It's been a big few years for beer in Atlanta. The city's two bottling breweries, Atlanta Brewing Company and Sweetwater, continue to grow and thrive. Atlanta Brewing Company recently has moved to new digs, and Sweetwater continues to come up with new brews while maintaining a huge following of Atlanta drinkers. With the closing of Dogwood brewery in 2004, the city lost two of its most talented brewers, Crawford Moran and Jordan Fleetwood. But in the past year, both brewers returned to Atlanta brewpubs, Moran at 5 Seasons Brewery and Fleetwood at Twain's in Decatur.
When imagining this year's Beer Issue, I wanted to give props to Atlanta's homegrown beers, but to do it in a way that honored the nature of beer lovers – which is to say I wanted to talk about drinking. Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to drink. But I knew I didn't want to write some boring story about the rise of brewing in Atlanta. I wanted to go out and taste the beers and hang out at the breweries and be a part of Atlanta's beer culture.
While beer has always been dear to my heart, I am not an obsessive beer drinker. My beer drinking has tended toward the routine rather than the outgoing and exploratory. Because I am obsessed with all things taste-related, I have taken the time to educate myself and have developed quite a taste for beer at both ends of the spectrum, tending mainly toward high-gravity Belgian beers on the one hand, and exceedingly bad American beer on the other (think Schlitz). I know what I like and I stick with it. So I knew I needed a partner in crime, someone who could force me to think hard about the beers I was drinking instead of just finding the brew I liked and sticking with it until I fell off the stool. I asked Jeff Holland, who is a beer lover and drinker, and who writes a beer column for CL's Beer Club, to accompany me to some of Atlanta's finest breweries and brewpubs. We didn't hit them all, but we made it to the best of them, and had some outstanding beers and some passionate discussions about beer along the way.
Jeff and I started at the new Atlanta Brewing Company facility in northwest Atlanta, Jeff with his little beer notebook and me ready to drink. The 20,000-square-foot space has allowed the brewery to make improvements in both its brewing equipment and tasting room. Three times a week, the brewery offers tours along with tastings of current beers. Very few who attend actually go on the tour, and for the most part it is an excuse to unwind and drink. The atmosphere is convivial, with a lot of clean-cut college kids taking advantage of the new, spacious, brightly lit digs.
Atlanta Brewing is good at balance in its brews, and most have a dry-hops finish, or so Jeff informed me as he took notes in his book. I was having fun drinking and forgot to take notes. But I did manage to find out that my favorite Atlanta Brewing Company beer, Numbers Ale, which has only been available at restaurants owned by Concentrics restaurant group, will soon be available in bottles. So maybe I'm a journalist after all – a slightly drunk journalist who forgot her pen, but this was a beer crawl, not the state Legislature (hic!).
After tasting our fill at Atlanta Brewing Company, we decided to head over to Sweetwater to check out its brewery tour, which is much the same deal as the one at Atlanta Brewing. How naive of us. As we neared the brewery on Ottley Drive in the industrial part of Midtown that borders Buckhead, we encountered a guy holding a sign saying "tour sold out."
"We're at capacity," he told us. "On a nice day like this, you need to get here right when the doors open. We sell out really quickly." We would have to wait for another day.
But we weren't defeated yet. Jeff and I (and our designated driver, I should add here) set out for Twain's, which expanded from a popular pool hall and bar into a full-scale brewpub last year. This is where Jordan Fleetwood landed after leaving the state for Nashville after a short stint at Sweetwater when Dogwood closed in 2004. The bar there is still frequented by heavily tattooed guys sporting beards and brandishing PBRs, but the bartenders are enthusiastic about the beers being brewed on-site.
We started with a Belgian Golden Ale straight from the cask. This is a funky ale that tasted vaguely of sweat to me. The Mysterious Stranger Brown Ale tasted pleasingly of burnt coffee, with a bitter finish. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mad Happy Pale Ale tasted brightly of hops.
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