Some people have recently suggested that the world, perhaps, is imperfect. I don’t wish to quibble with these people — they may well have their reasons for doubting that everything is JUST FINE, though I can’t really fathom what these reasons could be. But I would like to take this opportunity to remind them and you all that the Patriots are just a few long days away from winning their 23rd Super Bowl in a row, and that’s positively delightful for everyone, isn’t it?!
Unless you’re from Atlanta, I guess, like my pal Austin L. Ray, who edits Good Beer Hunting and has written way too many words about beer for places like Creative Loafing, First We Feast, BeerAdvocate, and probably some other places he’s forgotten about at this point. He and his neighbors are stuck rooting for the doomed Falcons. But while there’s very little doubt which region has the better football team, I confess to not knowing a ton about Georgia beer, so I thought I’d check in with Austin and let him try to convince me that his homegrown stuff can compete with the beer I enjoy in Massachusetts.
Editor’s Note: This is an unedited transcript of a conversation between Will and Austin that took place on Google Docs in anticipation of the Super Bowl.
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Good morning, Austin! Bet you didn’t expect to hear from no-kid-having Willie so early on a Saturday morning, huh? (Congrats on having sex 10 months ago, by the way) I’m a fairy early riser, as childless beer bloggers go, but the real reason I’m already up and yapping at 7:00 a.m. today is that I just couldn’t sleep knowing the good and other people of Atlanta can’t get Samuel Adams Cincinnati Lager at that one gas station in town.
What’s more appalling to you as a beer-word nerd: the apostrophe, or the implication that Samuel Adams brews a worthwhile percentage of its beer anywhere near Boston? And is there an equivalent misconception about Atlanta beer?
First of all, Will, I’m proud of you for waking up early, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve already changed three (3) diapers today. Just another example of how Atlantans generally have a better work ethic than Bostonians. But let’s stick to beer, right? No need to make it personal.
Sam Adam is a great dude, I love his beer, and I will not speak ill of him in this — or any — publication. Similarly, I love this gas station owner’s attitude, and if his place of business wasn’t an hour away from my house, I would shake his hand (I’m a true ATLien, which means I don’t travel outside the perimeter unless there’s great beer, an airplane, or both involved). Good on him, good on Boston “Pride of Cincinnati” Beer for gamely jabbing back, good on everybody.
As for misconceptions, I see a lot of stories (the one linked above included) and chat with a lot of people who think of SweetWater as the only game in town. While they certainly established the scene and are the big guys around these parts (and they’ve got a tasty IPA), we’ve got more than 50 beer makers spread all over the Peach State these days! It’s getting real.
Speaking of getting real, let’s. Atlanta’s a pretty reasonably priced town with pretty reasonably priced beer in most bars, restaurants, and so on. Why does beer cost so goddamn much in Boston?
Part of the answer lies in your question: Atlanta’s a reasonably priced town, ergo beer is too. Boston is not a reasonably priced town. Real estate and labor are pretty expensive around here. But that only accounts for some of the ridiculous beer pricing. Other factors include crooked distribution practices, brewers who are afraid to invest enough money to grow to a reasonable scale, brewers who get off on making people stand in line due to carefully manipulated supply shortages, and just plain old capitalism — there are a lot of wealthy dolts here who will pay $20 for 4 cans of beer, and it’s hard for me to fault anyone who works that angle to buy a bigger boat. Why not?
And a less cynical explanation is that Massachusetts currently specializes in hazy IPAs that rely on quintuple dry-hopping and have super-short shelf lives. Production costs on those beers probably don’t justify their ridiculous markup, but it’s part of the story. Simply put, we make an expensive style of beer around here.
Speaking of which, what would you say is the most prominent beer style coming out of Georgia these days? I assume it’s peach-and-purple IPA, but is there another style the region particularly excels at?
Yep! Some of most popular styles lately include Too Many Pecans Porter, the Jimmy Carter-inspired Why Not The Best Berliner Weisse, and SpottieOttieDopaliscious Session Ale. Clunky referential joking aside, like a lot of markets around the country, we’re up to our elbows in IPA, and some of our best producers — Three Taverns, Wrecking Bar, Scofflaw, etc. — are experimenting with New England-style hop bombs (Fun fact: the nice thing about Georgia’s delicious New England-style IPAs is that they come without the preposterous New England-style lines). We’ve also got more pilsners and sour/wild stuff than ever before — Creature Comforts and Orpheus are both really leading the charge on the latter.
What about you guys? When Boston bars and restaurants aren’t busy accepting big piles of incentives only to get embarrassingly caught red-handed in headline-making pay-to-play activity, what kind of stuff are they selling?
So what you’re saying is Atlanta’s got no style. You make IPAs, including knockoffs of the version we’ve mastered, and now there are some wild ales and the odd pilsner? Homie, that’s not a regional beer niche, that’s the back wall at a supermarket in Omaha’s sleepiest suburb. Whereas in Massachusetts we are blessed not only with IPA savants Tree House, Trillium, and the many replicants they’ve spawned, such as Exhibit A and Building 8, but also all-purpose, cross-genre super-brewers like Night Shift, Cambridge, and Mystic. But what I came here to talk to you about this morning (happy Sunday!) is lager.
Massachusetts is rightfully synonymous with juicy, hazy IPA, but did you know that we also make some of the finest lagers anywhere outside of Wisconsin? Yeah, I know Germany and the Czech Republic are outside of Wisconsin. But those poor bastards are also outside the distribution footprints of Jack’s Abby and Notch, to name two of our most prominent local bottom-fermenting top-shelfers. Notch makes great ales, too, but their fantastic taproom in Salem was paid for by their Session Pils. And Jack’s Abby is all-lager, specializing in new-school hoppy offerings like Kiwi Rising and Excess IPL, while also bottling the 10% ABV barrel-aged series of Framinghammer bangers, Baltic porters that come in mole, brandy-barrel, and vanilla models, among others.
That said, Massachusetts is a little light on barrel-aged stouts and porters. Anybody down there producing reliable ones?
“Do we have barrel-aged stouts?” he asks. Buddy, the Chattahoochee River, once merely an excuse for Alan Jackson to get his boots and mullet wet, now flows with boozy, dark-as-night liquid from some of the Peach State’s finest producers. Recent whales include Wild Heaven’s Gravitational Wave (a massive Russian Imperial Stout made with smoked cocoa nibs and raspberries aged in Macallan Scotch barrels for six months followed by three months of bottle conditioning) and Creature Comforts See the Stars (a silky-smooth RIS that was aged for more than a year inside Willett bourbon barrels that previously sat full of maple syrup for four months — even notorious curmudgeon Don’t Drink Beer loved that one). Not all of our barrel-aged bruisers are of the buy-your-tickets-online-yesterday variety, though. Wrecking Bar taps a keg of their Mexican Siberius Maximus—a barrel-aged 12.5% ABV Russian Imperial Stout with toasted cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon bark, and chipotle and smoked serrano peppers — on the 5th of every month at 7pm.
Welp, I’m kinda drunk after just typing that paragraph, and I know just the thing that could harsh my buzz: Georgia beer legislation! Oh, but wait, we’ve actually got a bill this year that could change our state’s beer game forever. Our brewers and wholesalers have found common ground that could let Georgia beer makers sell some of their product directly to customers for the first time in Peach State history. I’m positively giddy at the possibility. What are you looking forward to in Boston’s beer future?
Well, I’ll be darned! Sounds like things are coming along nicely in Georgia these days. Congrats. As for Boston’s beer future, my fondest wish is that our IPA producers would consider letting the hops do their goddamn job again and make the beer bitter. The newest widely distributed Massachusetts-brewed West Coast-style IPA I can remember loving, Wormtown’s Be Hoppy, came out seven years ago! I have to confess that I’ve yet to see any evidence that bitterness is coming back, but I have faith in the cyclical nature of beer trends. We’ll get back to square two eventually.
Every now and then you’ll hear a rumble about the reintroduction of happy hour — discount pricing was banned after a particularly gruesome DUI death in the 1980s. I’m all for public safety, but I’m not convinced knocking a buck off a pint of Harpoon IPA from 3 to 6 on weekday afternoons would imperil any more lives. I’d also like to see more collaboration brews. The Boston-area beer scene doesn’t quite have the level of bonhomie I hear about in other places. Those are just my dreams, though, not necessarily my predictions or expectations. As far as things that are definitely going to happen, I’m excited to see what the future holds for rapidly expanding Jack’s Abby and their new ale-focused division, Springdale. And of course there’s the Tree House and Trillium expansions. I’m also curious to see if Night Shift’s new distribution company can chip away at the deep layers of horeshit involved in that racket.
But back to the present: When I make it to Atlanta, what are the first 10 beers I’m drinking?
Ooooh, 10 beers, this is fun. Since this exercise is wildly hypothetical as is, I’m gonna pretend you just hopped off the plane and we’re embarking on a bad-decisions drinking adventure tonight.
We start at my house on the eastside of town, where we pull a 2015 Three Taverns Inceptus Wild Ale from my closet “cellar.” It’s 6% ABV, complex, lightly tart, and made by one of the few Belgian brewmasters in the country (not to mention Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium’s nephew!), Joran Van Ginderachter. Then we head to Argosy in East Atlanta Village, where we down a Creature Comforts Bibo Pilsner and a Three Taverns Rapturous (the latter’s a kettle-soured raspberry delight). After stuffing our faces with a plancha burger, we roll up the street to Little Five Points, grab a spot at The Porter Beer Bar, and things get serious — a Wrecking Bar barrel-aged L5Project Imperial Porter (maple syrup, chocolate, oh my!) followed by an Orpheus Truth.Body.Soul Double IPA (dank juiciness for days). At this point, we probably need to walk it out (see what I did there?), so we’ll hoof it to Inman Park/Reynoldstown station, and take the MARTA train to Decatur. Sufficiently bright-eyed once again, we’ll grab some chips and remoulade at Brick Store Pub, and ask the kindly staff to make it rain on us: a Southern Brewing Cherokee Rose followed by a Creature Comforts Koko Buni followed by a Scofflaw Blindside followed by and a Burnt Hickory Freak Flag. OK, OK, OK, listen, keep it together. We’re heading back to the train now, taking it one stop east to Avondale Estates, walking a few minutes to Wild Heaven, and consuming Emergency Drinking Beer until they insist it’s time for us to call a Lyft and head back home.
PHEW. Those aren’t, like, the All Time Top 10 Clickbait Georgia On My Mind Ultra Rare Hyped Best Beers SEO Home Mortgage You Won’t Believe What Happens Next or whatever, but they’re a quality slice of what’s currently being served up around town—and some of my favorite brewers, to boot.
To be perfectly honest with you, Will, I think we’re verging on overstaying our welcome with your kind and lovely and impressively attractive VinePair readership (And were we supposed to be talking about the Super Bowl? I don’t even know anymore). What say you take us out with 10 tasty Boston beers that I’ll drink when I fly into your city?
You sound like a pretty good tour guide! I’d offer to return the favor, but I’m not very friendly in real life, plus you’ve got an infant to tend to at home. So how about instead I tell you which Massachusetts beers I’d send you if I were a better person? I know you swung through these parts a couple months ago and loaded up on all the usual high-profile suspects — Trillium and whatnot — so here are some of my favorite Massachusetts brews that might sit a little bit under the national radar (for now).
1. Lamplighter So Much for Subtlety, second edition. This is an 8.5% ABV double IPA from a 3-month-old place around the corner from my apartment. The first edition was good, but this new Equinox’d version is even better, with all the fruit you need but more bitter balance than you’d expect to find in a tallboy of local IPA these days.
2. Notch Session Pils. I drank half a hundred of these 4% beauties last time the Patriots beat a flock of birds in the Super Bowl, and this year I’d like you to be able to join me in the pleasure.
3. Cambridge Brewing Company Blunderbuss Barleywine. But then, a Falcons fan might want to have something a bit stiffer on hand for when things turn ugly early.
4. Wormtown Be Hoppy. As mentioned above, this is one of my favorite widely distributed Massachusetts IPAs, because it has the audacity to retain a healthy hint of the piney bite god-or-whoever intended.
5. Mystic Saison Renaud. This is currently on tap at my office, which means I’m very lucky and also likely to be fired before this story posts.
6. RiverWalk Uncle Bob’s Bitter. An underappreciated style from an underrated local brewery, Uncle Bob is rich and clean, with a bready base topped by orange and honey and an earthy-bitter finish.
7. Night Shift Awake. The perfect 6.7% ABV coffee porter to help ease you into the morning after the Super Bowl.
8. Harpoon Sweet Spot. I have nothing against Samuel Adams, but 30-year-old Harpoon is the Boston brewery. Sweet Spot is a new year-round Kölsch-ish golden ale modeled on the dearly departed Harpoon Summer, and it’s ideal for shotgunning in stressful moments during football games (for an Atlanta fan, that would be any moment when the Patriots have the ball — I’ll send a 30-pack).
9. Jack’s Abby Numb Swagger. Austin, if this isn’t the finest barrel-aged, Szechuan peppercorn-spiced rauchbier you’ve had all year, I’ll eat my hat (my hat is made out of ham — which pairs beautifully with Numb Swagger, incidentally — but I still stand by this beer 100%).
10. Berkshire Brewing The Russian Imperial Stout. It’s bedtime, buddy. Pour yourself a full bomber of this deep, dark delight and trust that tomorrow will come.