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.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Red Brick Brewing Company

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Like many GA breweries, Red Brick is located in a more industrial area of Atlanta. Still easily within Uber range, but I wouldn’t plan on walking to dinner after your visit. On my first trip to Red Brick in 2012, I had a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide who led a decent sized tour group. I could hear every word, ask beginner and beer enthusiast questions, and enjoy learning about the brewery and its history. I have returned to Red Brick a number of times since, but have not revisited the official tour: If the tours are still conducted anything like they were at my first visit, I would definitely recommend attending.

Image result for red brick brewingFortunately and unfortunately, the beer selection at Red Brick has changed since my first visit. I really liked what I had originally, with about 6 or 7 different beer styles including the Vanilla Gorilla Porter. As Red Brick has continued to grow, I have had many of their more recent beers at local restaurants and beer festivals, and I have been truly impressed with their evolution. While I really enjoyed my first visit and the beer selection that they offered, the new and improved selection has helped to raise the bar in the GA brewing industry! More recently I have enjoyed some of the many events that the brewery has hosted, such as their employee brew-off where all of their employees were paired together and created their own brews. Almost all of them were surprisingly great! Red Brick’s tap room has expanded to add a little more space, in addition to the outdoor area with games and always present food trucks. Vanilla Gorilla is still around as a seasonal brew and one of my favorites in the state and I am always looking for any Red Brick on tap. While this brewery grows from its original smaller size to a much larger and more renowned company, I will be interested to see more of their events and beer offerings.

My Rating:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
2012 - 11/2016747Make sure to check out Laughing Skull: the Vortex beer

Best Beer: Vanilla Gorilla Imperial Porter - This beer does an excellent job of interpreting a porter while providing the big 8% ABV that you would normally see in a more robust stout. With notes of chocolate, coffee, and strong vanilla, this beer is surprisingly drinkable. I am starting to see vanilla porters or stouts at the local growler shops, but Red Brick perfected it back in 2012!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Kennesaw Experience

For some weekend traveling in the busy season of work, we decided to make a run to Kennesaw and try out the local brews and the growing beer culture. We spoke with some brewers, tried some beer, and learned a little about the area that hosts them.

Dry County Brewing
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We arrived at this brewery excited for a day of knowledge gaining (and drinking) and we certainly started strong. While Dry County has only been around for a short period of time, they have hit the ground running. Since I arrived when the doors opened, I was able to speak with Trey; the head brewer and Co-founder of the brewery. Trey was extremely excited to talk beer and it is always encouraging to see someone so passionate about their product. He showed me their space and we talked about their core values and the message behind Dry County. He explained that when you live in a dry county as he did growing up in Woodstock, you have to make beer runs and go to the next county over to pick up beer. Trey would like his brewery’s message to show that, like him, you should focus on producing your dreams and “Make your run.”

Displaying 20161119_135435.jpgThe space at the brewery was excellent as they chose a facility with more space than necessary so that they can grow into it; this is a mistake for many breweries who buy a space they currently want, and then end up having no space to grow. With an outdoor area, tables, and tv for games, this location certainly has everything necessary for you to stay and enjoy trying some of their above average beers. While Dry County has a few staples, they are not afraid to try new brews; a great example is that of their Imperial Berliner Weisse which was excellent! I would highly recommend making a trip to this brewery and I am excited to see where they are after a year of growth.

My Rating:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
11/2016656Excellent beer for a brand new brewery!

Best Beer: Noon Day Pale Ale- While this beer is light, it is extremely hoppy. Normally when you think of hoppy beer, you’re thinking of a bitter IPA. However, this hoppy beer is not bitter: it is packed with tropical fruit flavors and aromas without the bitter punch that an IPA brings. If you're looking for some serious flavor, but don’t want the bitter punch in the face, this is your beer!

Southern Sky Brewing
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Hidden away behind numerous office buildings, you can find the small brewery of Southern Sky. While the tasting room may be small, there is a decent sized brewing facility behind it. Still in its early stages, this brewery has a nice feel which is upbeat and humble. After viewing the tour and trying out the beer offerings on hand, I was pleased to find that they are experimental, and always trying new brews. I can certainly say, that their dark beers are worth a try and have a few that are top notch; from my experience however, the lighter you go, the less you will find a beer that you like. Since Southern Sky is still firming up its brand and consistency, I think that we could see good things from them in the future.
My Rating:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
11/20163431/6 beers were great; this brewery will benefit from more time

Image result for southern sky breweryBest Beer: Alepocalypse (2016) - While many of Southern Sky’s lighter beers need some reconstruction, their Alepocalypse is on the other side of the spectrum! This extremely dark version of a Belgian dark strong is in a category of its own, and not just because it is 13.8% ABV. With trace amounts of bready and nuty notes, it’s polished with dark fruit flavors and roasted chocolate that add enjoyable complexity. This beer may be worth the tasting fee on its own.

Burnt Hickory Brewery
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Image result for burnt hickory breweryFor nightlife, this will be the brewery of choice (and not just because of their hours)! This brewery is teeming with guitar amplifiers, music memorabilia, and a stage area with the brewing equipment in the background. Live music plays while you sip one of the many interesting and unique brews available from the inside taproom. My favorite was watching visitors step up to the beer list, as everyone does the same thing: You squint your eyes, you read the beer a second time, then you tilt your head to the side as you try to imagine what it is going to taste like! A few listed on this visit included a watermelon IPA, a blueberry pie stout, and a Baron Von Cranberry Sour. If you think that these beers sound crazy, you should meet the brewer, Scott Hedeen. Scott is very enthusiastic about the beer and is fun to talk to; and being an artist of both beer and music, he is also a character. Don’t be afraid to ask him about one of his crazy beers or what’s next for Burnt Hickory as I’m sure you’ll receive an interesting story!

My Review:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
11/2016657Gets a good rating for the high number of great innovative brews

Best Beer: Cannon Dragger - If I described this beer in one word, it would be: Fresh. The strong citrus and pine hop aroma lures you in, and the sweet, lightly caramel malts balance this 8% ABV beer. Slight spiciness from the hops add a distinguishing character that is extremely enjoyable!

Sunday, November 20, 2016


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Dating back to my very first brewery experience, and my most visited brewery since, I’d like to provide my review of Terrapin. While this used to be a rare, small craft brewery only familiar to Athens locals, it has now become a monstrous favorite, competing against larger national breweries. With Terrapin recently being bought by MillerCoors, you might be wondering as I was, what to expect from the change. Before letting you in my findings, you will want to know a little about the brewery itself:

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First, Terrapin is in Athens, but not IN Athens; It's a little drive to the outskirts of the town. Second, despite the little drive, it's still within Uber range and not a large fee for the trip due to low traffic and high speed limits. I’d highly recommend taking an Uber. Terrapin's  brewery has an excellent set-up for a visit with a large outdoor area including separate taps, a stage area, corn-hole games, and dogs are allowed and always present. For the hotter days (which seem to include all of my visits), there is an indoor area with many, many taps, and many varieties of beer offered. If you happen to catch this brewery on a day that is not overcrowded, then you will absolutely love this visit. That beings said, prepare for a crowd; the word is out: Terrapin’s beer is amazing.

Related imageNot only does Terrapin have some of the absolute best beer in the US, but it also has variety. Good luck visiting this location and trying not to find a beer that you like. From the tame drinker's favorite Golden Ale, to the now classic IPA - Hopsecutioner, Terrapin has shocked me with its constant growth in selection. They now have Goses', saisons, wheats, pilsners, stouts, porters, and everything else you can think of; but I am still drawn in by their amazing selection and top quality IPAs. This brewery is just as good for first time craft beer drinkers as it is for the grand master beer judges.

Image result for terrapin beer companyI recently attended a bottle sharing event with a large number of Terrapin brewers, and after having visited the last Terrapin anniversary party and seeing countless new and amazing brews, was concerned about the more recent MillerCoors buyout. I have seen a number of craft breweries be bought out by bigger brothers and then their taste starts to turn towards the mainstream of soft, unobtrusive flavors, rather than the bold directness of more outrageous flavors that I tend to enjoy. I timidly asked this group brewers what was going to change for the brewery, what was going to change for them, and what we could expect to see changing as consumers. I had an idea that this might strike a nerve that would hit a little too close to home, as these were their lives potentially being altered. The resulting responses could not have been better: “Nothing.” As one of the brewers handed me another can of their Mosaic Red Rye IPA, he told me that they were now receiving health benefits under the hand of their new owners, but were told that no other changes or restrictions what-so-ever were tied with the update. They are still encourage to continue with their experimentation and promotion of new and exciting beer. This to me, is an excellent source of relief, and very encouraging for the craft beer world in general. Seeing good things, like new health benefits but no changes to the existing processes, shows that larger breweries like MillerCoors are starting to recognize the the craft beer world and rather than still trying to destroy it, they now are want to embrace it. Again I have to say, this is a great time to be a beer fan!

If you want to be a true craft beer enthusiast, you have to visit Terrapin and experience the range of beers they have to offer.

My Rating:

DateFacility RatingLocation RatingBeer RatingBeer Notes
2008 - Current7310Too many to try at once; what a great problem to have

Image result for terrapin beer company

Current Best Beer: Mosaic Red Rye IPA - This beer is slightly deceptive; its ruby red color appears to be more malty than the beer actually is. Its well balanced, allowing the aromas and flavors of the Mosaic hops to shine through with fruit and floral character. Delicious!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Here's to your health!

Image result for beer and healthOver several years, there have been many studies that research the effects of beer on your health. While you can rest assured that there have not been new findings that tell us mass consumption of craft beer will keep you from ever dying, researchers are starting to find that moderate consumption is more healthy for you than red wine! Beer studies have now shown that a brew or 2 a day can help decrease the loss of good cholesterol, increase bone density, reduce risks of heart disease, and more. While this is not a reason to pick up regular binge drinking, I find it interesting, and it can be fun to discuss. As there are always new findings coming out, I have created the link above, labeled "Health and Beer" and will try to update it when I see new and interesting findings from knowledgeable sources. I have currently added 3 very interesting sources and compiled some of their research for easier reading. Don't worry, I'll always include where you can find the source information that I write so that you can contact them instead of me when you want to call "BS."

Instead of heading to the gym this afternoon, I think I'll have a beer! Cheers