Atlanta’s a mere 70 miles from Athens, but I seldom find the time to make it over to the big city. When I found out that Atlanta would be hosting its first Beer Week this year, however, I knew I’d have to somehow make time for the trip to enjoy some wonderful beers with wonderful people. I watched much of the week come and go, not being able to fit a trip to Atlanta into my schedule. I settled for enjoying some beers at my place, cooking a few dinners with beer, and going out in town for some newly released beers (hardly settling, right?). [While I didn’t take any notes to write reviews, I did try the following for the first time at Trappeze Pub: New Belgium Eric’s Ale, Terrapin ’08 Big Hoppy Monster, Terrapin ’08 Rye Squared, and Terrapin ’08 Imperial Pilsner...go have any and all of these, they were amazing!] Finally, on Saturday I had a chance to get over to Atlanta with my girlfriend. After eating lunch with her dad, we made a couple quick beer stops. I was able to grab one of the last bottles of Terrapin’s Side Project Vol. 6 90 Shelling at Tower Wine & Spirits, which I hope to taste and review very soon. Next was a quick stop at HOBNOB, for some milkshakes made with my girlfriend’s favorite, Left Hand Milk Stout (I’m sure these would turn out great at home, but if you’re in the area, you should drop in to grab one). The next and final stop on our trip was Decatur’s Brick Store Pub. Arriving late in the afternoon, we found the place pretty crowded (perhaps because it was the last day of Atlanta Beer Week, or because there was a free concert on the square just outside the pub that night, or perhaps simply because it was Saturday at the Brick Store Pub).
Thanks to some fellow pub patrons, we were able to get two seats at the bar only a minute after walking inside and ordered what we had come to Brick Store for: Terrapin Boom Shakalager. The first available sample of Terrapin’s latest Side Project series in the state, I was happy we hadn’t missed out on this special cask. Having only released one other lager that I knew of (All American Imperial Pilsner), I was very interested to see what Terrapin’s Spike had done with this one. So, how was it? This is a clean, but hefty lager that’s distinctively Terrapin. There’s nothing light about this lager-the color’s about the only close-to-typical thing here. Our pints were a little translucent; I don’t know if this was due to chill haze, the cask, or if this is just how the final product will appear. An up-front malt sweetness is countered by a strong, piny hop flavor. The strength of the hops are not found in intense bitterness, however, but a fresh concentrated aroma and taste. [I later found out that the beer is dry-hopped with Tettnanger (a German variety that’s new to me), explaining the fresher hop flavor.] There’s a hefty alcohol presence detectable, but no boozy burn at all. Overall, I liked what I tasted, but I wasn’t enamored. Since this was offered in a cask, I hope that the final release will be elevated by some more carbonation. Perhaps this will improve the mouthfeel and taste slightly for me to like it as much as the other beers in the Side Project series.
Dogfish Head Immort Ale ('10 on left, '09 on right)
Next, I took advantage of another special offering at Brick Store that night: a vertical tasting of 2009 and 2010 Dogfish Head Immort Ale (the clear winner for bargain of the day at $9 for two 12 oz. portions of these rare, and strong, beers). First, I tried the 2010. Immort is a deep, complex blend of flavors, all balanced delicately by the guys at Dogfish Head. Smoky malts emerge with the richness of added maple syrup, which is accompanied by the spice of vanilla and juniper berries. The newer Immort also ends with dark dried fruit flavors, leaving a lingering deep sweetness. The 2009 Immort: wow, what a difference! I honestly didn’t expect one year of aging to change this beer that much, but it sure proved me wrong. Served in different glasses, the color was a bit tough to compare, but the 2009 was a bit more honey-tinted. A much bigger sweetness, not unlike golden raisins, first hits you from the aged version. Overall, it had lost a lot of the very dark fruits but it still seemed to maintain enough robust depth to keep it from being too sweet. A subtle smokiness was still present, and the softened vanilla note provided a smooth transition from the initial sweetness to the slight smoked wood. A new Immort Ale was just the second Dogfish Head I ever tried, and while I think nothing less of the newly bottle version, I’ll likely pick up a few bottles to age soon. With only one year apart, this vertical tasting really showed me how drastically even a brief aging period can effect a beer’s qualities.
After finishing two of the 11% Immort Ales, I was quite satisfied with being done. What kind of beer geek would I be, though, only having three beers for the inaugural Atlanta Beer Week? I needed one more. To round out the experience, I decided to try one of the draught offerings from the upstairs Belgian bar. Having just purchased my first beer from Jolly Pumpkin this week (which will be consumed and reviewed within the week, I promise), I was excited to try some of a beer I’ve heard about for months: E.S.Bam. Jolly Pumpkin E.S.Bam is one of four Farmhouse Ales in a series from the Michigan brewery. After reading so many times about the stellar Belgian styles from Jolly Pumpkin, I had some high expectations. They were met. I have no clue whether the specifics of
Jolly Pumpkin E.S.Bam on the left, my girlfriend's Rodenbach Grand Cru on the right
E.S.Bam meet the Style Guidelines for a Saison, and I couldn’t care less. The beer was presented in a tulip glass with a beautiful, thick white head that probably would’ve lasted forever if you could keep your hands off of it. For me, this is what a farmhouse ale should be: dirty, earthy, slightly tart. There are many things going on in this one, but I’m less concerned with dissecting its individual nuances and more simply smitten with how authentic this tastes. The front and middle notes are reminiscent of the earth (in the wonderful way you can taste dirt in homegrown tomatoes). Later, the earthiness gives way to a little tartness finished by a dry end (more the texture of wood than the flavor of it). Upon tasting it, my girlfriend likened it to a “horse barn”, in a completely admiring and nostalgic way (she grew up riding). I can’t remember having another beer as representative of something without it being an actual ingredient. Sure, I’ve had a cherry lambic that tasted exactly like a cherry, or a coffee stout that tasted like a mug of the black stuff, but to encapsulate loamy, musty earth so well is incredibly impressive. What a great way to end the night and the first ever Atlanta Beer Week.
Now begins the countdown to next year’s festivities!