Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Six-Pack" Just Has A Nice Ring To It

OK folks, here is some important info that you may want to know. Our policy with Brewniversity credits has always been that you are only allowed six beers per visit. The computer literally can not track any more beers after you have had six, regardless of any attempts to override that function. Why is this an issue now? Two reasons. First, some folks have missed some valuable credits by not understanding fully how the computer system works. Nobody wants to lose credits, especially from some events with credits that will most likely never be seen again. That sucks, and we don't want the Brewniversity to suck. For anyone. Secondly, in light of some recent high-profile automobile accidents, I feel like it is a good time to remind everyone why we have that six beer policy in place. Drinking and driving is never a good idea, and bars and restaurants have a responsibility to the community to help people make the right decisions, even when they don't want to. Now of course people can argue all day that we don't have a computerized limit on wine or spirits consumption, and that is true. Wine and spirits is not what we are know for, and therefore we do not need computer intervention to keep track of those customers. There just are not that many of them.

I really wish I had some funny story for you or something like that, but I don't right now. It was a pretty sedate weekend, and this week is looking like all work and not much play for Fred. But don't worry, next week I am headed to Chico, CA for Sierra Nevada Beer Camp. Now that's my kind of camping. Talk to you soon.

Monday, August 20, 2012

We Have A Winner!

We took this tasting seriously. Look! Tablecloths.
Here are the results of the inaugural Southern Brewer's Challenge! I was corrected recently that nothing can be "First-Annual". You can't be an annual anything until after your inaugural whatever-it-is. So there you go Mr. Smarty Pants. I hope you're happy now. Everyone hates you for being a buzz-kill.

We took the total of 103 submissions and whittled that down to 20, with five groups of tasters advancing their favorite from a field of approximately 20 per group. Get it? Five groups tasting roughly 20 each equals 103. That group of 20 got broken down to five finalists, and then ultimately one winner. The finalists are:

  • Jay Powell for "Midnight Brown" (English Nut Brown)
  • Bob Southard for "The Queen's Imperial Cherry Chocolate Porter" 
  • JT Beckham for "Muddy Paws" (Mocha Java Stout)
  • Brian Borngesser for "BrIPA" 
  • Chris Payne for "St. Issadore The Farmer" (Heavy Cream Ale)
And the winner is....Bob Southard for "The Queen's Imperial Cherry Chocolate Porter"! Congratulations to Bob, who already knows he won because I e-mailed him from the tasting. Hey, I like making someone's day as much as the next person, and I am pretty sure winning this made Bob's. I couldn't wait to share the news with him, and I am pretty sure he was at work when he heard from me. Probably spent the rest of the day thinking about telling his boss to take a flying leap and just doing what he really wants to do, brew beer for a living. I hope he was able to reach every person he knows over the weekend to tell them how awesome he is, because that is what I would do. "Hey, brother-in-law! Act a little more appreciative the next time I give you a home brew maybe. Because apparently I am The Man, in case you didn't already know that already you good for nothin' waste of space." Something like that. I am not married, so I can say whatever I want about a brother-in-law.

We do have some honorable mentions as well. David Guthrie with "Runner's High" (Belgian Pale Ale) and Richard Roper for his "Saison de Hobbit" and Ben Halter for his "Bradenton Bear Barley Wine" (whiskey and oak notes were exceptionally done). All in all, we had a really strong field to choose from. There are some accomplished brewer's out there, and the decision was a tough one. A great big "Thank You" to everyone who participated. We are going to do this next year, and the year after that, and...OK, you get the picture. The beer will be brewed this winter and be released on draft in January, 2013, for sale at all area Taco Mac locations. A second batch will be bottled in the spring and available for take-home drinking from your local beer stores.

Now before I go, I have to give a quick shout-out to some of the best names for a few of these submissions. This was not voted on by the group. It is just my opinion.

  • Trey Keisler for "Honey Badger". Unlike the real Honey Badger, this beer was not kicked off the program. But we did not test these beers for drugs, so who knows. The tasting panel that had Honey Badger may still be tripping. I haven't seen any of them since Friday now that I think of it.
  • Jeff & Sharon Wilson for "Bitte, Baby, Bitte". Any time...let me rephrase that...ANY TIME! you can use a quote from Blazing Saddles, do it. Funniest movie of all time in my book.
  • Joe Pepitone with "Hoppopotumus". I am constantly amazed at how people can weave the word "hop" into a beer name. Just when you thought you had seen them all, and no one could possibly come up with another witty one, along comes Hoppopotumus. Nice work.
That is all I have for you right now. Have a great week.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Voting And Vikings

I need you to pay attention here. I have a really cool event on Wednesday that you definitely want to be a part of I am sure. When I was in Europe earlier this year, I was with a few guys from Terrapin. They had already been overseas for a few days, brewing beer in Norway with a brewery called Nogne-O. That is pronounced nun-yuh, like, "That is none ya damn business". I do not claim to be able to speak Norwegian, but that is close enough. So the beer is here now, and we are going to break into it at The Fred Bar on Wednesday night. Some of the brewery guys, including Spike, the brew master who went to Norway to brew this beer, will be there. They are making a slide show, so you can see pictures of these gigantic Norwegian brewers who are actual descendants from vikings. I have seen the pictures. If these guys walked in the room, everyone would stop talking, and anyone in their right mind would be a little scared. But apparently they are really cool people, and their story is similar to that of many American brewers: The Scandinavian beer scene had become dominated by overly homogenized, bland beer. About 10 years ago, like the U.S. in the 1980's, a few pioneers decided to resurrect quality brewing in that part of the world. Now some of the most exotic (and expensive) beers come from Scandinavia. Nogne-O is the leader, at least from the perspective I have here in the American southeast. If you are not familiar with their beer, there will be a few on tap in addition to the Nogne-O/Terrapin Collaboration Imperial Rye Porter. The Fred Bar also has a few Terrapin surprises up its sleeve keg-wise. So expect a great selection of beers, a slide show and a short presentation by Spike. Q & A from the audience is encouraged, so if you have any questions for Spike, this is your chance. He is a great guy and a friend of mine. (Translation: He is cool.)

That covers the vikings, but, you may be wondering, "What about the voting?" Well, our friends at Terrapin never do anything half-way, so Wednesday will also feature a voting booth and ballots. No, we are not doing anything related to the upcoming political election. Bars are no place to discuss politics. Everyone agrees on that. Yet after 3-4 beers, a lot of folks seem to forget that, and start running their mouth. Let me help you out here: No one wants to hear your political points of view. When is the last time someone asked you, with real interest, what you thought about politics? It is the one thing that people feel inclined to share, even when no one else expressed any interest in hearing it. You don't just turn to a total stranger and say, "I like cheese," for example. You might think that your political opinions are more important than someone's opinion of cheese, but trust me, no one else does. No one holds your political opinions in such high regard as you do. And nobody ever got in a fist fight over cheese. At least I hope not. What we will be voting on this coming Wednesday is your favorite discontinued Terrapin beer. Side Project, Monster Tour, Krunkles Series, crazy one-time brews, even the 30 Strong, brewed for Taco Mac's 30th anniversary in 2009. All of them. You can watch the election returns on the Terrapin web site (the voting is going on across their entire distribution footprint), and after the votes are all in and the polls are closed, Terrapin will remake the beer for a future re-release. They are bringing a voting booth and the whole nine yards. That's pretty cool, and I am looking forward to it for sure. But before we finish talking about this event, I just need to know one thing. What are your thoughts on cheese? I am pro-cheese. I am very supportive of cheese's agendas and policies, even though I don't know what they are. Does cheese have an agenda? What are you trying to accomplish over there cheese? What? You're just trying to be delicious? Well it's working. Keep it up.

I have a few more things for you, but I will make them quick. More to follow as we get closer to these events. Here you go:

  1. At www.tacomac.com you can sign up for the September 19th Woodford Reserve dinner. This five-course dinner will feature cocktails using Woodford Reserve, and also the proprietary Woodford Personal Selection from my recent trip to the distillery. We will be drinking that last one straight up. There will be a slide show of my trip, but most importantly, Master Distiller Chris Morris will be there to talk about bourbon making, Woodford, horses, Kentucky, cheese could come up I suppose, you never know. He is a very engaging person who is an expert at what he does, and a pleasure to be around. That is the real highlight of this event, and the menu is out-of-this-world too. I am going to post that once I have some more time, but the sign-up is underway now, and there are only 12 spots left. This is the first big announcement about the dinner, and it is almost full already. Wow.
  2. Project 12 comes to Perimeter on Wednesday the 22nd and Decatur on the 24th. Stay tuned for more details, but just put these dates on your calendar if you are into beer. And surprises.
That is all I have for you right now. I will be back with more news and events next week. Have a good weekend.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I Got Blue Balls...And I Liked It!

Back in the ATL. 

Sorry for the long delay in posting anything. It has been a crazy few weeks in my world. First of all, just look at that picture of my luggage. Wonder why it is glowing? It’s full of beer! And the Rogue sticker showed up mysteriously after a night in their Newport pub. I guess somebody saw a suitcase under the bar and decided to tag it. No big deal. I left it on there for the rest of the trip.

So to re-cap: I landed in Portland at 10:00 am, jumped in a rental car and started driving toward the ocean. How do you get to the west coast by that early in the morning? You get on a flight at 6:00 am in Atlanta. Yes, that means you need to wake up at 4:00 am, jump through a shower and drive like a bat out of hell for the airport. Sounds like a hassle, right? I mean, what’s the rush? Well, by getting there by 10:00 and being out of PDX and on the road by 11:00 am, I was drinking a beer and having lunch at a brew pub on the beach, at the foot of the Pacific Ocean. The Pelican brew pub in Pacific City, OR makes great beer—at least the IPA I drank was great—and the scenery is as good as any place in the country. A bowl of green chile pork stew and that 20oz. IPA later, I was back on the road. I am not into drinking and driving, but I really could have stayed there for a lot longer and enjoyed a few more if I was staying in that town. Maybe next time.
Pelican Brew Pub & the Pacific Ocean

Newport, Oregon is down Hwy 101, which runs along the ocean, about an hour and a half. There are some beautiful scenic vistas along the way, but you also go through a few towns that remind you that Oregon is not all hippy, outdoorsy, educated people eating health food and drinking super hoppy beers. There a bunch of rednecks and socially confused young people out there in the woods. "Excuse me young man, are you an aspiring rapper living in a secluded, wooded, mountain town? No, you just dress like one? What, then, do you rap about? Logging? Beavers? Oh, cooking crystal meth, I see." What ever happened to the good-old days when rednecks just drank whiskey and Budweiser, and there wasn’t much trouble except for a scuffle at the tavern on Friday night over who was looking at whose girl,? Or maybe someone was cheating at pool or said something bad about Whitesnake? But these new redneck mountainbillies are bona fide criminals with explosive drug labs and automatic weapons. Who showed these people how to manufacture narcotics? Especially the kind that cause you to become demented and paranoid from a lack of sleep and constantly being on the verge of an amphetamine overdose. That is not the kind of person you want around a lot of firearms and explosives. The next time you see a real life Joe Dirt dressed like a city gangster, be aware that this person probably has someone tied up in a shack somewhere, and is using that person for ransom, or worse, a sex slave. Do not make eye contact, or you will be in that shed next. The thing that makes these people the most dangerous is not the drugs. No, it is their complete lack of intelligence. Smart people with guns and explosives are bad enough, but when you get a bunch of inbreeds with a sixth-grade education together in a shed full of drugs, nothing good is going to happen, and somebody is going to have sex with a relative. It’s inevitable.

But then you get to Newport, which is a picturesque fishing village, and right there on the side of the harbor is Rogue Brewing Co., and a few yards away, their distillery. I have been there before, so I looked around the brewery briefly, talked to the people I know there, had a quick beer and then checked out the distillery. Everything was very cool, and if you are ever on the Oregon coast, you should absolutely go out of your way (if necessary) to go there. I spent the next few hours in their pub, got sworn in by the president of the Rogue Nation as a member (somewhere around here is when my luggage got tagged), met all kinds of great local folks, and then I got blue balls. I asked for them. Meatballs stuffed with Rogue Creamery blue cheese, over pasta and marinara. It was delicious. I got blue balls…and I liked it. After that it was about time to turn in for the night. By 10:00 pm out there (1:00 am in GA), I had been up for 21 hours, so it was time to shut it down. So out the side door of the pub I went, up a flight of stairs, and into a large, fully furnished two-bedroom apartment. That’s right…above the pub there are three apartments, owned by the brewery, that you can stay in when you come to visit. Across the street from the pub are the fish processing rigs that sit on the docks. Your view is of the docks, the bridge, the harbor, and just beyond that, the brewery. Day one of the trip was a big success. I slept like a baby. A giant, beer-drinking baby. Actually, I have always had a hard time with that statement. Slept like a baby? A baby wakes up crying and its pants are full of poop. You wake up like that, sir or ma'am, and you have got a problem. But on the flip side, your day can only get better from there.

In the morning I was back on the road by 7:00 am. I had a 10:30 am appointment at Deschutes Brewing Co. in Bend, OR. That drive was one of the most mentally relaxing three hours of my life. Just me, blasting music and hauling ass on twisty roads through two national forests of towering pine trees, underneath a trio of huge snow-capped mountains, along rivers full of giant boulders. Let’s just say that it didn’t suck. Not one bit. And then by 10:00 am, as if my day hadn’t already been great, I was at one of the country’s most renowned breweries. I got a private tour from one of their finance guys, Peter, but he knew absolutely everything about the brewery. Like if the guys who run the plant get stranded in a shed with some toothless mountain gangster teenagers, they could just pull this guy out from behind his desk and he could take over. At least until the A-Team came to rescue the brewers from Jethro and Cletus. That’s kind of the way I see it going down. If TV has taught me anything, and it has, it is that small-town cops are either incapable of handling their most dangerous criminals, or they are in on the crime in some way. But back to Deschutes. We got to taste some young Black Butte XXIV from bourbon barrels, which was great, but whoa will it be better once it sits for a while. Then we went to lunch at their pub downtown with Peter The Finance Guy and two of their brewers, and I got to drink a few drafts including a great Bachelor Bitter from a beer engine. No blue balls here, but they did manage to improve upon another favorite of mine. Do you like a Cuban sandwich? Everyone. Then how about a Cuban Stromboli? It rocked. After that it was back to the brewery to get some special bottles of beer and a t-shirt, all compliments of the brewery. What a great bunch of people. If you ever see Deschutes beers, BUY THEM! The beers are great, and the people are top-notch. Sounds like a pretty awesome day, right? But it was only 3:30 in the afternoon! Bend is home to 14 breweries or brew pubs. It is a city of 80,000 people. Most cities that size don’t even have 14 coffee shops, let alone breweries. And most of these are within walking distance of each other. I know, because that’s what I did for the rest of the day. Click here to get a glimpse of what the Bend Ale Trail is all about.
This guy was getting a growler at Boneyard in Bend.

Wednesday morning I was up early again, driving across the central Oregon “high desert”. It was very scenic and ultra-rural. I am talking no people living out there, and towns that are very far apart. Gas up before you head out there, because if you are in need of a fill-up all of a sudden, you’re screwed. But eventually you come into the Mt. Hood National Forest, and you are back in the greenery and mountains that Oregon is most known for. And then before you know it, you’re heading into Portland. I needed to be at the Rogue Pub in Portland by 11:00 am to pick up my credentials for a beer fest that was starting at noon. I was 20 minutes early. One cup of coffee later, I was walking in the door at 11:01 am. Had a quick beer, got my stuff from the bartender and headed to my hotel to drop off the car. My hotel was across the street from the festival site, and after I parked the car and walked out of the garage, a giant parade of people came down this ramp from a bridge. There were all kinds of costumes and small floats, all very beer related. Every year they have a morning reception at a different local host brewery, followed by a parade of attendees to the festival site, including the Grand Marshall or Poobah or whatever. The festival starts after these guys do some speeches and funny stuff on the stage, with accompanying horn section/pep band behind them. It was all very cool, and then…the beer festival. As you can imagine, the line-up of breweries was everything you could possibly ask for in a west coast beer event: Russian River? Check. Hair Of The Dog? Oh yeah. You name it, and it was there. So naturally I hung out there for quite some time, but this fest was going on for a few more days, and you could come and go as you please, so I ducked out around dinner time before things got too crazy.

On Thursday I met a friend who lives in Portland and my cousin from Seattle at the McCormick & Schmick’s Harborside for lunch. This particular McCormick & Schmick’s happens to have a brewery inside of it, and this is where Full Sail makes their test batch beers. The nice people at Full Sail were picking up the tab for this lunch, or I would have never known such a thing existed, nor would I have gone somewhere so expensive for lunch. But hey, I was not complaining, and neither were my friends and relatives. After that two-hour lunch, we started to get lost. I made a wrong turn, and as happens so often in Portland, I found myself on a bridge accidentally. Luckily this bridge ends at the front door of the Hair Of The Dog pub. This is one of my favorite breweries in the country, and they did not have a pub when I was in Portland five years ago. So we were pretty happy that I made that wrong turn after all. It turned out to be the right turn, I just didn’t know that when I made it. I ran into a small group of Atlanta people there that I knew, so that was cool too. After a few quick beers there, it was back to the beer festival. After a few hours there, it was off to dinner. I have to say that as far as days go, that one did not suck. Not one bit. Oh, and it was 78 degrees and sunny.
Menu at McCormick & Schmick's
Another 4:00 am wake-up call later, I was headed back to the airport to drop the rental and get on another 6:15 am flight, this time headed for home. What can I say about those crazy early flights? Once you’re awake, the hard part is over. And to be sitting on the Pacific Ocean for lunch after waking up in Atlanta, or to be in Decatur, GA drinking a beer at 4:00 pm after waking up in Oregon, it is so worth it. A little bit of sacrifice is worth the pay-off if you work it right. Plus, as soon as they stop showing me how to use a seat belt and telling me that my seat cushion can be used as a flotation device--as if we would survive a crash anyway--I go right to sleep. So if you can swing it, I highly recommend the crazy early flights. The short lines at the airport security are almost worth the extra effort on its own.

So that is all I have for you right now. I am waiting to hear back from Spike, Terrapin’s co-owner/brewer about an event on  Thursday, August 15th. He made a collaboration beer in Norway this spring, and the beer is here now. If his schedule can accommodate, then that is the date to taste the Nogne-O/Terrapin Imperial  Rye Porter for the first time at The Fred Bar. Stay tuned for more details. I will also post a nice Oregon slide show here, but I left my camera at home and I have not taken the pictures out and put them in my computer yet. These were all taken with my phone. I was in Charlotte for most of last week, so I am not even caught up from a trip that started in the end of July. Sorry again for the long delay. Have great week.