Susan and I visited my cousin in the Atlanta area for an extended Memorial Day weekend. It was a ton of fun, but here are some of the highlights and thoughts on some of the urban issues down there.
The first day, we had to pick up my cousin at the airport at 10pm. He gave us his car to use for the day so we spent it in Atlanta (he actually lives about 20 miles north). Our first stop was lunch because we were starving. We went to The Underground and ate at The Irish Bred. The food was tasty and I got a Sweetwater 420 on tap there. It was a great start to a vacation. From there, we wandered around The Underground, which is basically a street underground that was turned into a mall, but it’s mostly independent stores, which is nice. It’s a neat spot, but nothing overly special, especially on a rainy Thursday afternoon when there’s nothing going on.
After leaving The Underground, we headed over to Sweetwater for the tour and tasting, which started at 5:30. Not being from the area, we didn’t know what to expect, but it was nothing like a northeast brewery. They literally don’t do anything until 5:30. So we sat in our car in their parking lot. When we got out, they had setup a tent and tables at the end of their driveway and there was already a line forming. All total, there were probably about 300 people there, mostly for the cheap beer. They charge you $7 for a glass or gave a free plastic cup that was small and you got 6 drink tickets for 6 tastings (2 tickets for a higher gravity beer). They claimed they limit the pours, but they don’t really. I got about 3/4 of a pint each time even though it was supposed to be 5.5 ounces. The tasting part was kind of like a frat party. The tour was cool, though the tour guide was a bit odd. She seemed to be a little beer snobby. It would have been nice if it was a brewer. They had a cool painted tank (pic to follow) for their experimental stuff and they had some barrels with sour and wild beers (pics to follow). It was nice to learn that they bought a large building next door. I’m hoping they’ll expand distribution. They make some great beers. I’d love to see them in New England. My favorites were Happy Ending (a great imperial stout) and their IPA.
We immediately left and headed to Atlanta Brewing Co., the brewers of the Red Brick beers. This was a much smaller group. Similar deal on the tasting, though you only got 4 each (which was fine for us since I was driving). Same deal with the size of the pours, though they were offering half a pint, but I still got almost a full pint. The tour was much smaller and more intimate and a little more informative. They have a lot of room to expand in their space, but they aren’t producing anywhere near as much beer as Sweetwater (they said they’re at 10-15,000 bbl per year while Sweetwater is at 80,000 bbl per year). Their brown ale is awesome. It has a nice roasted flavor with a hint of coffee.
Following the tour, we headed to Green’s Package Store to buy some beer to bring home and then to the Porter Beer Bar for dinner before picking up my cousin. The Porter Beer Bar is a must visit place for beer lovers in Atlanta. The waitstaff was great, the space is very unique (long and narrow, but very comfortable), and the food and beer selection is awesome. I had a Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale (Bell’s had only been available in Georgia for about 2 weeks when we arrived) with my brats and kraut, and Susan had the shrimp and grits.
The next day for lunch, we went to Five Seasons brewpub. It’s a chain, but the beer and food were good. The beer is nothing to seriously seek out, but it’s definitely worth trying if you’re near one. I had their pale ale, which tasted a bit grainy, but was still tasty. My wife had their stout, which was very good. The food was excellent. Their onion rings are the size of small donuts. The thing that surprised me is that they had a menu of aged bottled beers (their own) available. I have never seen that in a brewpub.
We headed to Athens on Saturday for the day. Our first stop was lunch at Trappeze. Everything here was very good. They had a great selection of beer. I got a Bell’s Expedition Stout, which was on the house because I only got 1/2 to 3/4 of a pour as it was the end of the keg. They had an extensive beer menu, which was all craft and looked incredible. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to drink a whole lot so early in the day. Athens is a pretty cool little city. It’s the location of the University of Georgia, which is big, making it a college town. It was very much like New Haven or Burlington. It’s very artsy with a big music scene (after all, REM hails from Athens). After wandering around for a bit, we stopped at the Mellow Mushroom for some beer and let the women check out some clothing stores and try to get my cousin’s kid to take a nap. They had a pretty impressive beer selection for a chain pizza place. I got some good local beers there. Finally, we ended up at the Last Resort for dinner. None of us were overly impressed by it, but it did seem popular. They had a great sweet tea and my trout was really tasty.
While in Athens, we all visited the Terrapin brewery. This was the same deal as the others. You buy a glass and get so many drink tickets. This place gave out 8 drink tickets, but only had 5 beers available. Terrapin makes some awesome beers. Their Rye Pale Ale and India Brown Ale were both awesome. They’re the one brewery I wish I brought back more beers from. The tour was very informative and given by their VP. They are looking to expand and I told him to consider RI. Hopefully, they will.
On Sunday, we went to Summits Wayside Tavern, which boasts the world’s largest selection of beer. How true that is, I have no idea, but they had something like 214 taps and even more beer in bottles (though I imagine some of that beer overlapped). I was not overly impressed other than when I looked at the bar. The wall of taps is pretty intimidating. A lot of the taps were not craft beer, though Susan and I did get some good beer. She had the Old Dominion Bourbon Barrel Stout and I had the Highland Oatmeal Porter (though they got mixed up and I ended up drinking hers and she mine). They were both tasty beers that I can’t get in New England. The restaurant is basically a family restaurant. The service was lackluster and the atmosphere was pretty low brow. I would have preferred a nicer restaurant with smaller beer selection, but it was worth going to once.
We then headed back to RI on Monday. We did eat at the Sam Adams Brewhouse in the Atlanta airport and saw that the Akron airport had a Great Lakes brewhouse in their terminal (didn’t get a chance to see if I could buy beer to bring back with me). All in all, it was a fun trip. We brought back almost a case of beer (Red Brick Brown Ale, Red Brick Double Chocolate Oatmeal Porter, Terrapin 90 Schelling, Terrapin Monk’s Revenge, Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout, New Belgium 1554, New Belgium Fat Tire, and Avery Brabant).
Urban issues: Atlanta was designed for driving. Highways are 6-7 lanes wide in 1 direction. Roads in the city were mostly 2-3 lanes wide. The city is filled with sprawl. It’s a new southern city. There are neat areas (5 Points is a cool neighborhood), but it’s a lot of sprawl. Athens, on the other hand, is a well designed city, though I didn’t notice any public transportation there, but it is walkable.