Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Road Trip!

This year's Southern Home Brewer's Challenge winners!

Last week's big news about the Southern Home Brewer's Challenge winner overshadowed the details of a recent and very successful trip to Asheville, NC. In what way what is so successful? We were just trying to have some fun and get a few of our hard working managers out of town to visit a few breweries. If you are not familiar with what is happening beer-wise in Asheville, let me just say that you need to get clued in, because it is a whole lot of fun up there. Here is what we did:

We left Atlanta pretty early in the morning, around 7:30 am. I like to get an early start. You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning. That is just pure logic; don't try to argue with it. The drive is roughly 3.5 hours, but somehow we made it in closer to 3 hours. I am only telling you that to encourage you to make the trip, not to drive 80 mph the whole way. But if that's how you roll, then roll on player. I recommend you take the route that takes you up I-985, as opposed to taking I-85 way up into South Carolina. The 985 route is way more scenic, and I have gone both ways. Neither is quicker by any substantial amount of time to make one preferable over the other.
Entrance to the Tasty Weasel

When we arrived in Asheville it was not late enough to check in,but who cares? The local Oskar Blues guy met us at the hotel and took the wheel of the van. My responsibilities were essentially over at that point. He drove us about 30 minutes away to Brevard where their new brewery is located. It wasn't much to look at from the outside, but I assume that will change over time. The insides were what you would expect them to look like. Tanks. Hoses. Forklifts. Guys with beards. The usual. Upstairs is what is called the Tasty Weasel, which is basically the tasting room, and that is where the fun is. It is worth the trip just to taste the freshest Dale's, G'Knight and all the others, made right there in the building. Wow. We got to try a new beer called, "The Deuce". It's a brown ale, and a damn good one at that. I think the way to order one is you say to the bartender, "Yes, I'll take a Deuce."

After we were done at OB, we loaded everyone back in the van back towards Asheville. Funny how it was a much more lively and talkative bunch compared to the same group pre-beer drinking. Once back in Asheville we headed out on foot from our hotel. Asheville is a very walk-able town if you get a hotel downtown. I highly recommend that. We were trying to get to the Green Man brewery for a tour, but somehow we got sidetracked into Barley's Taproom for a quick beer or two. Good stop. Once we got back on the street, we were just a few short blocks from Green Man...and it started to pour rain. Good thing that the Wicked Weed brew pub was across the street. That place was awesome, and I had actually never been there before. Don't miss this place, and be sure to check out the downstairs and the patio. Very cool spot with great beer. We waited out the rain there, and then headed to Green Man. The owner of Green Man is one of my favorite people in the NC beer world. He showed us around his operation, which is growing rapidly, and made sure we had full beers the whole time. The beers were great, and we could have stayed there a long time, but we needed to eat something. Next stop: Asheville Pizza and Brewing. We guessed and beer. Actually we ordered pretty much the entire menu, and it was all good. After that we bounced in and out of several Asheville beer spots and local watering holes. We particularly enjoyed the Yacht Club, but we were enjoying just about everything by then. Luckily it was all downhill to the hotel, so when it was time to shut it down for the night, we just had to follow the road in a comfortable direction.
Just some of the taps downstairs at Wicked Weed.
So there you go. A fun-filled day enjoying only a slice of the beer scene in that town. Easily could have made two days out of it. That is all I have for you right now. Enjoy your Labor Day weekend, and look for some event announcements on the other side of the holiday. We are gearing up for fall and have some fun new ideas coming your way. Talk to you soon.
Great stop on a great day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Candy Gram For Mongo...

Part of the SHBC tasting panel, hard at work.

The results of the 2013 Southern Home Brewer's Challenge are in. Well, they were in Monday night, so
maybe you already know this if you follow me on Twitter. But we sampled a lot of beers on Monday, coming across some really strong efforts. Sure there were a few duds in the bunch, but overall, a high quality sampling of local home brews. We picked the best one from each category, and then picked our favorite from that grouping. So I will list later the top brews from each category, but first let's announce the overall winner, whose beer will be made by Red Hare and be featured as part of the Taco Mac Beer Of The Month program in January. Brewed by Jeff and Sharon Wilson, and is called Mongo Strong Brown Ale. Hopefully confetti is falling from the ceiling in their house right now and the local marching band is in their front yard, cheerleaders doing flips and all that. I didn't arrange that, but wouldn't that be cool? I'll have to work on that for next year. The beer was extremely interesting in that is was very rich and flavorful, but not sweet like you would expect from the words, "strong" and "brown" when referring to beer. Nice work.

And now, the best of the rest:

  • Wheat and Wit beers: WIPA Snappa Hoppy Wheat by Brent Cater and Chris McDaniel
  • Flavored Wheat beers: The Bavarian Peach by Jeremy Bowlby
  • Amber and Brown Ales: Origin Amber Ale by Jeremy Bowlby
  • Pale Ale and IPA: Session IPA by John McDonald and Thomas Balkcom
  • Porter and Stout: Pullman Porter by Daniel Coats
  • Miscellaneous beers: Man's Best Friend by Stephen Upchurch
What else is going on? A lot, as usual. Tonight you can drop by Taco Mac Metropolis around 7:00 pm to meet the brewers from Six Point out of New York. They are in town and are dropping by to have a few beers and press the flesh. Nice guys. You should pay them a visit.

Have you heard about this contest? Voting just started on Saturday, so please click on the link (below), select Taco Mac and blow it up. You can vote as many times as you want. If we win, there will be a ridiculously rare and cool opportunity for something special to happen at Taco Mac. Here is the communication we received:

Welcome and Congratulations for being nominated as one of the Freshest Beer Bars in the US.  On July 8th, DRAFT Magazine put out the call to our readers to nominate bars that they thought were most deserving of hosting a Founders Day Celebration with DRAFT Magazine and Pilsner Urquell to celebrate their 100th anniversary.  We received over 2000 nominations and now we have narrowed it down to the final 25 for the fans to decide who will have this opportunity.  

Voting for the Freshest Bar begins at 12:01 am EST Saturday August 3rd and will end at 11:59pm EST August 31st, 2013.  The bar receiving the most votes will have the opportunity to host the Founders Day celebration on or around November 8th.  The Founders Day Celebration will include the following with a collaborative effort from DRAFT and Pilsner Urquell working directly with the winning bar to coordinate programming: 
  • 170 Liter Wooden Barrel of Unpastuerized Pilsner Urquell flown directly from the brewery in Plsen Czech Republic 
  • Attendance by Vaclav, the brewmaster for Pilsner Urquell in Plsen
  • Attendance by DRAFT Magazine Founder Erika Rietz
  • Tapping of the Keg Ceremony and Pouring Competition
  • Shirts, Hats, Mugs, and other assets relating to Founders Day
Here is the link you need to help bring this bad-ass event to a Taco Mac near you:

If you are reading this and have not already voted at least twice, just be aware that I am extremely pissed off at you right now. No excuses. Don't even talk to me until you have voted ten times. Have your kids vote. Have your dog vote. Cast a vote for the dog you had you when you were growing up. Cast a vote if you never had a dog growing up, but really, really wanted one but your parents just wouldn't listen and you never forgave them for that, but you held in those emotions for a long, long time, until now. Let it out. Let it all out by voting for Taco Mac. The dog you never had would have wanted it that way, if he had existed, which he didn't, but why open up old wounds?

You folks have a great week and weekend. I am off to Charlotte tomorrow. Talk to you next week.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You Pick A Place To Go, And Just Keep Truckin' On

And we're back. Sorry for the delay, but I was gone for most of last week. My friend had one of those
Where the magic happens.
milestone birthdays that makes you want to do something special. We had a good trip exploring some new places. I strongly recommend that you just pick a place you've never been, use the old Google for some recommendations, make some hotel reservations and just go. Was Knoxville, TN a city that was overflowing with sites and attractions? No. Not even close. But did we find some incredible soul food? Check. How good was it? Next to the urns for sweet and unsweet tea, there was an urn of red Kool-Aid. That, my friends, is when you know you are in a real soul food restaurant. I did not take a picture unfortunately, because I thought that might offend someone who took the time to make the Kool-Aid and put it out there for the customers. Or the customers who drink the Kool-Aid. I was just passing through. No reason to piss everyone off and get shot in the process. But if you ever find yourself in Knoxville, and you want fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread, call me. I'll tell you where you need to go.
Blast off!

We found some nice places to drink beer in Knoxville as well. Right downtown they have a little square with a few nice bars. Around the corner are some spots with good beer selections, plus a brew pub across the street. All completely walk-able. We had fun. Drank a ton of Straight To Ale Monkeynaut draft. Good stuff. Thumbs up, Knoxville.

But the whole focus of the trip was not fried chicken, college bars and IPAs from Alabama. Our destination was in Versailles, KY. You pronounce every letter in Versailles up there. Think, "ver-sailz". Not that Frenchy pronunciation. You might as well just walk in there carrying a carpet bag if you are going to say, "ver-sigh". In the rolling hills of Versailles you will find the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Maybe some of you have already found it. Beautiful place, full of history, and producer of the finest bourbon money can buy. They gave us a great tour, lunch on the porch, and a nice tasting to follow. You don't need all of the details, but Mother Earth really smiled on us that day, because it was 82 degrees with big white puffy clouds in the sky. It was July 30th. In the south. And it wasn't hot and nasty. It was downright pleasant. I highly recommend that you take some time to make your way up there for a visit.

We stayed in Lexington that night, and again had a blast in a totally foreign town. We found an Irish pub with a Mexican bartender named Mike. So we were off to a good start right there. We drank some West 6th IPA, which if you follow beer news lately you would have heard of it quite a bit. Big hubbub over trademark laws with Magic Hat and their # 9 logo. In case you missed it, many people were crying about the little guy getting muscled over by the big guy. And as you can see from this image, it is a clear-cut case of the big guy being right. I am all for sticking up for the little guy, but damn. C'mon man. West 6th, you don't have a leg to stand on here.
The one on the right please.
The IPA was damned good too, brewed right there in Lexinton, and was really fresh. Glad we stopped in to see Mike (if that is your real name...) and tried to drink him out of all his hometown IPA. But we had to leave, because something was pulling us towards Al's. Maybe it was the disappointing dive bar in Knoxville (Jimmy's--don't bother), or maybe it was destiny. But whatever it was, it was a good thing. You can't define a good dive bar by any strict set of criteria. It is a combination of things working in concert that make a dive bar one of life's special places. One thing they absolutely have to be is unique. Any bar that tries to be a dive is just a hunk of crap (see "Jimmy's" above). A true dive bar just is, in the same way that a cool person is just a cool person. A person that tries to be cool isn't remotely cool. They are typically referred to in terms that more often than not rhyme with mouche mag. Al's, you're special, and we had a lot of fun inside of you, dirty as you were. Don't change, not one bit.
You're dirty and you know it. 

One last point of interest happened when we were getting in the car to leave the next morning. Our hotel was adjacent to Rupp Arena, which is where the University of Kentucky plays basketball. They produced the NBA's first round draft pick this year, a guy named Anthony Davis. He must have been visiting his alma mater, or maybe working out there before the NBA season starts, because there he was, getting in his Audi at 8:00 am, right in front of us. How can I be sure it was him? Well, first of all he is kind of unique looking, and when my friend said, "Hey, Anthony! What's up?" he turned and waved. Did I mention that he is somewhat unique looking?

Why have two eyebrows when one does the trick?
If you saw a 6' 10" guy that looks like that, about 100 feet from where he played college basketball until four months ago, you would not have to be a detective to realize who it was. But for a guy who just inked a multi-million dollar deal at the age of twenty, he seemed like a pretty alright dude. I hope he has a great career, so that every time I see him play I can tell this story, even to people that have heard it before. Especially to people who have heard it before. Just to annoy them.

OK folks, that is all I have for now. I am off to Asheville with a group of Taco Mac managers on Friday. We are going to pay a visit to the new Oskar Blues Blues brewery in Brevard, plus hit two or three more breweries in Asheville later in the day. Should be a good trip. Talk to you next week.