a great opportunity to meet the three owners-Denny Young, Paul Saunders and Sean Galvin. Immediately gracious and accommodating, they explained how the growler process works and how they managed to open the first growler bar in the state. We were given a quick tour of their cooler and not only do they have a phenomenal list of brews on tap right now---get ready Athens---more of some very special kegs are on backup! They also have an excellent selection of bottles and glassware, including our favorite, the Duvel tulip for sale. Due to expected issues with any opening involving draught lines, they opted for a soft opening but ended up being so busy, they didn't have time to actually finish the price tags for the beer bottles!

Now, on to the point of all of this, the growlers themselves and what was available. The growler (aka the glass jug) is a one time purchase of $4 and then you pay to fill it up. After you finish your brew, bring back your old for a re-fill, they swap it out, and on you go. Not only does this insure you're getting some of the freshest beer to go (since you can't buy directly from a brewery in GA), but you're saving money by not having to pay for the brewery's packaging and shipping costs that normally get passed on to you. So we were able to pick up 64 ounces of Rogue's Old Crustacean Barleywine for $17 and 64 ounces of Terrapin's Monk's Revenge for $10! The other very cool bonus with growlers is you can take them with you on trips outside of GA where the breweries actually do growler fills.

While we had a great time chatting with the owners and checking out the new shop, we were anxious to get home with our goodies and try our first GA growler from The Beer Growler. Do yourself a favor and head there tomorrow and get in line for some of the delicious choices!