Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And It Stoned Me To My Soul...

Anybody want to get Stoned this week? No? How about next week? I can help you get Stoned a couple of times then. If that is not up your alley, what about getting Stoned on Cinco de Mayo? Arriba! Good thing the kitchens at Taco Mac are open late. All of you Stoners are probably going to be getting hungry sooner or later. What, you may be asking, IS all of this nonsense? Please keep reading....

That's right folks, the Stone casks have finally arrived in GA and are being delivered to four of our stores this week. Without further ado, here is the final schedule, which is subject to change, only over my dead body:
  1. This Friday, 4/23 at Mall of GA we have Stone Arrogant Bastard that has been casked with fresh American white oak chips.
  2. On Monday, 4/26 we tap a Stone Levitation Ale that was dry-hopped with Amarillo at the Woodstock store.
  3. Next up is Wednesday, 4/28 at Metropolis. WARNING! IF YOU ARE A BEER GEEK WITH MARGINAL CONTROL OF YOUR BODILY EFFUSIONS, PLEASE TAKE THE NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS BEFORE READING FURTHER! (Translation: Put on a fresh set of Depends). We will tap a firkin of Stone Ruination double dry-hopped with Centennial (...I heard that...) and Simcoe (...what is that smell?). OK hop heads. Time for you to change your drawers.
  4. And finally, the Stone cask tour wraps up on Cinco de Mayo (Translation: Five Mayonnaises) at the Newnan store with a cask of Stone IPA dry-hopped with Centennial.

All tap times are 6 pm, but we will go earlier if there is a crowd of thirsty, mutinous-looking people on hand. I specifically asked the brewery to fill all four of our casks with different beers, and to feel free to add ingredients to them at the brewers' discretion. It is my understanding that these are all tried-and-true cask treatments, so we are very excited to have them for you. All joking about hop heads aside (I have never met one that will admit to peeing a little bit when they get excited about beer, but they know who they are), I think the most interesting aspect will be how they treat each one of these beers in the cask format. For example, Levitation is very well balanced. Will they hop the hell out if it? We'll see. Ruination is already hopped up like crazy. What did they do, drop a bomb in it? I guess we will find out the answers to these and many other probing questions as we gather yet again around some delicious beer with some good company. Life could be worse people. Much worse.

The last thing I have for you today is an announcement about a beer & cheese pairing that we are doing on Saturday. This is in cooperation with Beer Connoisseur magazine, and is being held at The Fred from 4-6 pm. There are a few open spots as of today. If you are interested in going, please call our office at 678-679-1210. Just leave a phone number with the receptionist and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Here are the details:

  • We will be tasting 6 different exotic beers (2 English, 3 Belgian, and 1 Trappist beer from Holland). All of them are from Artisanal Imports.
  • Chef Matt chose the cheeses to pair with the beers, and he picked an awesome selection.
  • Beer writer Owen Ogletree will be the speaker. His presentation is designed to help you understand the beers you are drinking, plus the ins & outs of beer/cheese pairings. Owen is the guy who organized the trip to England I went on recently. He also writes for local and national beer publications. You should know him. This guy knows his stuff.
  • The cost is $45 + tax/person, and you will receive a really cool beer glass to take home. How cool is it? Trust me, you will most likely be the only person you know who has one.

I realize that Saturday and the beer/cheese tasting is just around the corner, but I was out of town since Wednesday. Sorry. I made it back in one piece, which was more of a challenge than you might imagine. Hopefully this blog entry gives you something to look forward to over the next few weeks. You will be able to catch me at all of these events, so make sure that you say "hello" if you can make any of them. Another slide show from England is coming soon. Thanks for reading everyone.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Burnin' Down The House

Busy, busy week last week. It all started with a cask of Terrapin Iron Tankard at Manuel's Tavern last Tuesday the 6th. This is the first in a series of beers whose proceeds will go towards rebuilding the Georgia Theater in Athens which mysteriously burned down a year or so ago. The beers are sold in 22oz. bottles in an individual box with Georgia Theater graphics on them. Really cool. Two of the boxes will contain a "golden ticket" good for lifetime admission to the theater once it reopens. Pretty sweet. These are not exactly well-suited for bar sales, so don't expect to see these at Taco Mac. They will be kicking off each Georgia Theater release (there will be four) with a cask event, and that will be the ONLY draft available of these beers. You can plan on being at one of our locations for the last one, "Hop-taneous Combustion" (get it?), sometime this fall. But back to the Iron Tankard. This beer is awesome! It is an old ale style for the most part, but not the sweet variety. Great balance and the high ABV (9%-ish) is well hidden. Go get one now. I have one bottle myself that will be en route to a special event this weekend.

Wednesday we kicked off the O'Dempsey's Big Red at The Fred. Great turnout in quality and quantity of attendees. The beer was tasty, and it was great to see people excited to try a new local beer. Everybody talks about "local this" and "local that" these days, but do they back that up with their wallets? I hope that you do, because there are some great beers being made in GA and the southeast in general. Show these guys some love...I mean money.

On Thursday we held our first ever Tequila School at The Fred. The attendees were treated to an hour and a half seminar on tequila from the plant to the bottle, and everything in between. We tasted all high-end tequilas, starting with Jose Cuervo Platino. No, not the stuff you guzzled in college. This is a premium silver tequila from the Cuervo family. Kind of like Toyota making a Lexus (which they do). Without the random and fatal acceleration issues. Not that drinking a lot of tequila won't accelerate things, because it does. Usually it accelerates stupidity, and often times it's combined with nudity. But not on Thursday! This was a learning experience and a testimony to sophisticated and reasonable drinking. Seriously. We also tasted Don Julio Reposado, the barrel-aged Jose Cuervo Reserva de Familia, and the rare and ultra-pricey Don Julio 1942. We paired these with 4 different Mexican beers to correspond to the heaviness of the tequilas and put out some fiesta-type food and had a blast. Our local tequila expert, Ciska, did an awesome job explaining everything and answering questions. We will continue this program in the future, because everyone that came really enjoyed themselves. Next up: scotch or bourbon. Not sure which yet.

I was busy all last weekend getting ready for this weekend. I leave tomorrow for Live Oak, FL for the Wanee Music Festival. It is pretty much headlined by the Allman Bros. and Widespread Panic, but also has a bunch of funk & soul bands playing. I am looking forward to seeing Parliament, The Meters, Electric Hot Tuna, Sharon Jones, and The Word more than the headliners really. This JJ Grey & Mo Fro are supposed to be something worth seeing, too. Check out the line-up online. It's going to be pretty sweet. Two of my friends from Michigan are flying to Atanta and we are driving from here (4 hours), so I have been getting all of the supplies lined up for the trip. I have basically been buying enough beer for a small army. I haven't seen these people in a while, and they don't get some of the beers that we get. Dank Tank, Capt'n Krunkles, Red Brick 15th Anniversary (OK, that one is from my personal stash), the Bruery Saison de Lente, etc. I am even taking a 1.5 L giant of Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van de Keizen. When else was I going to drink that thing? I live by myself for god's sake.

That is all for now. I will be back Sunday with some cool photos from Wanee. It is in a park along the Suwanee River just across the GA/FL border. It is supposed to be very scenic. Upcoming trips will include mid-May for a San Francisco beer trip with a visit to the Lagunitas Beer Circus. What's that? It is a circus, with a tent and weird performers and all kinds of craziness, but it is at the Lagunitas brewery in Sonoma county, CA. No, that won't suck even a little bit. Then in June I am off to the Mondial de la Biere festival in Montreal. I will be visiting the Unibroue brewery while I am there (they make La Findu Monde, Trois Pistoles, etc.). Very excited about that. Then don't forget about the Taco Mac/Beer Connoisseur Magazine Beer Festival at The Prado June 12th. Put it on your calendar now! Big fun, live band, all sorts of adult revelry.

But in the meantime, the newest slide show is of day 3 of my England trip. We went to a brewery called Samuel Smith's. Oh you've heard of it? We started in the stables, saw the cooper's shop, the brew house (in the middle of a batch--totally awesome), fermentation (stone fermenters!) and barrels getting filled. We finished up with lunch in their employee-only cellar pub pulling Best Bitter drafts through a beer engine out of a wooden barrel. We were underneath the Old Brewery at Tadcaster, and the taps were totally turned over to our group. That did not suck either. If I would have croaked right then & there, I think we would all agree that, well, there are plenty of worse ways to go out, but not a lot better. If you click on the slide show it will enlarge. There is another one of day 2 below day 3. If you did not know about the enlarging function last week, you may want to look at it again. Thanks for reading everyone. I am outta here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Welcome To The Party, Randy. No, The Other Randy!

April is shaping to up to be a busy month already. The Fred and Metropolis are already almost out of the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Fritz & Ken's collaborative beer made with Anchor. In case you did not know, those are the names of the owners of those two breweries. Fritz Maytag (of the washing machine & blue cheese making family) owns Anchor and Ken Grossman owns Sierra. Every American craft brewer and beer drinker owes a hearty thanks to those two guys for being pioneers in this movement towards more quality beer. And speaking of quality beer, the Fritz & Ken's is amazing. This imperial stout is a monster. I hope that you got a chance to taste it, because it is not widely available. We got just a few small kegs. There is one full one getting tapped in Peachtree City tonight (Saturday), and that is it. The other two locations will be out very soon, most likely tonight.

On Wednesday we will be welcoming a newcomer to the Atlanta beer scene, O'Dempsey's. Randy Dempsey is an accomplished Atlanta-area home brewer who has had his recipe for O'Dempsey's Irish Red made by Atlanta Brewing Co. (makers of Red Brick & Laughing Skull). We are going to kick off this release at The Fred around 6 pm, and he will be there to raise a toast and answer any of your questions. If space becomes an issue, we may move everyone upstairs. We will see.

The April dinner with Rogue was posted recently and is already almost full. Wow. You may notice that I did not call it a "beer dinner". Not a mistake. This dinner will feature all things Rogue: their cheeses, spirits, and of course their beer, plus some oysters flown in from a farm 6 miles down the bay from the brewery. One of the beers we will feature was made with all estate grown barley and hops. Those Rogue guys are an industrious bunch. If you want to get into this event, you better sign up pronto. If you are freaked out by the spirits aspect, don't worry. There will be one cocktail served at the reception, and some Hazelnut Spiced Rum will go into the dessert. The rest of the beverages will all be beer.

The remainder of April events as they stand right now will surround these 4 casks coming from Stone. They are leaving the brewery the week of 4/5. God speed little buddies! A lot of thirsty people wish you safe passage. I am sure that some more things will arise, and I will keep you posted as always. On that note, go ahead and mark out June 12th on your calendar. We are doing a beer festival that day. Yes, Taco Mac, along with Beer Connoisseur magazine, is hosting a beer festival in the parking lot at The Prado. The details are still coming into focus, but trust me, it will be killer. If you are unaware of Beer Connoisseur magazine, you should check it out. It is setting the bar very high as far as beer publications go. Great look, better content.

OK, so there is the slide show for Day 2 of my England trip on the right. We arrived at a brewery called Marston's in the later part of the morning. I had never had their beer, and only heard about them because of their unique fermentation system. I am going to explain it to you, but trust me, you have to actually see it to believe it. Then you have to taste their beer to believe that this thing actually works. Nothing about it makes any sense at all until you taste the beer. Here is how it works:
  • After roughly 36 hours of initial fermentation in stainless steel vats (nothing unusual here), the beer is allowed to flow down into these long, wide troughs. Hmmmm....
  • The troughs are slightly slanted so that the beer runs down to one end and through a hole.
  • That hole sends the beer into a series of hoses that are connected to large wooden barrels.
  • Those barrels are connected to each other with more hoses. They also have a goose-neck tube that goes out of the top of the barrel, back up to the trough.

OK, are you confused yet? Let me explain. The beer goes down into these barrels to finish its fermentation in wood for flavor purposes. The series of hoses is designed to evenly distribute the beer between the barrels. During fermentation, however, the gas being produced pushes the beer out of the barrels, back up into the trough, which makes sure that the beer gets re-routed back into the barrels. So one droplet of beer could start in one barrel and essentially travel into any number of other barrels, depending on fill levels and the laws of physics. Once fermentation has stopped, the beer is sent to the packaging department. The only excuse that I can think of for this system, which is called a Burton Union, is that someone wanted to increase fermentation capacity by utilizing available items (barrels) in order to avoid building a huge wooden fermenter in the days before modern metal fabrication. What is most amazing about the system at Marston's is that as the brewery has grown, they have not done away with this confusing and antiquated system. No, they made gigantic Burton Union systems that take up huge rooms in the brewery. So take look at the pictures from Marston's and try to grasp the size of this thing. Each barrel is, well, the size of a barrel. Stood on end they would be about chest high, and about 3 feet across at the widest part. There are rows of them too long to count. And these pictures are of the smaller of two rooms like this.

They have a cooper on site (duh) to handle barrel manufacture and repairs. This is a dying craft, and one that is taught in a master/apprentice format today like it was 100's of years ago. There are only four breweries in the UK that have a working cooperage, and we went to two of them. The other we saw was at Samuel Smith's (Day 3 coming up!).

The Marston's Pedigree is their flagship beer and the only one that goes through the Burton Union. It is unbelievable, and might have been the best beer I had on the whole trip. You might expect a lot of oaky flavor, but it isn't there. Remember that the beer is fermenting in these things, so that activity keeps it from staying in contact with the wood for very long. Much different that taking finished beer and aging it in oak, which produces a much more prominent (sometimes overwhelming) oak taste.

After Marston's we headed to Sheffield, where we were staying that night. Sheffield was a cool old town, and we stayed in a modern hotel in the downtown area. After check-in we headed over to the Kelham Island Brewery, which was roughly the size of a garage. Not a king-sized garage either. The brewer, who looked like he was 16 but swore he was in his mid-20's, had an accent that made the tour a little difficult to digest, but it isn't like I haven't seen a brewery before.

Then we walked around the corner to the Kelham Island Tavern, which was the UK Pub Of The Year in 2009. Very cool place, but a little snug for 18 people to barge into at once. They had a really cool little outside area that would have been great if it wasn't February. I would love to go back in warmer months and hang out there for a while. Anyway, the strangest thing was that when I first walked up to the bar behind two of my companions, the guy behind the bar said, "Which one of you is Fred?" Now mind you, I have never set foot in Sheffield, let alone England, in my life. I can count the number of English people who I know on one hand. Totally confused, I responded that I was Fred, but how in the hell did he know that. Well it turns out that he was the manager, and his computer alerts him when anyone enters Kelham Island Tavern into the internet. I had done that prior to my trip on this blog, telling you readers what my itinerary looked like. So it is safe to assume that he is reading this too, so Hi there, Dave. You have a very cool place there and we had a great time. Give us a shout if you are ever going to be in Atlanta, GA.

Later that night we hit a few of Sheffield's notable pubs, ending up at place called Thornbridge's in the train station. We were also in some place that looked like Dave & Buster's made a baby with Ruby Tuesday's. It was weird. But Thornbridge's was really cool and there was all kinds of great beers there. I did actually order a Sierra Nevada when I was there out of curiosity. Bad idea. If Brits like U.S. craft beer, you couldn't tell at this place. That beer was old and nasty. I almost stopped drinking altogether that night. Almost. It is a shame that anyone thinks that that is what famous American craft beer tastes like. They probably think that we are idiots if that is what we think good beer tastes like. Shame. But the next time that you wonder why you can't get a certain beer from a certain brewery that you love, think of this story. Far away markets make beer more expensive, which affects demand and lowers sales, which in turn affects quality. That brewery probably wishes you could drink their beer, but if it is going to be ruined by the time you get it, why bother? I want a hand-drawn Marston's Pedigree right now, but I know it wouldn't taste like the ones I had in England, so I guess I am just going to have to deal with that and move on with my life.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, the spring weather, the blossoming trees and flowers. It sure is a nice time to be in Atlanta. Now it's time to watch the Final Four, and then tomorrow I am going to see a matinee of Hot Tub Time Machine. They serve beer at the theater in Midtown I go to. Good beer, too. See ya around.