Brewery Tour – Birmingham, AL

Avondale Brewing

IMG_3412The place was almost empty on the Sunday that I visited. Considering it was one of the only brewerys opened at that late, I was surprised that the crowed was so sparse. The people actually present were  mostly older, more sophisticated drinkers. In the background, they mostly were playing relaxing vocals. The beer was served behind a dimly lit wooden bar. There were  wooden insulated mash tuns in the background. In short, this is the type of place I like to drink.

IMG_3413The tap menu was relatively diverse, if not very long. I decided to grab a flight of their core beers to get a good ide of the location. I also had absolutely nothing to do that evening and an uber to drive me home so it just made sense. I was very pleased to find that the bar provided very generous pours… even though at the end of the night they proved to be rather expensive. My matronly barmaid set before me a plethora of beers to sample. A few of their beers stood out in my mind.
Their white was lightly spicy, with a good bit of yeast to give it some body. It had a good expressive character with coriander playing  major role. The Saison had a very resinous sweetness which lingered on the tongue. Their version of a trippel had a strong and powerful flavor, tasting similar to the saison with a bit more punch. It did a very good job of masking the 9% abv. Finally my personal favorite of their line up was a Scottish ale. At around 5% abv it was both sessionable and highly delicious. It had a lovely roasted tone with a good malty backbone that kept me coming back for more!

Rating:7/10

Web Page: http://avondalebrewing.com/

Address: 201 41st St S, Birmingham, AL 35222

Cahaba Brewing

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Cahaba has a very relaxed vibe, despite the fact that trying to pronounce its name will put you into a twist. The tap-room and brewery are located in a huge warehouse. The wide open space gives a sense of comfort and provided excellent acoustics to the live jazz band that was playing during my visit. The crowed is very vibrant, young people drinking on the front porch, and people with family’s enjoying the ambiance inside. The staff is very friendly and happy to recommend a beer to suit your mood or preference.

Although none of their beers stood out as exceptional, they were all well brewed and suited the relaxed mood of the brewery. The house blond was an easy drinking beer, with a light hint of lemon. Although it was a bit yeasty, it was a highly quenching brew. The dunkelweiss had a strong chocolate character, unusual but not unpleasant. There was not too much estery banana flavor although it had a stronger clove profile. My personal favorite in their line up was their double IPA. It was solidly dank, a  bit malty, but it does have an overall balanced palate. It’s a beautiful Amber color, almost a burnt pumpkin.

Rating: 8/10

Web Page: http://www.cahababrewing.com/

Address: C, 4500 5th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35222

 

Good People Brewing

IMG_3419When I went to good people, it was during a baseball game at the local stadium. I had to trudge for about 10 minutes to get to the brewery from my parking spot a half mile away. On my arrival, I was ready for a beer! Thankfully Good People has a very large selection of beers to choose from. The tap-room is a wide open space, with lots of seating and very wide windows to allow a nice breeze to cool down the weary traveler. There is relaxed soft music in the background, hop cone lights, and comfortable beat up furniture in the corner. Although their line up is extensive, many of their beers are unremarkable, all be it pleasant. Only a few beers stood out of the mix.

IMG_3416One of their best sellers is Snake handler, a double IPA. I thought it was pleasant, with a big malty character, although the hops are very subtle. In my opinion, it is more like an American barley wine than a double IPA. All that said, it is overall pleasant with a solid bitterness and not too much alcohol burn. I believe it was well fermented but lacked substantial hop nose and flavor. On the other hand their beer el Gordo was a very good Russian Imperial Stout, with smooth roast and coffee flavor with chocolate on the finish. It was like mixing Kona coffee and Godiva Chocolate. It had a fantastic silky mouthfeel, and did a great job concealing it’s almost 14% abv.

Rating: 7.5/10

Web Page: http://www.goodpeoplebrewing.com/

Address114 14th St S, Birmingham, AL 35233

 

Brewery Tour – Atlanta, GA

Torched Hop

IMG_3398The atmosphere is a cool art-deco motif, sultry hop shaped metal chandeliers and brightly colored stained glass, leading to a vibe of sleek drinking rather than casual quaffing of beer. Beyond the dim lighting, there is ample brewing hardware in the background, letting the drinker know that they are still in a working brewery. The music reminded me of modern dance club, which matched the somewhat younger crowed at the bar. The staff was overall friendly but a bit standofish, giving advice but never seeming to interested in the drinker’s choices.

IMG_3399The beer is a mixed bag, however it is of generally good quality on the whole. Their IPA is certainly on point, with some citrus and evergreen notes. It is refreshingly bitter but not overpowering. Additionally, the smoked porter was very appealing, giving definitive  camp fire flavor that was also not overwhelming. Its malt base is rather mellow but it has a very smooth chocolate and coffee undertone. On  the other hand, several of their other beers failed to thrill me. for example The Belgian dark strong was highly undistinguished and lacked anything to make it stand apart. I would certainly visit again, however I will most likely ask for a small sample before I settle on a full pint of beer.

Overall: 7/10

Web Page: http://www.torchedhopbrewing.com/

Address: 249 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308

 

Wrecking Bar

IMG_3402The Wrecking Bar is a great place if your are looking for beer, brunch, or even both.  During my visit, I enjoyed a beef cheek sandwich with caramelized onions and swiss, which proved to be both greasy and delightful. The fries were prepared well and nicely crisp. Music in the background spanning across the yester year album, featuring hits from from Jimmy Buffet, Nancy Sinatra, to Willy Nelson. The staff is increadibly frindly, making this an excelent location to sit back and sample a few beers.

IMG_3407I think that this brewery has an excelent and diverse line up of brews allowing the drinker to either enjoy their favorite style or take atrip across the globe. The Berliner weisse is tart and crisp, very refreshing due to a restrained sourness. One very cool beer was Spruce Juice, an American Pale ale, with highly expressive evergreen notes and a honey like sweetness. It is highly drinkable and seemed to take the best of a winter forest and distill it into a beverage with deep, rich flavor.  Finally, Mr. Brownstone Imperialized Pale Ale, was a great example of this ofshoot style. It balanced malt and hops, giving leading to a dank nose and strong papaya flavors. Overall the wrecking bar is an excellent destination, whether you’re looking for extraordinary beer or food.

9/10

 Web Page: http://www.wreckingbarbrewpub.com/

Address: 292 Moreland Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307

Brewery Tour – Charlotte, NC

The Unknown Brewing Company

IMG_3376The Unknown Brewing Company has a fun atmosphere combining good music with a young crowed. As you sit down, through large glass windows you can see into the brewery. When I visited, there were people playing corn hole in the foreground with huge conicals in the background. The staff was friendly and helpful without being overbearing. Their Sweet Tea Beer was awesome, blending malt with the sweetness of honey and balancing it with the dark overtones of black tea. Having had many cups of sweet tea while in the south, I can say that this is a pretty good take on the original. Although their house IPA was pleasant, I think that ‘Scratch and sniff’, one of their session IPAs, was superior. I was sharp and refreshing with a mint and pine front and a dank nose. IMG_3378Finally, among their line up they had a few surprises such as ‘Kitten Snuggles’. Kitten Snuggles… the name says it all. It contained catnip, milk sugar, and apricots. Although its super weird, I genuinely enjoyed it. Hit had cherry pie type notes and a hint of sour, but was brewed without brettanomyces according to the staff. Overall it’s a fun place to hangout. The only improvement I could suggest would be the addition of some king of food.

Overall: 8/10

Web Page: http://www.unknownbrewing.com/

Address: 1327 S Mint St, Charlotte, NC 28203

Wooden Robot Brewery

IMG_3387On the night that I visited, the Wooden Robot was packed to the gills. However, much to their credit, there was still ample table room to put down your beer. The place has a very vibrant atmosphere, not taking itself too seriously but providing a great place to enjoy some refreshing beer in good company. The servers were incredibly friendly and eager to talk about beer and make suggestions. They all had an extensive knowledge about the line up and seemed genuinely interested in the patrons enjoyment of their beer. Their Mocha beer was awesome,  with a touch of Ovaltine and instant coffee. It brings to mind memories of chai latte and morning cups Joe. This beer brought a genuine  smile to my mouth while i was sipping it. IMG_3386I wish I could wake up to that beer in the morning. Also top-notch was their  ‘Renegade sour’. It was mouth puckering with great nose and solid flavor. It is a no frills beer with nothing to hide any fermentation flaws behind. It is tart with clean fruit character and a solid funk. The rest of the line up included good old reliable beers that while they did not stand out, were obviously brewed with care by knowledgable brewers. I wish that I lived closer to this brewery and could visit it more often. This is a must visit brewery to anyone in Charlotte!

Overall: 9/10

Web Page: http://woodenrobotbrewery.com

Address: 1440 S Tryon St #110, Charlotte, NC 28203

Brew Tour – Raleigh, NC

Trophy Brewing

This place is an excellent brewery combining the best of both food and beer leading to an excellent drinking experience. I came in on a Friday afternoon as my car was getting repaired. At a balmy 91 degrees, the day was shaping up to be a scorcher. The sun followed me into the brewery, its hot rays inspiring me move quickly into its cold embrace.

IMG_3367Shane Fisher, the General Manager, greeted me and welcomed me into the back. As I walked in, their head brewer was juicing fresh oranges and the air was redolent with the smell of citrus. It was a small room, no bigger than 30 by 30 feet, and filled to the gills with fermenters and brewing equipment.

IMG_3368“It’s amazingly cool in here” were some of the first words out of my mouth “how do you do you’re heating?”

“Were all electric” Replied Shane with a smile as he showed me the master control panel of the brewery, an impressive piece of technology which controls the brewing opperation.

IMG_3362It’s safe to say that while their operation may be small, they are making the most of the space that they have and producing excellent product. When it comes to the beer, their lineup is as diverse as it is excellent; with sours, to saisons, and even a few lagers gracing the taps. My tasting started with a Gose with both ginger and rosemary. To me, sour beers can be an indication of a brewer’s quality and potential. From the minute the gose hit my lips, I knew they were on to something special.

“Do you sour in the fermenter or the kettle?” I asked, taking another sip.

IMG_3363“We do most of our souring in the kettle, but we are starting to work on devoting a whole tank to brett.”

One trend that I have seen recently is the use of fruit, herbs, and spices in Gose and Berliner Weisse. When I asked about this trend he nodded, “ We have been using a lot of teas recently, and we find that they work well and give us the flavor we are looking for.”

IMG_3365Whatever it is that they are doing, it is working. The ‘Your my boy blue’, a wee heavy with blueberry and pomegranate tea was an extraordinary blend of the malty richness of wee heavy with the sweet richness of blueberries and pomegranate.

Trophy Brewing’s food is also something to wright home about. Their house specialty is pizza, a dish that often blends well with beer. During my visit, I enjoyed the “local Celebrity” which combined brussels sprouts, pork belly and a mélange of flavors that came together and complemented the beer.

Overall 9/10

Web Page: http://trophybrewing.com/

Address: 827 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh, NC 27603

Brew Tour – Richmond, VA

The Answer Brewpub

FullSizeRender_2It’s a little brewpub on the side of the highway, but you should not judge their quality by their location. As you walk in, you’re greeted to an eclectic collection of memorabilia on wooden wall paneling. The music is constant in the background, too soft that you have to strain to hear but neither too loud that you can’t enjoy a conversation. They play a selection spanning different eras and genera but nothing that is out of place in the “dive bar” type atmosphere. One look at the beer menu and you can tell that their beverage options are pretty limited; if you don’t like sours, stouts, or IPAs you are shit out of luck. However, the quality of their beer is exceptional and makes up for the lack of diversity.

FullSizeRenderOne beer that stood out most to me was the Pants Optional: an imperial stout with Kona coffee, vanilla beans, Carolina reaper, cacao nibs, and coconut. While it seems like it would be something akin to a homebrew disaster, the flavors meld to create a very pleasing beer with a bit of heat, which is by no means overpowering. It would make an extraordinary desert beer or even just an after dinner drink. I can certainly say that this is a one of a kind brew!

FullSizeRender_1The food options are also diverse, mixing classic American dishes with Vietnamese inspired cuisine. During my visit, I had the Pork Belly Bon Mai, which turned out to be a perfect complement to their Mouth Hug Citra IPA. This place is certainly worth checking out if you’re in the Richmond area and are looking for a very casual dinner with delicious craft beer included. If you’re in any doubt what to order, be sure to ask the very friendly and knowledgeable staff for their recommendation.

Overall 8/10

 

Web Page: http://theanswerbrewpub.com/

Address: 6008 W Broad St, Richmond, Virginia

 

 

Going South – A Brewery Trail

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 9.29.17 AMSome people move simply, taking a truck or their car directly down to their new home. I have never been one of those people. My idea of an ideal move is an adventure, traveling and embracing my new home through an exploration of surrounding states and cities. In short, I am a huge pain in the ass to my friends and family who I usually drag along through this quagmire of chaos. But… I always bring back fun gifts, or if I’m short on cash, great stories to share.

On this trip, I’m traveling from New Jersey down to Florida… by way of New Orleans. For someone who might be sharing this eclectic journey, I want to share my beerie destinations to aid the lonely traveler and give them direction on their path. Hopefully I can save a few people from the horrors of bad beer, or at the very least give some the inspiration to visit some of the extraordinary breweries I have discovered on my trip.

Stop 1) Richmond, VA – The Answer Brewpub

Stop 2) Raleigh, NC – Trophy Brewing

Stop 3) Charlotte, NC – The Unknown Brewing Company, The Wooden Robot

Stop 4) Atlanta, GA – The Torched Hop, Wrecking Bar

Stop 5) Birmingham, AL – Avondale Brewing Company, Cahaba Brewing Company

Stop 6) New Orleans, LA – NOLA Brewing

Pittsburgh Brewery Tour

On my way back from an extended stay in Illinois I took the opportunity to stop and explore Pittsburgh. Having done a bit of research before hand, I knew that this city offered some excellent beer and had a rich history of brewing. The first commercial brewery, Point Brewery, was established in 1765, and the city has progressed in brewing prowess ever since. Today Pittsburgh, and the surrounding area, boasts over 15 breweries. Each one of the breweries has a diverse beer selection and a unique story to tell. Unfortunately, with limited time, I was only able to visit three of the breweries in the area. My choices were driven more by location and time constraints than the superior reviews of one location against another. On the whole I was very impressed by the beers I tried and even the worst brewery had at least one quality beer available. One man, One evening, Three breweries…. it made for an excellent time.

East EndEast End Brewing Company: This place is a fun hole in the wall establishment that provides a huge selection of quality beer in a very relaxing environment. The brewery brings to mind an old fashioned speak easy, with the entrance being hidden from the public gaze. When you enter, you are greeted with an eclectic collection of tables and bar tops, providing ample space to sample the brews. The staff is incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about serving their beers to the public. East End offers an amazing and diverse selection of beers. When I visited, there were over 15 beers to choose from. Their year round selection is very nice and designed to fit a number of tastes. Monkey boy, the house hefeweizen, tasted like a fresh banana cream pie; highlighting the esters and providing a creamy mouth feel. At the same time, their stout provided a nice smoky contrast with a solid base of roasted coffee and rich malty goodness. My very generous server also treated me to a special tasting of the house weizenbock. The flavors of the Weizenbock, Monkey’s Uncle, highlighted the aromatics found in monkey boy but brought it to a whole new level. Brewed with ample portions of sugar, this beer has a slightly cidery edge but also provides a super rich and slightly sweet mouth feel. I highly recommend this brewery to anyone driving through the area. With a huge selection of beers to choose from, this brewery may be a multi-stop destination.

Penn BrewingPenn Brewery: This brewery is an excellent example of how classic German brewing built the American beer scene. The brewery’s core line up is a set of traditional German (reinheitsgebot friendly) beers that, while not completely unique, are certainly brewed with heart. Their beers are clean, traditional, and highly drinkable. The brewery’s atmosphere is extremely welcoming with both indoor and outdoor seating available. The building has an incredible history. It was originally built to house the Eberhart and Ober brewery, founded in 1848. The building extends into a series of caves, originally used for lagering in the age before modern refrigeration.  This history comes alive when you sit and look over the brewery courtyard, imagining the old barrels being rolled by. Apart from the quality beer selection, the brewery offers a very beer friendly dining menu. Although I didn’t get a chance to sample their entrees, I was able to try their beer and cheese flight. With 5 beers and 5 cheeses, you are treated to a wonderful pairing combination. Possibly my favorite was the smoked mozzarella, possessing a rich and creamy texture underlying a powerful oaky smoke, that the brewery paired with their dark lager. Considering the care that they take in their cheese and beer pairing, I would highly recommend that you ask for your servers recommendation on what beer will pair well with your meal. If you are in the area, definitely try to check out this seemingly overlooked gem.

Church Brew WorksThe Church Brew Works: I really wanted to like this brewery, and I certainly loved the ambiance, but I was severely underwhelmed by both the beer and the food offered. The beer flight I tasted had a few highlights but, on the whole, the beer failed to meet the bill. My favorite beer in their line up would have to be the Kenya Coffee Blonde, which had a really nice roasted coffee flavor that played very well with the blonde base beer. Unfortunately their core beer selection was highly disappointing. Their dunkel was very thin, their blond was watery, and their stout was mediocre and lacked the full body creaminess I would hope for in an oatmeal stout. I would have tried their pale ale but the tap had run dry during my visit. My meal, pirogues and bacon, was an example of the individual components failing to be better than the sum of their parts. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, but the dish failed to overwhelm or impress, and I felt cheated out of a great meal in this city. The service was lack luster as well, and I felt that the bar tender couldn’t care less if I was drinking a glass of water or their house selection. I would say come to this brewery if you have a little extra time in your schedule. The sheer bizarre combination of hedonistic pleasure and catholic guilt you experience while drinking in a church make it a unique experience at the very least. Overall, do not expect this brewery to be the highlight of your trip.

Champaign, Illinois – Brewery Reviews

map_of_champaign_ilOut of the wisdom of my Medical School, I was sent to Illinois to participate in a medical board preparation course. Like Napoleon, I was sent away to dwell on a small island. Instead of being surrounded by the crashing waves of the sea, I was surrounded by waves of corn. During my temporary exile I decided that it would be appropriate to evaluate the local brew scene. I discovered that Champaign has a very active beer scene, with 3 excellent microbreweries close by. If you are passing through Illinois, I would definitely stop by this college town for a pint.

TriptychTriptych Brewing: This small brewery offers a very pleasant bar feel, while providing a great selection of beer. As you walk into the brewery, you are greeted by fermentation tanks to your left and comfortable seating to your right. The bar offers a very wide selection of beers ranging from sours to stouts. Particularly of note is one of the brewery’s flagship beers the “Golden Oatie”. This unique beer is a coffee and chocolate flavored blond. While it is not my favorite beer in their line up, I have to applaud their execution of this one of a kind brew. My personal favorite is their dark sour, with a hint of dark fruit with a powerful kick of lactic sourness. One awesome aspect of this brewery is that they will can draft beer for you at your request. So, even if you are just passing through, you can grab a can or two of their delicious brews.

IMG_2751Desthil Brewery: This brew pub is an excellent place to grab a burger and a beer. What impressed me most is  the vast variety of beer served at this establishment. During my visit there were over 20 beers to choose from. For the person wanting to sample a variety of brews, this brewery offers numerous sizes of beer: 4 oz, 8 oz, 12 oz, and 16 oz. As far as food goes, this place has some of the best bar food around. My burger was perfect in both size and preparation. The combination of beer and food makes this a great one stop destination. If you are just passing through, a number of local liquor stores sell the brewery’s beer. I highly recommend their sour series, with styles including Gose, Berliner, and Flanders Red.

IMG_2722Blind Pig Brewing Company: The Blind Pig is a great little brewery in downtown Champaign. Their personally brewed beer selection is small, but they make up for this by having a number of bottles available for patrons. One of the greatest aspects of this brewery is their outdoor beer garden which is quite extensive. The beer is very solid and quite refreshing. Although the selection is small, the  beers that they have available are quite diverse. I think that this brewery stole my heart with their reference to the chewbacca defense. The beer in question is Wookie Snacks, a delicious Black Rye IPA which is both rich and well hopped with a pleasant bitterness and spice. I would also highly recommend their pilsner, which proved to be a refreshing beer for a hot summer night.