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First Draft: Bob Townsend 

The Southern Brew News editor and AJC beer columnist talks beer

Veteran writer Bob Townsend moved to Atlanta in 1986, shortly after graduating from Florida State University. After working at a pair of record stores and a music-distribution center, he took his rock 'n' roll interests to the pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But it was hardly the first time he'd put word to page, about music or otherwise. "I wrote crazy sci-fi and adventure stories when I was a kid," Townsend remembers. "I was a staff writer for my high school paper and worked on the yearbook. At Florida State, I worked for the indie daily, the Florida Flambeau, and covered bands like the Replacements, R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, and the Minutemen. During that time, I was drinking quarts of cheap American lager in brown paper bags."

Eventually, he'd come to love craft beer, and writing about it, too — the latter of which he started doing for the AJC in the early 2000s. Since then, he's penned countless articles and blog posts, both for the paper and regional bi-monthly publication Southern Brew News, of which he's served as editor since 2006. As the city's preeminent beer scribe, he's seen a lot of change over the past dozen or so years, but like a lot of craft beer obsessives in the Atlanta metro area, he gets most amped thinking about the future. "More," Townsend replies, when asked what he looks forward to in Atlanta's beer scene. "More brick-and-mortar breweries. More styles. More fine-dining restaurants that feature craft beer in a serious way. More events exploring serious food and beer. More of everything."

Describe your first beer experience.

I grew up on a small family farm where my dad was a basement homebrewer and my mom was an imaginative home cook. As a kid, I helped my dad with bottling, operating the capper, and getting little sips of his homebrew sometimes. To me, it was yeasty, like my mom's homemade bread, but it had a compelling bitterness that I'd never noticed in any other food or drink. I came to recognize those strange aromas and flavors as "beer."

How did you get started writing about it?

I've been writing about beer since about 1999-2000. It was an outgrowth of writing a budget dining column for the AJC called Good and Cheap (later, Neighborhood Nosh). The AJC's Pulitzer Prize-winning book editor Michael Skube started the beer column. When he left the paper, Food and Dining Editor Susan Puckett asked me to take over. I was thrilled, of course. But I remember being worried, too, wondering if I'd have enough to write about in Atlanta. Obviously, things have changed since then. And I like to think I've had a little something to do with that.

When it's time for a beer, where do you go?

I like to go to places close to home. And beyond good beer, I like good old-fashioned bars. Euclid Avenue Yacht Club and Manuel's fill that bill. The Brick Store has been a longtime home away from home, of course. I like the Porter, too, especially for a beer and a bite before a show at Variety. And I like to sneak off to Thinking Man sometimes, which is a little more under the radar.

Tell me your most memorable beer story.

There have been a bunch of memorable moments, but my favorite moment had to do with whiskey as much as beer. I was in Denver for [the Great American Beer Festival], and Flying Dog was having a big 10th-anniversary celebration where I was hanging out with one of my heroes, cartoonist and Hunter S. Thompson cohort Ralph Steadman. Another one of my heroes, and certainly the greatest beer writer of all time, Michael Jackson, was there, too. Steadman told me he'd never met Jackson. So, being a little tipsy, I decided I should introduce them to each other and somehow we ended up tasting one of the first batches of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey together. They were quite funny and oddly shy with each other. Two brilliant British men standing in a Denver parking lot drinking whiskey and chatting about all sorts of things while I stood there feeling lucky.

What's your desert-island beer?

If I were forced at gunpoint, I'd probably say saison. It's both complex and refreshing. It's the best food beer in the world and pairs with almost anything and everything. As my friend [and Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster] Garrett Oliver says, "Saison is not just versatile — it's downright promiscuous." I think a promiscuous companion would be a good thing on a desert island.

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