Better with age 

Two of Atlanta's oldest brewpubs

We continue our local tour with two of Atlanta’s oldest brewpubs. Although somewhat constrained by being part of larger corporations concerned with marketing concepts as much as establishing an individual identity as craft brewers, both have managed to survive years of shifting tastes and political machinations.

Any bar that can survive the Buckhead Urban Renewal Project must have something going for it. Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, now owned by Gordon Biersch but operated independently from its former corporate parents, still turns out a solid lineup of beers geared toward classic styles and popular tastes.

Standouts include the Sweet Magnolia Brown Ale (this week’s beer pick) and the Iron Horse Stout, a sweet-style stout (as opposed to a dry stout such as Guinness) that has won numerous awards. The Pinstripe Pale Ale is a fine example of an extra pale ale, with bright hop notes and a rounded, toasted malt backbone. The Loop IPA has a nice orange-zest aroma and flavor, but lacks complexity. Currently the IPA is available on cask (I was surprised to see a cask offering at such a corporatized joint), which benefits its character, allowing a honey sweetness to emerge. They currently have an Oktoberfest on tap, as well.

In the past, I would have said there was only one thing to recommend the Park Tavern and that is the setting. The fantastic stone patio overlooking Piedmont Park and the Midtown skyline makes up for the spotty service and mediocre, overpriced food. And if you asked me for a recommendation on which of their house beers to order, I would have said, “The gin and tonic.” A few years ago some friends and I hit the place on a rainy Saturday to take advantage of their $1 pints on rainy days. We ran up a substantial tab and sampled every beer they had to offer, and every one was just plain bad — thin, flat and utterly lacking in character.

I am happy to report, however, that Park Tavern has a new brewer, Brian Campbell, and the beers are noticeably better. The current Park Trail Pale Ale bears no resemblance to the insipid, tinny tasting beer I remember. The pale is hopped with ubiquitous Cascade for a floral, piney nose and a nice bitter finish, but it is the slightly burnt-tasting malts that leave the greater impression. Earthy and musky, the malts suggest the raw grain essence of horse feed, but in a good way. The IPA, which is not on the menu, was lacking in head retention, but was otherwise quite tasty, with a nice floral aroma and a citrus flavor. The Druid Pils also was lacking a decent head and was a bit sweet for the style, but still eminently drinkable.

On the other hand, I found the Park Tavern’s wheat to be quite unpleasant, being closer to lemonade than beer. But then I am not a big fan of hefeweizens. I am looking forward to the new version of the Piedmont Porter. It seems that none of the brewpubs in town keep a good, rich porter on hand anymore. Perhaps the cooler months will bring a few attempts at that classic. Bring on the full-flavored ales, baby, it’s time to put away those airy wheat beers and lagers.

I am hoping these improvements in the beer at Park Tavern signal a change for the better. One bad sign: The bartender informed us he couldn’t give out samples of beer. This is just bad business and is typical of the uptight management of the place. I have talked to many people who have vowed never to go back because of the poor quality and bad attitude there. Although they keep busy with weddings and park-related events, the place was pretty dead on a Tuesday night. Maybe having decent beer will make it easier to forgive the missteps and bring a little fun to go with the view.  

Beer News:

Oktoberfests are popping out all over. This Saturday (Sept. 22) you can celebrate at Max Lager’s from 3-6 p.m. with unlimited beer and German food for just $25. There will be live music in the beer garden and root beer floats for the kids, too. While you are downtown, you can also check out the Underground Atlanta Oktoberfest, happening both Friday and Saturday. The usual food, beer, and music. Meehan’s Public House is also going Teutonic, putting away its Gaelic theme for the weekend. Call 404-843-8058 for more information on the festivities.

Next weekend, 5 Seasons Brewery in the Prado will host its annual Oktoberfest celebration Saturday, Sept. 29, starting at 4 p.m. Brewer Glen Sprouse makes the best German lagers in the city, and for $55 you can drink all you care to drink, as well as pig out on German fare from the kitchen. Reservations are recommended, as is a cab ride home.

In other 5 Seasons news, Executive Chef David Larkworthy and owner Dennis Lange will offer a preview of the new 5 Seasons Westside location at a benefit for Food & Wine magazine’s “Grow for Good” Campaign. The campaign seeks to raise $1 million for Farm to Table, an organization promoting local farms and sustainable agriculture. The “Country Fair in the City” will feature live music, farm-fresh foods, and of course, good beer. The party runs 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, and cost $50 per person. The soon-to-open Westside location is at the corner of Marietta Street and Howell Mill Road.

Finally, Twain’s Billiards and Tap in Decatur is getting into the beer dinner game, with its first ever dinner Thursday, Sept. 27, featuring ive courses matched with ales from head brewer Jordan Fleetwood, including a cask of whiskey barrel-aged stout for dessert. The cost is $40 and tickets are available at the bar.

Talking Head columnist Jeff Holland can be reached at


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