Monday, August 25, 2008

To the Land of the Free Beer and the Home of the Braves

Finally, a drive that my back can handle! The drive from Athens to Atlanta is only 73 miles, our shortest day of driving the entire trip. I guess that is kind of obvious, though. Who drives cross-country and only drives 73 miles a day? It would take you awhile. We can't afford that many hotels (even the kind we stay in).

By the time we left Five Points it was noon, and we were well ready for lunch when we arrived in Atlanta, which was fine. Our lunch destination was planned out before we even left Albuquerque: The Varsity. You may have seen the various foodie shows that tout this Atlanta institution, or maybe you are one of the thousands who pass through their doors every day. This is the place where there are at least twenty cashiers shouting, "What'll ya' HAVE!?!" at you.

We found a cashier with no line (ever notice the "flock mentality" in public, how people will mill over to the longest line?) and were greeted with "What'll ya' HAVE!" . I had the urge to point at her and say, "As heard on TV!", but her glare made me think twice. We ordered a hot dog with chili, cheese and coleslaw; a hamburger with chili, and an order of onion rings. Plus a large diet Coke. Yes, we are those people. I guess the order translates to, "Slaw hot dog, chili steak and ring one!" because that is what the cashier shouted to the kitchen. I trusted her, as this place is famous for its lingo, and the order indeed came out right. She got the Diet Coke herself, otherwise I wouldn't have been surprised to hear her shout "Delusional!".

There were plenty of seats, as everywhere you turn there are dining rooms. The place is huge, and with good reason. On game days they may get 30,000 people customers.
The food was great, not so much for the quality of the actual burger patty or hot dog, which were both good, but because of the chili that topped them both. The slaw was good, too- that KFCish slaw that you can never duplicate at home. It was nice that they had free internet , because we still hadn't booked our hotel yet or gotten directions to the other stops on our agenda. I am still amazed at how reliant I have become on internet service even though I have plenty of maps and a phone in my pocket.

We couldn't hang there too long because we had a date with a whale shark at the world's largest aquarium- the Georgia Aquarium. First tip- park in the crappy-looking five dollar lot across the street rather than driving up five levels of the official aquarium ten dollar lot. Second tip- don't pack any heat. They pat you down before you go in. Otherwise, enjoy the amazing display of sea life that they have on hand. The HUGE ocean tank is the highlight of the aquarium, and is the home of the whale shark. The Georgia Aquarium is one of the few in the whole world to house the largest fish in the sea. Plan to spend thirty dollars to get in and three hours once you are in. The Albuquerque Aquarium does a great job for what they have to work with, and you should support and visit them, but this place is a one of a kind.

Atlanta has good breweries and brewpubs like Red Brick Brewery and Five Seasons Brewpub, but our destination was a few miles east, in Decatur. We decided on Decatur for three reasons: Taco Mac, Brick Store Pub and Fred Crudder. No, Fred Crudder is not a bar or a beer, but a beer bar expert. We met Fred when we visited the Rogue Brewpub in Newport, Oregon in 2007. My girlfriend and I were drinking with the wife of Rogue's General Sales Manager, Jim Evans, who was entertaining the Beverage Director for the Tappan Street Restaurant group, Fred Crudder. This group owns the Taco Mac chain, which features huge beer tap and bottle selections at their various locations. And this is not your everyday chain that says they have X million beers but when you get there they have every variety of Bud, Miller and Coors on tap and the rest of the beers are out. I had read about Taco Mac in different beer publications so I introduced myself, and Fred couldn't have been cooler. We talked beer for a half hour or so, he gave me his business card, and then I had to go pass out.

Flash forward to a few months ago, when All About Beer magazine did an article on the Southeast beer scene. Taco Mac was mentioned, along with a quote from Fred. I still had his card, so I emailed congratulations. We corresponded a few times and I mentioned our plan of a trip to South Carolina. He invited us to come visit his neck of the woods for a beer tour and hey, who am I to turn down that kind of offer?
So we checked into our hotel and walked over to Taco Mac. This may be a chain, but is the real deal when it comes to beer, with the one we visited having 92 beers on tap and 237 bottled beers. The tap list was full of beers that I wanted to try, but I decided on Weyerbacher's Hops Infusion IPA. My girlfriend ordered Terrapin's Rye Pale Ale. The bartender carded us and after seeing our New Mexico IDs he showed us his own- also a New Mexico ID! Small world. While we were enjoying our beers, Fred arrived. I wasn't sure I would recognize him after only meeting him that one time but his entrance reminded me of Norm's arrival at Cheers. Everybody seemed to know his name (sorry) and greeted him as he came in. We caught up for awhile and we gave him a six-pack of Marble IPA and a bottle of Rio Grande Pancho Verde(green chile beer) to give him a little taste of New Mexico. We decided to head over to the Brick Store Pub.

I had been following this place for awhile now. One of the weird things I do is look at the websites of beer bars around the country to see their updated beer lists. It gives me cyber-goosebumps to see the offerings. Weird. Told ya. The inside area was packed when we arrived so we grabbed a table outside.
We were quickly handed menus and asked for our drink order. I am always the last in a group to decide, often leaving the server to put in the order of the other people and having to come back for mine. It's hard to choose on a beer when there are so many good choices.I had been drinking IPAs almost exclusively on the trip so I switched it up with a Weyerbacher Slam Dunkel(7.4%), while my girlfriend got the Sweetwater IPA(6.4), a local favorite. The Slam Dunkel, an imperial dunkelweizen, was a nice palate change from all the IPAs I had been drinking, and left me wishing I had bought the big bottle of it that I saw at Five Points. I tried the Sweetwater and couldn't believe how great it was on tap. I had bought a sixer two years ago and thought it was good, but I loved this beer on tap. I didn't buy any Sweetwater beers while in Georgia either, because I had seen them everywhere and kept saying, "Oh, I'll pick up some of that before we leave town". Apparently I forgot that I am an idiot, and am now Sweetwaterless.

One of the cool things from that night was how many "beer people" we talked to, since Fred knew all of them. We met Bob Townsend, who is the editor of the Southern Brewing News, and...other people. I was drinking, so it's a little foggy. They were all cool, though. What also was cool was hearing Fred's story on how he had started out in the beer business working for the great Bell's Brewery in Michigan and eventually ending up with Taco Mac.
By now we were drinking Terrapin All American Pilsner(7.4%) and Avery Maharaja (9.7%). We can get the Avery beer in Albuquerque but nobody carries it on tap. That's a damn shame, because while I never thought much of the bottled version, on draft it is a whole different animal. We also drank Lagunitas Sirius Cream Ale (7.4%) and Thomas Hooker Hop Meadow IPA (6.5%). Lagunitas is so consistently good in all their styles and this beer was no exception. Thomas Hooker is a company out of Connecticut that is best known for their outstanding Liberator Dopplebock, but their IPA is a great beer as well, though was overshadowed a bit following the big double IPA from Avery. We were having a great time but Fred had to get up early the next morning for work (ugh! at this point in the trip I had forgotten that word) and somehow it was pretty damn late already, so we said goodbye and promised to meet up at the Great American Beer Fest in October. Fred paid for all the beer too, at Taco Mac and Brick Store. He's a classy guy, for a Dallas Cowboy fan!

My girlfriend and I went to the upstairs portion of the Brick Store where the Belgian beer bar is housed. All that is served up there is Belgians drafts and bottles, and the selection is impressive. I don't write about Belgians that often, and it's not because I don't like them; I just can't stretch myself that far. I have to restrain myself and focus on American micros because otherwise I would have to rent a U-Haul for these trips. But we went upstairs anyway, just to look. I think the upstairs is cooler than the downstairs, all polished wood and cozy atmosphere. I would hang out up here, American beer in hand.

We left the Brick Store Pub (notice the beautiful door with the stained glass beer window) and were starving as usual. Only problem was where to find food at 1:30 in the morning. I found the number for the local Mellow Mushroom(yes, I was willing to get the $21.00 pizza again) and remembered they are open till 2 am in Athens, so I called. My stomach growled as the phone rang and rang. Finally, success! "Mellow Mushroom, can I help you?" "Hi, I'd like to place an order, please." "Uh, we closed at 11:00."

My stomach stopped growling and started crying. I restrained myself from yelling into the phone, "You closed at 11:00?!? Then why don't you go the hell home already!!!" Everything turned out ok, though. Taco Mac, home of the 92 draft beers, also serves food until 2 am. We got some kind of nachos and Philly steak wrap thingy that hit the spot and we crashed into bed. We had a long day ahead of us.
Thanks to Fred and the Atlanta area for showing us an unforgettable time!

Next: How many times in one day can we drive in and out of Tennessee?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice entry to the blog. Sounds as if you had a great time and FUCK!!!! I wish I could have sweet water in tap!!! Sounds awesome. Oh yea, and when are you going to come out of that shell you call home and do something? Perhaps a beer some place?!?!