Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bye-Bye Myrtle, Hello Athens!

It wasn't supposed to happen this way.
Our plan was to leave Myrtle Beach Sunday morning and drive into Atlanta, where we going to stay Sunday and Monday. We were going to make a detour of 45 miles or so to hit a great beer store in Athens, the Five Points Bottle Shop. Then my girlfriend had an interesting thought- are they open on Sundays?
Nope. Time to change plans.
We really wanted to hit Five Points, so we decided to stay Sunday in Athens, go to the beer store Monday morning and continue into Atlanta. We had incentive to stay in Athens anyway because it is home of the Trappeze Pub, a bar that specializes in American and Belgian craft beers. We booked a motel just under a mile away from the bar through and said goodbye to the beach.
The drive to Athens is mainly set out along I-20, which is pretty non-descript through South Carolina. Once you hit the Georgia line you are in Augusta, home of the famous golf course. I have passed through the area a number of times, but I never stopped to see the course. Not that I could get through the gates, but I would at least like to see the gates.
To get to Athens we had to get off the busy interstate and onto a quiet country road that rolled through hills, passing small towns now and then, and other cars even less. After awhile it felt like we were never going to see civilization again, but after an hour on that road (and taking a wrong turn at one point) we arrived.
We checked into the palatial Travelodge, home of the pool that hadn't been cleaned in ten years and a view of a barbed wire fence from our window. This is the price you pay to be close to a good bar.

We headed down the street to the Trappeze Pub. The bar is located in the main business district, which is full of historical buildings surrounded by shady trees. We were almost to the bar, then my girlfriend had an interesting thought- are they open on Sundays?
Deja vu! Luckily for us, Trappeze was indeed open, an oasis in a desert of victims of Sunday blue laws. I was scared for a minute there, because the whole area looked like a ghost town, and it would have been disappointing to miss out on this place. But it turns out they are not yet subject to the law regarding the ratio of beer to food that must be met to operate on Sundays because they have only been open since January.
We grabbed a couple of seats near the end of the bar, right under the chalkboard with the tap list on it. The list boasted 30 American craft and Belgian choices. My girlfriend started with a Sweetwater Georgia Brown while I went with a hand-pumped Victory Hop Devil. The bartender not only served the beers in the proper glassware, they served the beers in logo glasses of the brewery we were drinking the beer from! Now, I'm not that much of a beer snob where I care that much about "proper glassware", but it is nice to see a bartender who knows their beer that well and sure beats a frosted mug.
After a few swigs of beer, we both realized that we hadn't eaten all day, and if we wanted to last through the amount of beers we wanted to try we better get something in our stomachs. The Trappeze has a small menu of pub fare that they crank out of a closet-sized kitchen. We learned that they bought out the former coffee shop next door and will soon be expanding their kitchen and menu as well. We ordered a beer-cheese soup, roast beef sandwich and spinach salad. We were so hungry that Hot Pockets wouldn't have tasted bad at this point, but the food was a perfect match for our beer (ok, maybe not the salad, but you gotta have some greens)and it's remarkable they can turn out such good food from a hobbit hole.

Our next beers were a Terrapin Oak-Aged Rye Squared Pale Ale and a Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA. I thought the Terrapin was a smooth, well balanced beer that was almost a sipping beer. We got to talking to Brad, one of the bartenders, and he used to work for Terrapin. Actually we talked to both bartenders all night, but we never caught the other guy's name. Sorry, man. You were cool anyway. So Brad said that the head brewer at Terrapin (Brian Buckowski) just had to make beers that were in balance, no matter what the style. If you read my stuff a lot you know I don't mind a beer that is super over the top in on way or another (preferably hop-wise) but you don't really get that from Terrapin. I enjoyed that beer, though, and I love that they use rye in some of their beers. You can really taste it in the Rye Pale Ale, which is well distributed in the Southeast.

The Weyerbacher Double Simcoe was not so balanced, and that was a good thing. Even a great thing. Maybe even the best thing ever. It smelled so good, I just kept sticking my nose in the glass and saying, "Wow!". My girlfriend got tired of my nose intruding into her beer and had to keep it away from me. I have had this beer before from a bottle and it was very good, but having it on tap elevates it to a new level. And congratulations to Weyerbacher for not toning down this beer even after the price of Simcoe hops jumped from four dollars a pound to over thirty!Weyerbacher is a company out of Easton, PA, and makes beer in a variety of styles, including a number of Belgian varieties. Their distribution runs all the way from Maine to Florida so keep a eye out for them in your travels to the east coast.

We finally got to try that Double Dog that we thought we were going to get on tap back in Myrtle Beach as we shared a pint of that while talking beer with the bartenders. How great were those guys? We were talking about Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and how we loved it and how hard it had been to find. Next thing we knew, they had tapped a keg of it. For us. Well, we didn't get to drink the whole thing, but that's only because we had already had some high gravity beers. But we did drink our share, and it was excellent! Trappeze is a first-class operation with a great crew, and we are so happy we decided to stay the night in Athens. Don't pass this place up if you are in Georgia.

Is this pizza worth 21 bucks? Apparently so, if you order from Mellow Mushroom, a semi-local pizza chain. I was hungry again after all that great beer, so we ordered a pizza. Mellow Mushroom has a large selection of specialty pizza with eclectic toppings and also a large beer selection. We went to pick up the pizza and the counter guy, who I think was in the movie Half Baked or auditioning for the sequel, told us it would be 21 dollars. I didn't know the prices when I called in the order so I just paid up but when the pizza came out we looked at it and it wasn't anything like the one we ordered. This one had shittake mushrooms, feta, pesto, jalapenos and I don't know what else. The guys working there were, uh, "mellow" about it and offered to make us a new pizza or give us that one at the price of the pizza we actually ordered, which turned out to be 12 bucks. That's more like it. I was so hungry by then that that mess actually sounded good so we just took it. It turned out to be pretty good. Not 21 dollars good, but good.

So Monday morning rolled around and we drove through the historic streets of the University of Georgia to the Five Points Bottle Shop. It turns out Brad, our bartender from the Trappeze Pub, is friends with Sachen, the owner of Five Points, and told him we were coming. Sachen came over and introduced himself. This guy is serious about beer, and about how his store looks. He told us that he actually has nightmares about shelves in disarray and he is constantly facing and straightening product.

They have some of the best selection of any beer store we have been in, with lots of beers that I had never seen before but only read about. But never dreamt about. I'm not that bad yet. If I had my way I would have liked two of everything, but we had to figure how much space we could afford in the car, so we didn't get everything we wanted. I was willing to part with my suitcase by I was talked out of it. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't get a few things I could have but it gives me a reason to keep traveling, right? I guess we spent enough money because Sachen was kind enough to give us Terrapin and Weyerbacher beer glasses. He also gave us directions to Atlanta and we were off, saying a sad goodbye to a town that one should take more time to visit. Not us though- there was still so much beer, and so little time!

Next: Atlanta

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