Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year End Reflection

As this challenging year comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the last year and the experiences that I have visited. I have checked off a few new items on my Life List (if you have not seen my list you can visit it HERE), and added new accomplishments that I never considered possible. The year of 2016 has been a struggle for many, with myself included; I am drained as I start to build a list of challenges that I faced in this long 365 days. I suddenly remember, that through my short travels, the best cultural understanding that I have discovered is perspective. With this in mind, I compare the list of challenges that I have written to my list of accomplishments,  the list astonishes me as its number appears identical! This is a perfect example of how one can reach the positive enlightened view that we all surely seek. I finish my self-contemplation with this thought, as I wish to take it with me into the beginning of a new year. What perspective will I bring with me on my travels? What perspective will search for at work? What perspective am I considering for this upcoming year?

2016 Accomplishments:

  1. Trained for and completed my first marathon (Atlanta Publix Marathon 4hrs 15mins)
  2. Trained for and completed my first Triathlon (albeit a smaller supersprint version), and won 1st place in  my age group
  3. Gained a new promotion to Manager of Data Specialists (Hodges-Mace LLC; Team Lead to Manager)
  4. Traveled to California and Ashville (visiting over 26 different breweries, hiked with the redwoods, climbed Pacific coast cliffs, etc),
  5. Maintained a full time student status in the first half of the year (GA State)
  6. Endured and survived a craniotomy (tumor removal)
  7. Completed speech therapy and regained all memory (that I know of…!) and reading ability
  8. Was able to train back up to a half marathon in under 1hr 46mins after losing all strength from brain surgery
  9. Visited Belgium and found a new appreciation for the world of beer (visited over 35 different breweries, blending facilities, and historic pubs)
  10. Have studied thoroughly and taken the BJCP exams (passed the written exam and am waiting for results on the tasting exam)
  11. Was published in Brewtopia magazine’s quarterly newsletter
  12. Started my Travel, Culture, and Beer blog
  13. Won homebrewer of the year at my local homebrew club (3-5-4 Brewing)
  14. 4 breweries away from my goal of having visited every brewery in Georgia (42 visited, 4 to go!)
  15. Maintained healthy relationships and gained many new friends

My challenges and accomplishments for 2016 were much greater than I anticipated going into this year. This thought, will drive my positive and enthusiastic perspective going into 2017. What perspective do you plan to bring?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Climbing a Mountain: My First Experience Climbing 14,000 Feet

In my travel research, I noticed that every great adventurist has at least one particular mountain summit that marks their list of accomplishments. As someone who had not yet climbed a mountain taller than that to which the southeastern Appalachian trails extends, the idea of summiting a major climb "peaked" my interest, and started my research into how to become a mountain climber. I have created a beginners guide to climbing mountains in the Adventure tab above, but also wanted to share my first experience climbing a 14,000ft mountain.

It was cold. Waking up at 4am in the Smoky Mountains left me almost breathless; It was only down to 33 degrees, but being used to the normal humid 98 degrees that Georgia boasts was catching me off my guard. I had been planning this trip for months, and finally, the day was here and I was going to climb my first 14er: the name given to mountains taller than 14,000 ft. Through all of my research, there was one lingering aspect that kept me feeling uneasy: Altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can make or break any ascent from a 5,000ft climb, to the peaks of Everest. There is no way for you to know, until you start your ascent and feel that terrible feeling described in so many articles as "non-specific flu like symptoms." Once you have it, it will only get worse the higher you climb, and can even result in death. You must descend to relieve the pressure, and forfeit the goal that you set to achieve. Because of this terrifying possibility, I had done everything in my power to avoid it; I arrived in Colorado a week earlier to get used to higher pressure and thinner air, I had driven to the top of Pikes Peak which is another 14er reachable by car, I had been running, and hiking, and even stopped drinking beer weeks in advance. I was going to make it to the top; I had to!

Image result for grays and torreys routes
Grays Peak was the mountain that I had planned to attempt. At 14,278ft tall, it is the 10th highest mountain in the USA. While this is no small feat, there are trails that range from easy to difficult, so I could start on an easy trail and move to a more challenging version half-way up the mountain if I wanted. In addition, there is another adjacent 14er called Torreys Peak, which is tied to Grays by a thin neck; it is possible to climb from the top of Grays to the top of Torreys, provided that you have the energy, daylight, and lung capacity to do so. This was my goal, but would be happy with the Grays summit alone.

Watching my breath in the cold morning air, I headed towards the base of the mountain. Upon arrival at the parking lot, my climbing partner noticed that we could see no mountain at all, and that we needed to continue along the steep rocky road that lead straight upwards. We ventured on, and discovered that our smooth rental car was no match for the perilous mud and rocks that we tried to navigate. At a speedy 2 mph, we narrowly passed a hole in the side of the road that was deeper than our vehicle before we found the line of cars that were parked to one side, and had beaten us to the climb. We turned the parking brake on, checked it again, packed our equipment, and started upward on the road to what we hopped would be base camp.

Approximately 1hr and 30mins later, we arrived at the base of the mountain. Still cold, but now sweating from the vertical hike, we took a short breather and prepared for what lay ahead. As we looked up at Grays and Torreys, I was filled with excitement and a little disbelief; it didn’t look quite as tall as I had imagined! From there, it was all uphill (haha, obviously!). I could not possibly describe the views that we encountered, and even with the many pictures that I took, they just don’t do it justice. We went from mud, to rivers and very green grass. From the grass we reached new and unique flora. From these flowers we reached gravel, and from the gravel we approached rock. The entire time we were moving up hill, but it was not overwhelming and was not much of a difference in elevation than some of the mountains found back in the southeast.

When we reached the rocks, we followed the path in front of us; Later, we realized that we had taken the much more challenging trail than the easy version to which we had started. We took short breaks as needed for water, snacks, and to help with the air that was gradually getting more thin. Just as you would expect, the higher I climbed, the more challenging it was to breath. The challenging trail had taken me towards the saddle between Grays and Torreys Peaks, and suddenly, I was faced with a narrow ledge: made of ice! The ledge was about 20 feet long, and only had enough width for one foot at a time! If you saw this ledge on a movie, you would not think twice about the main character taking a few steps across and moving right along, however, this was not a movie, and on the other side of the narrow hold, there was only a vertical fall downwards as far as I could see. Leading the way, I stepped forward with my right foot and planted my bare hands into the melting ice in front of me. One small step at a time we moved forward. Half way up, I realized that I had been holding my breath as I walked; as if that was going to help! When I finally reached the top of the ledge, my hands were burning from the cold ice, but I was back on rocks again, and now, almost instantly, at the top of the saddle!

The rest of the way up might be completely non-existent in my memory. I remember that the rocks were humongous and that it was probably the most challenging section of the climb, but I might as well have been floating to the top. When I reached it, I found myself in the midst of other mountaineers, and we all enjoyed together the bliss that surrounded us. There are so many things going through your head as you reach the summit of the mountain; “I did it, I reached the top!" "Wow, look at the scenery!" "This is the most quiet place in the world!" "This is the loudest place in the world!" "I have to pee!" "I can’t catch my breath!” The list of thoughts continues on and on, and at the same time, there is nothingness, and peace...

So that’s my attempt to describe it, but again, I just don't have the vocabulary for it.

After the many pictures that we took, the snacks, and the meditative self-reflection that this experience causes you, I felt like I was on top of the world; and I guess that I wasn’t that far off! This thought process convinced me that we needed to reach the top of Torreys Peak, which would take us about 2.5 additional hours. As we moved forward, the hike started to become a challenge. We made it to the summit of Torreys, and it was almost as amazing, if not more so, than Grays! It was less popular, and many did not want to do both in the same day, so we had it mostly to ourselves. It was a lot more quiet and relaxing, so I spent more time staring into the endless distance and enjoying the world as I understood it at that moment. When it was time to go, I had to be forced to leave; but the sun was getting lower, and we did not want to be on the mountain at dark.

Here is something that I did not expect going into this venture: you know the saying, “It’s all downhill from here”? Well, when climbing down a mountain, this phrase does not translate. Getting back down, was so much more of a struggle than reaching the top! All the adrenaline and the prospect of reaching the top are completely gone, you start to realize that you have been hiking for hours and hours, you notice your calves feel every step that you take, and your entire body is exhausted. While I’m sure that we reached back down to base camp in a much shorter period than it took us to reach the top, it certainly felt 10x longer. After finally reaching our rental car, navigating back down the treacherous road in the dark, might have been the most terrifying aspect of the entire process. The day had started at 4am, and we reached the main road in our car at 8pm.

Image result for can of avery beerI realize that this was a longer post than normal, yet I still feel that my experience was nowhere near encapsulated by my descriptions. There were highs and there were lows; both of which reached extremes. Overall, it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I plan on it being the first of many mountain climbs. The pictures that I took, litter my websites, my office, and my home; and my memory will never lose what I gained through the adventure. There is no sweeter taste in the world than the beer after your first major climb, and I can say that honestly…at least until my next one!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Left Nut Brewing Company

Traveling up to Gainesville, GA, we reached on old mill facility with the label “LNB” on the front steps. Left Nut Brewing has finally found a home after years in the making, and this facility is what any brewer would want! While this old Johnson & Johnson mill building does not have HVAC, it’s certainly worth the jacket you need; as you scan the building, you can find everything from the original Georgia Pine studs, to newspaper clippings about the mill’s history. As you walk past the rows of fermenters, tables, games, and extremely high ceilings, you’ll take in the history without even knowing it.

I took the tour from one of the friendly workers and learned even more about the mill town, the brewery, and the beer. Stepping up to the bar, I was rewarded this a large selection of brews, and had to figure out which I wanted. I tried 6 different choices, and found that every one of them was very malt heavy; After discussing with a few others at the bar, they confirmed that all of the beers were very malty, and this was the main reason that they choose to come to LNB. While very malty brews are not at the top of my list, it does seem to be niche that is bringing in fans.

If you’re wondering about the name as I was, here it is:  

Image result for left nut breweryPrior to LNB’s existence, the future founder sat in a room discussing with others their future hopes and plans. When it came to be his turn to speak, he proclaimed, “I would give my left nut to have a brewery!” When Left Nut was later established, they set their core value statement as, “Hold on to the one you got left,” which expresses not letting go of something valuable to you!

My Rating:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
12/2016834Interested in malt-strong beer? This is the place for you

Best Beer: Mighty Banyan Double IPA - This beer has an enormous malt body, which works to even out the hop bitterness you would usually experience in a DIPA. The rich maltiness also works to hide the 9% ABV, and gives a smooth and drinkable solution for those normally afraid of strong flavors.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sweetwater Brewing Company

Image result for sweetwater beerSo if you live in Georgia, you have heard of Sweetwater. If you don't live in Georgia, chances are, you've still heard of Sweetwater. No matter your preconceived conviction on this brewery's brand, they have helped to break the barriers in the southeastern US craft beer world. From their beginning in 1997, Sweetwater worked to initiate the craft beer movement in Georgia by introducing it where no others were producing. If you know much about the beginnings of craft beer in the US, you know that it has been a long and arduous struggle; When a customer is going to buy beer at the store, they will see a number of recognizable brands, and then an unfamiliar and more expensive option. Without knowing that the more expensive brand is priced due to the higher quality ingredients, or even knowing that there is a different style of beer in existence, the customer always picks the cheaper option. Getting the word out that there is new and different beer available was, and still is a challenge for craft brewers. Sweetwater was able to break through this challenge, and open the door  for many to follow in this section of the US.

Because of Sweetwater is Sweetwater, I would highly recommend a visit to their brewery. 

Below is a brief breakdown of my visit:


Pretty great location in Atlanta and within walking distance of a few restaurants.

The Facility

It is a big facility with lots of taps and employees/volunteers pouring. That being said,  expect a big crowd. Hopefully you will be luckier than I, and be able to enjoy a pour before having to get back in line.

The Tour

If elbow to elbow crowds are your thing, this is the place for you. The tour was worthless, due to the soft spoken girl trying to shout over the drunken fraternity attendees who seemed to be having beer for the first time. It was a Saturday in the spring, however it was my mistake thinking the downpour of rain would scare down the crowds a little. The guide was not experienced at brewing, and only provided the basics which is what most people are there for; she could not answer many questions that some of the folks asked.

I have only visited once and plan to visit again in case this was a one-off experience. Although I was not a fan of the tour, I still always recommend attending.

The Beer

Sweetwater is the biggest craft beer producer in Georgia, so you have to respect their product. I enjoyed tasting their offerings and was impressed by the selection that I had not seen on the market yet; and no, they're not all 420 clones. While you may see the more tame Sweetwater beers at your local restaurant, they actually have a very wide variety of offerings with some great brews. 

My Rating:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
2014865They have great beer out there; not always on tap at the brewery

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Abide Brewing Company

Image result for abide breweryIt was time for us to head toward Newnan, GA, so we set our GPS to Abide. Upon arrival, we found a small but full brewery, with many friendly locals and large selection of different beers. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the beer was actually above average (only surprised because, well,... it’s Newnan). Three brewers/owners, who are also their three employees, boast the slogan, “Accept without objection.” In this area, of this state, in this section of the US, there are few people who are willing to try anything outside the normal American lagers provided by the major companies. This brewery reaches out to those who normally refuse to try anything new, and demands that any who try craft beer will realize what they have been missing.

After a quick personal tour with Evan Scanlan, one of the brewers, I asked where Abide’s vision was going to take them: “South,” Evan says. Rather than compete for elbow room in the quickly growing Atlanta market, Abide wants to reach new consumers and provide quality craft beer to those who may not have experienced it yet. While I let him know that I think his beer could definitely compete in Atlanta, I admired the goal of reaching a new market; and as a craft beer enthusiast, that is the ultimate goal.

My Rating:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
12/2016536Lots of choices and they're all worth trying

Best Beer: 3 Rivers IPA - Lots of citrus flavor without the punch of bitterness that you normally get with a west coast IPA. This is what Tropicalia is aiming for. This beer would be just as enjoyable to first time IPA drinker as it would an experienced hop-head. Not many brews scream of fresh hops like this one!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Belgium Trip - 10/2016

Published on Brewtopia's November 29 Brewsletter.

This trip, and many other, can be found on HERE

- Top Ten Moments from Belgium

By guest columnist Ransome Sheets

Years ago, I realized that the beer that I wanted, was not the beer that I was drinking. While I had enjoyed my time with the typical American light lager titans, I knew that there had to be something better. Sitting at the bar of The Globe in Athens, Georgia, I stared at a selection of unfamiliar bottles and asked the bartender if they had anything from Belgium. From the selection came a tall dark vessel that was opened by a cork instead of a cap. “This one’s called Chimay Grande Reserve,” the bartender advised, “and it’s brewed by Trappist monks!”  As the bartender poured this dark carbonated beverage into a glass goblet of all things; I already recognized that there would be no going back.

Since that first taste of Belgian beer I have been searching for anything to which it can compare. I fell in love with American beer and everything that it brings to the table… which is just about everything! My girlfriend and I like to travel whenever possible, and we often plan around our favorite breweries so that we can stop by to learn their history, take in their process, and enjoy the beer. When we stumbled across Owen Ogletree’s Brewtopia newsletter and found that there were spots available for a trip to Belgium, we quickly jumped on board. After years of homebrewing, brewery tours, beer festivals, and thousands of tasting flights, I was finally headed to the source of my obsession.

This trip was truly the pinnacle of my beer exploration. From the massive commercial brewery of Duvel, to the smallest brewery in Belgium (Interpol), we learned where these unique and incredible tastes were born. Outside of creating and hosting the Classic City Brew Fest and Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting, Owen is devoted to teaching all who are interested in learning about beer. Owen and his many friends in Belgium provided our group with behind-the-scenes tours, rare tastings, and a wealth of knowledge.

Caught in the enthusiasm of the trip, I was excited to volunteer to provide Owen with a top ten write-up after our return. With everything that we did in this one week, naming only ten events turned into a true challenge! So with much difficulty, and another beer or two, here are my top ten moments from the trip:

  1. Achouffe Brewery - The Achouffe Brewery stood unique from the rest with a single caveat: gnomes! From the tiny chairs in the brewing rooms to the mushrooms around the pond, we found these little sprites and related paraphernalia all over the pristine, green grounds. The brewery boasts that the gnomes are the reason for the taste behind the beer, and I would have trouble arguing that the complexity found in their classic Belgian styles weren’t produced from something outside of the normal. 
  1. Hommelhof - a three-course beer lunch with some of the best beer gastronomy imaginable. Owen’s friend Stefaan paired excellent beer selections from the area with some of the best food, to create a meal fit for royalty. 

  1. Brewery Interpol - A good ways away from the fast-paced city of Brussels, we went to meet Pol and his wife Tine. These two run a comfortable looking B&B and the smallest brewery in Belgium! Pol (Inter-Pol get it?) took us around their brewery where we tried each of their astonishingly delicious brews. Stepping outside into the sun and watching the beautifully green countryside while sipping good beer with good friends definitely made me want to pack up my things back home and join this heavenly setting. 
  1. Westvleteren's Café - Visiting the grounds of the grotto at St. Sixtus Abbey was a captivating precursor to the beer at Westvleteren's Café in De Vrede. The Westvleteren 12 might just be the best Belgian quadrupel I have ever tasted! The beers are almost impossible to get anywhere else in the world, so I was extremely excited when we were able to snag a few to take home! 
  1. De Cam – I loved the tasting and personal tour of De Cam’s lambic blending facility from the enthusiastic Master Blender, Karel. He taught us everything we could want to know about real lambic blending - from the history of De Cam’s location to the specifics of lambic fermentation. As this was one of the first stops in the trip, it certainly set the pace for the exciting week ahead. Karel ended the tour by playing his Flanders bagpipes! 
  1. Cantillon Brewery - When our trip started, I may have been one of the only members who wasn’t already familiar with this famous lambic brewery; but by the time we visited, I already felt like an expert. Several floors, filled with barrels layered in history were shown to us by our animated guide, Cedric Jamar. While our group was already prepared for what we expected to be one of the highlights of our trip, Cedric broke through our expectations and proved that these brews had even more depth than imaginable. While we lined up to take home a few of these rare bottles, we drank in the taste of “real” lambics and experienced what a passionate process can produce. 

  1. Orval Ruins and Tavern - Orval’s Cistercian ruins were more picturesque than anyone could imagine. While still caught in a haze of awe from viewing the ruins, we tasted the Trappist table beer which can only be found at the A l'Ange Gardien Orval Tavern. While enjoying this incredible beer, we also spoke with the general director of Orval, Philippe Henroz. 
  1. Bruges - With a short walk from our bus, we reached the historic town of Bruges. With age-old buildings, this place took me straight into a period movie. As we visited breweries and pubs that were hidden around every corner and in every alleyway, I am forced to compress the entire town into one top ten item. I could have spent months walking around the canals and chocolate shops trying to find every good pub in the area and still come up short. 

  1. 3 Fonteinen - Visiting 3 Fonteinen and meeting owner and master blender Armand DeBelder as the last stop of our scheduled week must have been strategically planned, as it would be impossible to leave this visit without experiencing the feeling of a renewed and revitalized perspective on Belgian beer. Armand takes passion and his love for blending to an unthinkable level that encompasses everyone around him. Despite only visiting Armand for a short period, we all felt as if we were sharing astounding beer with a longtime friend. 
  1. Belgian Beer - In every brewery, blending facility, abbey, and beer enthusiast in Belgium, a common theme was present: time. While the United States is quickly becoming one of the beer centers of the world with its innovative experimentation and incredible array of hop varieties, Belgium has been focusing on the same styles that they have always done, and are continuing to do it better than anyone else. Much of the beer that I tasted in Belgium stood out as having an overall complexity that was astounding. From the quadruples brewed by Trappist monks, to the lambics produced in the same methods for hundreds of years; Belgian beers will forever exude the tastes that all others wish to aspire.

Cedric Jamar at Cantillon. French text translation:
“Time does not respect what is done without him.”