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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Talking Head: Dirty South Beer Club keeping it real

click to enlarge Katy Love of the Dirty South Beer Club samples a saison
  • Katy Love of the Dirty South Beer Club samples a saison

Once a month, about 15 members of the Dirty South Beer Club gather at a member's abode, or perhaps a remote mountain cabin, and sample beers selected for a designated theme, share their opinions, and vote on their favorites. These are not professional beer judges or even card-carrying beer geeks, but rather a group of young, college-educated, aspiring bon vivants looking to expand their knowledge of beer while enjoying each others' company.

The club (which has no affiliation to Dirty South Wine, the Atlanta-based wine blog) started last year, when a group of friends began to take a greater interest in the beer they were drinking and decided to get together on a regular basis for tastings and to learn more about beer. The group brought in some other friends by invitation in order to keep the meetings intimate. One of the founders, Katy Love, admits that when they started it was much more chaotic than informative. "We had way too many beers, and everyone got really drunk. We had no idea what we were doing." The club has gradually added more structure, started taking notes, and conducts a simple yes/no/neutral vote on each beer. The comments tossed out during the tastings are refreshingly expressive ("wet dog," "bong watery") and honest ("this tastes like butt").

I was a guest at the club's most recent meeting at the Decatur condo of Lain Shakespeare and Amelia Trace, where the group sampled saisons and wheat beers appropriate for the summer season. A number of the men confessed that wheats were their least favorite style, but all kept an open mind as they worked their way through Belgian wits, American pale wheats, regular and imperial saisons, and even an odd American bière de garde. The club has a healthy number of women members, who seemed more generous with these styles, but preferences ran the gamut. Overall the club has a penchant for big, flavorful beers, and they struggled with the thin bodies and crisp, dry finishes of the wheats and saisons. A few gems were found (Schlafly's Bière de Garde, Saison La Moneuse, De Proef Saison Imperiale), and a few clunkers (Sam Adams Imperial White, Pennichuck Rüstwagen Hefeweizen, Weyerbacher Muse).

As the bottles were passed around, the group had lots of questions: Do you rate a beer by its style, or to all other beers? Should you rate beers styles that you don't like? What makes Belgian beers different from other beers? Along with serious beer analysis, there was plenty of time for socializing and being silly. When someone mentioned that yeast has lots of B vitamins and folic acid, it was suggested that a hefeweizen would make a good prenatal vitamin.

The group's enthusiasm is infectious and bodes well for the craft beer scene. "We've been really surprised at how much interest there is in joining the group," Love says. "We feel terrible that we have to turn people down all the time, but most of us live in small spaces and we are trying to keep a sense of community within our group. But at the same time, we want to introduce more people to good beer and share our experiences with others." The group is considering having quarterly events for larger groups where people can organize their own clubs. "We have seen a lot of different clubs organized around any number of things and beer is such an enjoyable thing for all of us and we learn so much, we would love to see other groups get started."

Perhaps the Dirty South will spawn a whole new generation of beer enthusiasts, nurtured in beer clubs where they learn at their own pace and enjoy that most important characteristic of good beer, the good company it brings.

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