Winston-Salem Taps a New Tradition

This past weekend was a great one for the beer community in North Carolina, especially the city of Winston-Salem. Brewers and beer enthusiasts from around the state (as well as many visitors from throughout the Southeast) came to enjoy two celebrations of North Carolina beer.

Olde Rabbit’s Foot Bottle Release

Beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, hundreds of craft beer drinkers walked through the doors of Foothills Brewing in downtown Winston-Salem for the release of Olde Rabbit’s Foot, a collaborative beer brewed by Olde Hickory Brewery, The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, and Foothills Brewing. The beer is a blend of wort from each brewery’s imperial stout, brewed with honey and cacao nibs and aged in bourbon barrels. With only a limited number of bottles available and a purchase limit of 4 per person, faithful fans began lining up early Saturday morning (right around last call, not so coincidentally). Olde Rabbit’s Foot is a great example of the support that exists among local brewers and, at a little over 10% ABV, is something you can definitely keep to celebrate North Carolina beer a year or two from now. As the bottle release wrapped up, the city prepared for another event dedicated to craft beer just around the corner.

Twin City Taps

The inaugural Twin City Taps festival began at noon on Saturday inside Winston-Salem’s BB&T Ballpark. Benefiting the North Carolina Brewers Guild and featuring 23 breweries, all from within the state, Twin City Taps was truly a festival with a purpose and focus. As beer festivals have become more common (and in my opinion generally executed less exceptionally), this one really stood out. All of the elements of this festival came together to make it a real success.

The Venue: No venues are designed specifically for the purpose of a beer festival (yet), but some are definitely better-suited than others. BB&T Ballpark’s primary function as the home of the Winston-Salem Dash baseball team means that it can accommodate large crowds (as can its restrooms). The layout of the stadium allowed festival-goers to walk all the way around (so no dreaded dead-ends or brewery booths stuck at the end of a hallway).

The Setup: I realized sometime in the middle of the festival that having an all-draft lineup made the festival more enjoyable and memorable for many reasons. First, pouring samples for 4 hours from a draft system is much easier than managing bottles wading in tubs of ice. This also allowed each brewery to set up their own bar, adding to the overall branding and message displayed at each tent, which truly became an expression of each brewery’s personality.

Another great part of the event’s layout and setup was the VIP area, located in the stadium’s club level. Aside from the luxury of air conditioning, the VIP area also offered cask beer from participating breweries (stuff you couldn’t actually get at the beer store down the street, unlike some festival’s VIP areas) and a buffet.

The Breweries: Part of the great focus of this festival was that only North Carolina breweries were featured. Did I ever feel like the lineup was limited in any way, though? Absolutely not! The festival relied fully upon the diversity and quality of North Carolina breweries, and they did not disappoint. From Weeping Radish Farm Brewery, the oldest microbrewery in the state, to Mystery Brewing Company, a brewery-in-planning opening later this year, the breweries present represented a wide range of styles and personalities. Short lines and tents staffed by numerous brewery employees allowed guests to speak with the people pouring their beer (many of whom actually made the beer) and ask questions.

The Beers: This is what everyone came for after all, right? Everything from traditional styles brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot to a sour cherry porter was available for sampling. Being relatively new to the state, I really appreciated trying each brewery’s take on different styles. Some of my favorites (that are making my mouth water as I write) were:

Sorachi Ace IPA Cask (Mother Earth Brewing) – Mother Earth’s Sisters of the Moon IPA has had a near-permanent spot in my fridge since I moved earlier this summer. This cask took the well-balanced IPA and added a dash of lemony zing from the Sorachi Ace hops, a Japanese variety.

Old Town Brown w/ Earl Grey Cask (Natty Greene’s Brewing) The smooth and roasty English-style brown ale provided a nice support for the tea’s floral and citrusy notes. If I could have taken a pint home, it would’ve been perfect with herb-roasted chicken.

Mi Mei (Roth Brewing) From a brewery I was introduced to at Twin City Taps, this plum honey hefeweizen is a perfect and unexpected summer beer. The sweetness from the plum and honey really comes through, and the light wheat base helps to portray a bright but subtle flavor of ripe, juicy plums.

Carver (Fullsteam) I have been looking forward to trying some of Fullsteam’s beer for a couple months now. A brewery with a focus on Southern ingredients and keeping things local, Carver is a sweet potato lager. Having brewed a sweet potato porter myself and tried a couple other beers incorporating them with spices, a lager using sweet potatoes was completely different. There’s a little bit of sweetness and maybe even a bit of starchiness from the featured ingredient, but Carver is still definitely a beer, not a candied yam puree posing as one.

I encourage you to try these beers if you have the chance, and to try some North Carolina beers (or beers from your home state). As festival season is still in full-swing, check to see if there are any in your local community and go check one out. If you’re nearby next year, come and try some great North Carolina beer at the second annual Twin City Taps!

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What’s YOUR goal for craft beer?

This post is a bit different from the content I’ve previously posted. I have always welcomed feedback, but this post relies on it–the entire point is to hear (read, smartass) your thoughts on what your goals/aspirations/reasons are for your involvement in the craft beer movement/industry. Whether you’ve been in the industry for 35 years or had your first craft brew last week (or tonight, for that matter), you’ve got a perspective. Many people involved in the craft beer revolution/movement/trend/industry in America and throughout the world tout that they’re in it for “better beer” that’s authentic and what beer should be. I don’t doubt that, really I don’t. I have realized my confusion lately, though, with many of the things that have formed to support the craft beer movement. Many blogs, websites, and apps seem to seek to float the “best” beers to the top and weed out other beers. While it is my opinion, too, that some beers are made improperly and executed poorly compared to others, what’s the point of these rankings? They’re obviously completely dependent on someone’s tastes…I’m not trying to do away with individualism, but what’s the purpose, the end result of these endeavors? It seems like many review sites, blogs, and apps seek to rank beers so others only have to experience the “best”. Well, what is the “best”? Why does one beer have to be better than the other? I would read a Consumer Reports review of televisions and a Car & Driver reviews because I only want to purchase one television and one car. Do I only want to drink one beer? Stop very quickly and think…if RateBeer and Beer Advocate ratings were sophisticated enough to put one beer at the top, would you only drink it? I assume you didn’t have to think very long. Of course you wouldn’t, the one-beer drinkers are the people that are still supporting Bud-Miller-Coors (and they’re a dying breed). Now before you reply in an angry rant, I want to explain that I’m not completely debasing beer reviews. They have their place, as do restaurant and movie reviews. I question, however, their prevalence, and beer geeks’ quickness in declaring a beer inferior to another. Is it really worse than the other? Can you not enjoy both? If you can’t, isn’t your inability to narrow your consumption down to one singular beer just a display of your own inferior palate? I have tried more beers than I can count, and I would drink almost all of them again…because to me craft beer is about appreciating a well-made beer, not the “best” made beer. But now I want to know: what is craft beer about for you and what are you looking for? Thanks in advance for any comments and sharing your opinion. The best thing about the craft beer community is open discussion and debate, that can always end over a beer (but I guess that’s just my opinion, again).

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Good Beer and Fare(well)

This post begins (what will hopefully be) a series of posts I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time, but (obviously) have not actually gotten around to yet. To briefly catch you up, I have recently moved from Athens to Winston-Salem and into the real world (college finally ran its course and I had to find a real job). Athens still holds a very special place in my heart and while I won’t be there nearly as much, I look forward to watching its beer culture continue to grow and blossom from afar. I look forward to exploring the local beer culture of Winston-Salem and the rest of North Carolina, as well as the entire Southeast region (and I plan to share as much of that as possible with all of you). But first, let’s travel back to May 5th for a bittersweet, but incredibly delicious event.

As someone who loves great food and great beer, and really loves the two smartly paired, I’m immediately interested in attending almost any beer dinner. When I heard that Richard Miley, chef at Chops & Hops, was hosting a beer dinner to bid farewell to two friends and fellow beer lovers who were leaving Athens, though, I didn’t have to think about whether or not I’d be attending. The night ended up being one I won’t soon forget and was full of some wonderful pairings of food and brew, but more importantly some awesome fellowship among beer lovers and friends.

For those of you who haven’t been to Chops & Hops, I highly recommend it. Chef Miley’s cuisine shows his training and technical ability as well as his Southwestern influence, but leaves no question of his unpretentious character. You’ll see no difference in the playful, but flavorful food from this dinner.

The evening began with a reception accompanied with a cask of Lazy Magnolia Reb Ale, a pale ale, on cantaloupe. Lazy Magnolia, a craft brewery from Mississippi that seeks to highlight classic Southern ingredients, recently launched in Georgia and has featured a limited lineup locally (only their Southern Pecan has been available in bottles with a few others intermittently on draft). The cask was a great beginning, with a light and moderately-hopped base and subtle cantaloupe flavor. I would reach for this beer a lot this summer if it were regularly available.

Once we were seated, the meal began with a course of beef carpaccio served with a homebrewed pecan pie brown ale. The roasted, nutty, and sweet flavors of the beer played perfectly with the beef, which seemed to melt in my mouth. The beer was unmistakably Southern and the carpaccio Richard’s Southwestern tinge, yet they worked together. I was so consumed by everything going on that I forgot to take a photo, so your visual experience will begin with the second course.

Next, we were treated to an oyster course which included buffalo fried and raw varieties of the molluscs with a habanero cocktail sauce, accompanied by a guava saison. As someone who has grown tired of the overplayed chipotle and other assorted pepper craze (I’m looking at you Bobby Flay), the habanero cocktail sauce was really great and provided a nice twist on the traditional horseradish kick. The spice and texture of the oysters worked really well with the saison, which brought plenty of tropical fruit flavors and just a hint of funk.

Shortly after finishing the second course, a slew of paper boats emerged from the kitchen with the third course: chili cheese fries made with Terrapin Moo-Hoo braised boar and habanero cured bacon. Chili cheese fries are about as “typical bar food” as you can get, but this deluxe version was full of rich, deep flavor in the boar meat, a bit of heat from the bacon and diced peppers, and an awesome combination of crisp and soft potato from the fries. Paired with this course was Founders Double Trouble, which enriched the boar with its hearty malt backbone and accentuated the heat with its ample hop profile.

Glancing at the menu ahead of time, I was a bit worried about this next course. I didn’t worry about how the yard bird & waffle topped with bourbon maple syrup and powdered sugar would taste, but it seemed like something that may be too heavy after three courses and…well, we’ll just say many beers. I shouldn’t have worried, though–the waffle was light and crisp, and the savoriness of the waffle and bird melded beautifully with the sweetness of the syrup and sugar. Paired with this course was Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton. The oak-aged hybrid of an Old Ale and Double IPA somehow snuggled right in between the savory and sweet of this dish and the wood lent a bit of earthiness to the protein.

Continuing the now ridiculous parade of gluttony was jerk swine, beans, and pineapple jasmine rice paired with Avery Maharaja. The jerk swine actually came from a whole hog, whose head was shared with the guests of honor (I may have stolen a bite as well). As the third Imperial IPA in a row, you might think that the beers were getting a bit boring. The nuances in each beer, though, were so well matched with each course that I don’t think anyone even thought twice about having three Double IPAs consecutively. In this course, the rich pork worked perfectly with the malt sweetness, while the spiciness and pineapple sweetness of the beans and rice enveloped the flavors of the hops. Another play on sweet and spicy, but somehow completely different.

As a sweet end to the bittersweet night, we were served Pastel Barracho made with Founders Breakfast Stout and Terrapin Moo-Hoo paired with a glass of the former. Meaning “drunken cake”, this Tres Leches-like cake was light on the dairy and heavy on the booze. The creamy and caramel flavors of the cake were exactly what you’d want with the dark Breakfast Stout and chocolatey Moo-Hoo, lending them levity and underlining their heft at the same time.

After dinner, I was treated to Cigar City Brewing Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, a local beer from Charlie’s, one of the guests of honor, future home. The bottomless pit of a stout was a great ending to the evening, with all the deep, robust flavors of an ideal Russian Imperial.

Lastly (yeah, I thought it was over too) before we left, I tried some of another special cask: Terrapin Monk’s Revenge aged in a Calvados barrel. The Belgian yeast and brandy notes made an awesome pair, and were still quite enjoyable…even after the entire dinner.

The entire meal was a great exhibition of Chef Miley’s mastery of the ingredients and understanding of how the each course would play with each beer. The sense of community felt that night as many of those who produce, sell, serve, and lovingly consume beer in Athens came together to send off a few of their own. As I prepared to leave town myself, it cemented the great things I had come to feel about the Athens beer community.

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Field Trip: Hunahpu’s Day

In Georgia, the beers from Cigar City Brewing are much talked about, but rarely seen. Although the brewery plans to begin distribution in the state very soon, the only ways to get your hands on a bottle of their brew currently are to either trade with someone who lives within their distribution network or go directly to the source yourself-which is precisely what I did. For the second year in a row, Cigar City held Hunahpu’s Day for the release of their imperial stout. Available only at the brewery, Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout attracts quite a number of avid beer drinkers, who come to sample it and other Cigar City beers and eventually take home up to four bottles of the coveted stout brewed with Peruvian cacao nibs, Ancho and Pasilla chiles, Madagascar vanilla beans, and cinnamon.

This year’s Hunahpu’s Day was held on March 12, at the brewery in Tampa. I traveled down for the weekend with a group of others from the Athens craft beer community to see the brewery and get my own bottles to bring home. While the festivities didn’t begin until 11am, the line outside the brewery formed early…very early (the first person arrived around 5:30 Saturday morning). Once the gates opened, however, a full day of beer, food, and music began. In addition to Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, there were limited and barrel-aged offerings from Cigar City as well as beers from a few other local breweries. Some local homebrew clubs even had tents set up to offer free samples of their members’ brews. A variety of local caterers and restaurants fed the hungry crowd with an assortment of eclectic cuisine. Over the course of the day, I was able to try more beers than I’ll even attempt to comment on, but here are a few of the highlights:

Peach IPA – Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA already offers subtle hints of peach and apricot flavors from the several varieties of hops added to it but this ups the fruit flavor with the addition of actual peaches to the beer, adding aroma and flavor of fresh peaches while still maintaining enough of a hop bite to be a satisfying India Pale Ale.

Red Wine Barrel-Aged Sea Bass – One of the barrel-aged versions of a Cigar City release that were on tap, this takes the tart dark farmhouse-style ale made with wild yeast from St. Somewhere Brewing and adds another level of rich complexity.

Red Wine Barrel-Aged Vuja De – Another wild ale using yeast from St. Somewhere with black currants, hibiscus, elderberry flowers and lemon leaves added, the dark fruit flavor from aging in red wine barrels helps create subtle hints of mulled wine to contrast the bright fruits and sour of the base beer.

Funky Buddha Maple Bacon Porter – From a brewpub in Boca Raton, this is perhaps the most complete breakfast beer I’ve ever had. Smoked and roasted malt to lend bacon and coffee flavors with sweetness from maple syrup to balance it all out.

Peg’s Cantina Bloody Berliner Weisse – This is an amazingly creative brew from Cigar City’s Production Manager, Doug Dozark, who is the brewmaster at Peg’s Cantina & Brewpub in Gulfport. The tang of a Berliner Weisse went surprisingly well with the addition of tomatoes. Hints of peppercorn helped complete the ode to a bloody mary that was so refreshing and drinkable, I wish I could begin each day with a pint.

Check out all of my photos from Hunahpu’s Day here.


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Field Trip: Brew Your Cask Off 2011

On March 5, Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta held the second edition of its own unique and collaborative beer festival: Brew Your Cask Off. The set-up may appear standard at first (tents, tables, casks, volunteers, tasting glasses, etc.) but it’s what’s in the casks that makes it different. Weeks before the festival, Sweetwater invited around 80 representatives from bars, beer stores, homebrew clubs, and press to concoct their own cask creations using a base of Sweetwater’s brew. Everything from coffee to cardamom went into the casks to produce a plethora of flavor combinations, some great…some interesting. Not all the guests “brewers” have experience in making their own beer, but that’s exactly the point. The festival aims to inspire creativity and experimentation, and that’s precisely what it does.

Last year’s festival featured about 75 guest brewers if I remember correctly. While the casks only grew in number by a modest amount from last year, the crowd gathering to taste them seemed to have grown exponentially. The increased numbers made it a little more difficult, but I diligently tasted all the beer I could get. A judging panel tasted the casks before the festival began and declared the following winners (despite the fifth grade-esque names, I assure you all brewers were 21+):

1st Place – Lika-Titi-Coco Porter (Final Gravity Home Brewers)

2nd Place – The Sch’it (The Porter Beer Bar)

3rd Place – Two Pump Chump (Fontaines)

Attendees were also given a chance to vote on their favorite cask and Cypress Street Pint & Plate won its second consecutive People’s Choice Award with Samhain.

Here are some other notable beers I tried that I would like to award my own imaginary, non-existent trophies:

Brett Tease (Trappeze Pub) A golden ale with a healthy dose of Brettanomyces for sourness and oak chips to lend a slight dryness

I’Yam Cummin (Taco Mac) Sweet potatoes and spice combined to create nostalgic flavors in a well-balanced ale

Peach Flapjack Brown (Hop City Craft Beer and Wine) Fruit in beer isn’t uncommon, but the flavors in this beer matched the name exactly-slightly caramelized peaches with bready notes

Rico Suavé Chocolate Porter (Rocky Mountain Pizza) Mexican hot chocolate beer! Dark chocolate and heat from peppers accompanied the roasty flavors of the porter

Public InChoxication (The Beer Connoisseur Magazine) Another twist on a traditional chocolate beer, this stout was made to taste like chocolate cake

Starlight (Georgia Organics) In stark contrast to many of the dessert beers present, this ale contained honey, ginger, lemon, and sage and begged for a pairing of roasted chicken

Dry-Nutted Brown Ale (Five Points Bottle Shop) This brown ale had all the flavors of a homemade pecan pie, but with a restrained sweetness to remain an easily drinkable beer

If you haven’t had the chance to attend this unique event, look for an announcement from the brewery in early 2012 about when tickets will go on sale for the third annual Brew Your Cask Off. The diverse selection of one-time cask ales promises to be even bigger and better next year.

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Field Trip: Holy Mother of Gatherings

The community surrounding and supporting the craft beer movement is amazing. A group of true advocates for better beer, community members are always happy to share their knowledge and appreciation for beer, as well as the beer itself. The sharing spirit was in full force on March 5 at Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia for a meeting of local BeerAdvocate.com members called the Holy Mother of Gatherings. The idea is simple: come to hang out with some fellow craft beer lovers and share some bottles from your own collection. I heard stories of the event’s humble beginnings, but HMoG (as it’s called by the BA hipsters) has become a throwdown of massive proportions. Packing out Brick Store Pub’s Belgian beer bar (located “upstairs and to the left”), the event is complete with a raffle for beer-related door prizes, a silent auction, and lots and lots of bottles of the world’s best beer.

Some of the benefits of pooling everyone’s beer stashes are obvious: we were all able to try beers we may not have otherwise been able to track down. I was able to sample some beers from breweries that don’t currently distribute to Georgia, including New Glarus, Odell, Three Floyds, Russian River, Goose Island, and many more. There were also some beers that aren’t just tough to get in Georgia, but are sold only in limited quantities from their respective breweries, making them difficult to come by even in their home state. Despite being rare, limited, or just unbelievably delicious, the people who brought them freely shared a pour from the bottles with anyone interested, or even just standing within an arm’s reach for too long. Attendees also had the chance to go on a tour of the Brick Store’s cellar, which is housed in a bank vault beneath the pub.

Aside from seeing and tasting some of the best beer from around the world, the Holy Mother of Gatherings was a wonderful opportunity to discuss and exchange beer stories. The tales of cross-country trips that some of the bottles, and even some of the people, made to appear in Decatur that Saturday made each sip even more enjoyable. Although the attendees weren’t brewery reps (for the most part), the passion each guest shared for the beer they had brought as an offering to the group would have persuaded even the staunchest macro-brew loyalist to give craft beer a shot.

Part of the aftermath from HMoG 2011

Online communities like BeerAdvocate were conceived as hubs for beer lovers to share their knowledge and interest with each other. The Holy Mother of Gatherings is a physical manifestation of the same goals. Instead of just reading someone’s review of a beer, however, they’ll gladly pour you a bit and share some details about how it’s brewed or the people that made it. There is no date set yet for next year’s installment of HMoG, but you can expect that it will probably be even bigger and better than this year’s (a panoramic camera may be necessary for the above picture). Keep an eye on the threads at BeerAdvocate in early 2012 and plan to come out for a great day of sharing among the craft beer community!

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Stone/Terrapin Dinner at Chops & Hops

A crowd of local beer enthusiasts was on hand January 13, 2011, to celebrate the first anniversary of the Watkinsville steakhouse (and beer bar) Chops & Hops. For the event, Chef Richard Miley prepared five courses, each paired with a beer from Stone Brewing Company and Terrapin Beer Company. While both breweries may be known for their IPAs, it was the slightly sweeter imperial IPAs and richer stouts that complemented the Southwest-inspired flavors of Chef Miley’s cuisine.

The night began with a reception and cask-conditioned Stone Pale Ale dry-hopped with Simcoe hops. This was a great, easy-drinking beer that highlighted the piney notes of the Simcoe hops perfectly.

First Course: Romaine Wedge Salad, Wasabi Lime Dressing, Cherry Tomatoes, Avocado, Bleu Cheese and Chilled Crab paired with Stone Levitation and Terrapin So Fresh & So Green, Green

Light citrus notes from the Amarillo hops in Levitation (dry-hopped with Amarillo) and So Fresh & So Green, Green (“wet”-hopped with fresh Amarillo) paired well with the spicy bite of the wasabi lime dressing. The lighter body of both beers was well-suited for the salad course, standing up to the strength of the dressing and bleu cheese without interfering with the delicateness of the crab and avocado.

Second Course: Charred Corn and Onion Soup with a Mexican Chorizo and Goat Cheese Quesadilla paired with Stone Lukcy Basartd and Terrapin Hoptaneous Combustion

The beers paired with the second course took two different approaches in working with the flavors of the food. Burnt sugar flavors of the Lukcy Basartd played off of the caramelized onion in the soup and the creaminess of the goat cheese quesadilla. The smokiness of Hoptaneous Combustion (the smokiest of any keg or bottle I’ve had of it) went beautifully with the smoked flavors of the soup.

Third Course: Caribbean Scorched Conch and Calamari (from Chef Joe Cascio of Square One Fish Company in Athens, GA) paired with Stone 2006 Double Bastard and Terrapin Rye Squared

The increased malt sweetness of both double IPAs brought out a sweet coconut flavor from the rice and were a well-balanced match for the light, fresh flavors of the conch and calamari.

Fourth Course: Chili Verde Pork Chop, Black Bean Puree, Jalapeno and Cilantro Mashed Potatoes paired with Stone Ruination and Terrapin Hopzilla

Another pair of double IPAs,Ruination and Hopzilla did anything but terrorize the course. Both beers offer strong hop aromas and flavors with notes of citrus and tropical fruit. These sweeter hop monsters accentuated the subtle sweetness of the tomatillos in the chili verde while also providing a contrast to the actually chili peppers in it, which kept the heat fresh with each bite. The smooth and savory potatoes and bean puree also popped against the sweetness of the beers.

Big Daddy Vlady's Chocolate Pudding with Russian Imperial Stout Whipped Cream and Candied Bacon paired with Stone 2010 Russian Imperial Stout and Terrapin Big Daddy Vlady's Russian Imperial Stout

For the final course, the beers found their way into the dish, creating an effortless pairing situation. The entire course was well-balanced, never becoming too sweet, but remaining rich in flavor. The dark, roasted flavors of both stouts helped to bring out a true chocolate flavor in the pudding. The whipped cream contained just enough of the Stone RIS to give it a deep flavor while remaining silky. Finally, candied bacon was the perfect sprinkle, teetering delicately between sweet and savory.

The dinner was wrapped up with yet another cask: Terrapin’s Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout with coconut. The coconut provided just a hint of milky sweetness to go along with the roasted coffee and oatmeal smoothness–a unique end to an unforgettable meal, and a year of great food and beer at Chops & Hops.


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