Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Talking Head: Hop City here we come; Plus, a beer dinner conundrum

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2009 at 12:11 AM

click to enlarge On the case: Kraig Torres stocks his beer store, Hop City, for its April 2 opening
  • On the case: Kraig Torres stocks his beer store, Hop City, for its April 2 opening

The Westside is looking more and more like a beer Mecca. Hop City, a craft beer and wine specialty store, will open this week across the alley from the soon-to-open 5 Seasons Westside in the Brickworks complex on Marietta St. Along with beer and wine, Hop City will also stock beer-making supplies, a rarity in Atlanta.

Owner Kraig Torres will host a Grand Opening party on Thursday April 2 at 5 Seasons that will feature nine craft brewers, including local favorites Terrapin, 5 Seasons, Sweetwater, and Atlanta Brewing Company. There will be free beer samples, food and live music from 6-9 p.m.

Torres is the self-proclaimed "beer guy" in the operation, with his general manager, Doug Schaller, handling the wine side of the aisle. Torres will stock about 1,000 varieties of beer, along with about 800 wines. The store will have a 12-door cooler for beer, as well as a chiller on hand to prep those large, single bottles of American craft beer and Belgians.

Although the store won't sell singles of 12-oz bottles, it will have a mix-your-own six-pack shelf that'll have different price points from which to make your selections. Not selling singles was a concession to the neighborhood, which didn't want to attract the wrong sort. Torres isn't a beer snob, though. He wants Hop City to be a neighborhood store where Tech students can pick up a cheap case of Keystone, or loft residents can find a good wine for less than $25. Or, of course, a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne.

Hop City promises to have a beer selection as good or better than any other liquor store in the city and hopes to distinguish itself with personalized service. "My favorite part of this is talking to a guy that says, 'I drink Budweiser,' and saying to him, 'Let me introduce you to a Prima Pils; it's kind of like Budweiser.' Seeing the look on his face when that light goes on is so rewarding."

The beer will be organized by style rather than brand, like wine, which Torres hopes will encourage people to explore new beers in the style they like, as well as help the staff guide customers to the type of beer they are looking for . "We want to help you find the right beer by asking the kind of questions that wine sellers ask," Torres says, "What kind of beer do you normally drink? Are you going to be serving the beer with food, or just drinking it while watching the game?"

Torres hatched the idea of a craft beer store about a year and a half ago when he found that other large cities had stores devoted to beer, but not Atlanta. He added wine to help make the margins more attractive (wine has a greater retail markup than beer). He liked the BrickWorks site where the historic warehouses that lined the Western and Atlantic Railroad in the early twentieth century have been retrofitted to house modern retail shops. The interior brick walls and rough-hewn framing are original to the building, which once housed a mule auction house and barn.

Right now there are no shelves in the store while Torres waits on his certificate of occupancy from the city, which requires an inspection with no fixtures on the floor. While he waits, he's set up the store in the basement so that it's ready to go. Although the space looks barren now, Torres says he's on schedule for the April 2 opening.

Two Beer Dinners on April 7

Lovers of food and beer will have a tough choice on Tues., April 7, with promising beer dinners at Twain's and The Porter falling on the same night.

Twain's dinner will feature barrel-aged beers from brewer Jordan Fleetwood's "cellar," including his excellent Tidy Soul smoked dunkelweiss aged in a Jack Daniels barrel (served with a trio of cheddar cheeses), the XL DIPA aged in a charred-oak barrel (paired with a mango salad), and a main course of roast leg of lamb and a strong ale aged in a Jack Daniels barrel for 4 months then cold conditioned for a year. Topping it all off is a chocolate espresso cheesecake paired with the Honest Lender Imperial Brown Ale conditioned with 50 lbs. of cherries in a red wine barrel. All four courses and beer are only $40 plus tax and tip. Get tickets at the bar or email Uri Wurtzel at uri@twains.net to reserve your spot.

The Porter Beer Bar in Little 5 Points offers up an unusual treat with its dinner featuring Hitachino Nest beers from Japan's well-respected Kiuchi Brewery, one of only a handful of craft breweries in a country more devoted to sake than beer. The menu celebrates Japanese cooking and includes sashimi served with the weizen, edamame soup paired with the pale ale, poached halibut with peas and radish matched with a ginger-flavored beer, and a dessert of red miso cake and peanut tuile served with a red rice ale. The red rice ale is particularly intriguing, a Belgian-style strong pale ale brewed with wild rice that lends a sake-like kick. The dinner costs $30 without beer pairings and $45 with beer. Call the bar at 404-223-0293 to make your reservations.

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