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Taproom Coffee, Atlanta

Taproom Coffee, Atlanta

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Here’s the short story – there are three things you need to know about Taproom Coffee in Kirkwood: Jonathan Pascual. Counter Culture Coffee. Craft Beer. That’s it. Go.

Jonathan Pascual Taproom CoffeeOf course, there’s a long version to that story as well. Starting with Jonathan Pascual. He’s the guy who probably most famously helped kick off the rockin’ coffee program at Empire State South a few years back. Earlier this year, he started up Taproom Coffee, and there’s a good chance his smiling face will be there to greet you when you walk in the door. To give you a feel for what Taproom is all about for Jonathan, here are his words from the Kickstarter campaign that helped fund the endeavour:

The Dream: I always wanted to own and run my own place. But I didn’t feel like it should be just another coffee shop. Connecting to people in relationships is very important to me. And no matter how friendly I think I am, sometimes I feel like I just need a little something to grease the wheels of connection. I’ve come to realize that two things frequently (and easily) bring people together: coffee and beer. My dream is that through the medium of these two beverages, Taproom Coffee could provide a comfortable, approachable environment where we facilitate connections. Great coffee, great beer, great memories.

Counter Culture CoffeeSounds good, right? And how ’bout the beans? Jonathan turns to Counter Culture Coffee for the wide range of coffees available as espresso, or pour over, or by the bag to go. They do good stuff. Their mission is to “source, roast, and deliver the most exquisite, freshest coffee in the world,” and even if they’re not quite the very most exquisite in the world, they’re close enough. And just look at all those single origin lots and exotic sources and fancy names and pretty packages – Banko Gotiti, Ollke Birre, Elias Benata, Haru, Idido, Finca Nueva Armenia, Ngunguru… it’s probably a bit overwhelming, and definitely a lot colorful, but Jonathan can help guide you through the flavors and merits of each and every one.

Counter Culture CoffeeI picked up a bag of Aleme Wako (the farmer), Biloya (the village), sundried single  lot, from Kochere (the district), Ethiopia (the country), Africa (the continent), Earth (enough said). I can’t personally fill you in on all the intricacies of how it was grown and harvested and roasted – it probably deserves its own Wikipedia page (OK, this is close enough) – but I can tell you it makes a mean cup of coffee in the morning.

And now the beer? Jonathan’s pride and joy is his “Beerspresso Machine” – an old 4-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine that he gutted in his garage and had converted into a glimpse of beer nirvana. You’ll find a nice mix of local and not-so-local craft beers on tap: the current list includes Eventide Nitro Dry Irish Stout, Monday Night Nerd Alert, Creature Comforts Reclaimed Rye, Smuttynose Noonan Black IPA… on to La Trappe and St. Bernardus and Sierra Nevada. Now the question is just whether you want beer or coffee. Or maybe one of each. Or maybe two.

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IMG_9084Jonathan Pascual Taproom Coffee

My Goodness, (not) My Guinness!

My Goodness, (not) My Guinness!

I was in Dublin last week and, naturally, visited the Guinness Storehouse for a tour / taste of what is surely one of Ireland’s greatest achievements – Guinness Stout. I love Guinness – the way it tastes, the way it looks, the way it takes a few minutes of lovely effervesence to pour a proper pint, the way that thick foamy head forms and hangs around. I also love Guinness for its admirable history of brilliant marketing – the characters, colors, slogans, and omnipresent wall murals that make it such an integral part of the Irish landscape. Guinness is a great beer, and it is a great brand. Which brings me to the vexing and confounding creation that I recently learned about – a beer called… Guinness American Blonde Lager.

Guinness My Goodness
My goodness – things are upside down at Guinness

What are the first three things that pop into your mind when you hear the word Guinness? I’m guessing they’re something along the lines of Irish, dark, and stout. And isn’t it interesting that American, blonde, and lager seem fairly antithetical to those characteristics that we so closely associate with Guinness? In other words, WHAT THE HELL ARE THE PEOPLE AT GUINNESS THINKING!????

Actually, I have a pretty good idea of what they’re thinking. They’re thinking that Guinness is not doing as well in America as it should. That other beer brands are eating their lunch. That surely there’s a way to introduce Guinness to a new crowd of beer drinkers. Sure, the first two points there are right – Guinness is not doing that well in America, and other brands are indeed eating their lunch. But is introducing an American blonde lager a way to grow the Guinness brand? Better yet, is introducing a GUINNESS American blonde lager the way for Diageo, Guinness’ parent company, to grow their portfolio of beer brands in America? If you ask me, the answer is a resounding NO and NO.

The folks at Guinness – and more rightly I should probably say the folks at Diageo – should properly recognize the great value that exists in the Guinness brand. The equities that it holds so strongly that offer opportunity… but also act as a form of tether. Sure, Guinness is bound by its history and heritage – but that tether should be considered not as a barrier to growth, but as a guideline for HOW to grow. How can Guinness take its heritage – its Irishness, blackness, stoutness – and use that as a springboard into the heart of the American beer drinking public? I can guarantee you that the answer is not by watering down everything that the brand stands for – by discarding Irish for American, black for blonde, stout for lager. Stick to your strengths, Guinness, and leave the light stuff to one of your sister brands. My goodness. That’s not MY Guinness.

Sweetwater Second Helping IPA and the Giving Kitchen

Sweetwater Second Helping IPA and the Giving Kitchen

SweetWater Second Helping IPA

As was evident in the recent Atlanta SNOWPOCALYPSE(™), the good people of this city excel at coming together in times of need. And the story of the Giving Kitchen has been one of those amazing coming together stories that exemplifies our city’s spirit. Chef Ryan Hidinger is central to the story – one man’s battle with cancer morphing into a community rally for others in need. It was his battle that sparked the Giving Kitchen idea, and his remarkable enthusiasm and will that helped bring it to life. But it’s the embrace of the community around Hidinger that extends his legacy, and that embrace continues to be shown in an amazing multitude of ways. Like this Second Helping IPA from SweetWater Brewing Company.

SweetWater Second Helping IPA Simply put, Second Helping is a great beer with a great mission – to support the Giving Kitchen.

The Giving Kitchen’s mission is to provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community facing unanticipated hardship.

The important thing here is that mission, that embrace. The secondary thing here is the taste. Have no doubt, though, that SweetWater and Hidinger teamed up to turn out something remarkable.

I urge you to learn more about this cause, and to go try this beer. You’ll be glad you did on both counts. Second Helping is an Atlanta-only limited release (go get some now, seriously, it will be running out over the next couple weeks), served up in 22oz bottles or growlers in shops and bars all over town. I asked the folks at SweetWater about Second Helping’s success, and Francesca Zeifman there replied that Second Helping was one of their “fastest selling brews,” saying, “there was such passion put into this campaign from all parties involved, and the story behind the beer and its mission is so compelling. Nearly every drop was pre-sold before it hit the market.” See that? Community.

While no definite plans have been made for future Second Helping releases, SweetWater let me know that they do hope to continue working with the Giving Kitchen. Hopefully we’ll see a second (and third, and fourth) Second Helping. To learn more about the cause and the beer, visit thegivingkitchen.org, read this great intro from the AJC’s beer guru, Bob Townsend, or check out the video from Beer Street Journal featuring Nick Nock and Steve Farace from SweetWater.

And here’s my review and tasting notes on the beer itself.

SweetWater Second Helping IPASweetWater Brewing Co. Second Helping
India Pale Ale brewed with juniper berries
7.4% ABV, 69 IBU;s
Approx. $5.50 retail price for 22oz bottle
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

For you beer geeks out there, Second Helping is made with a variety of specialty malts (2-row, Victory, Chocolate, Wheat), as well as five types of hops (Amarillo, Bravo, Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe). Juniper berries were added in the whirlpool, and also during dry hopping. And it’s those juniper berries that really make this one stand out.

Second Helping pours a lovely rich copper, with hints of cherry wood red. The nose hits the expected pine and citrus notes, with a smooth and deep maltiness in the background. Second Helping has a pleasant and fairly lush mouthfeel. It’s a bit sharp at first, with that pine and citrus most prominent, also some more herbal botanical character, but then it mellows out quickly into caramel and a bit of chocolatey and hearty crusty bread. Then that crisp juniper gin character kicks in towards the finish, before melding into a hoppy IPA finish that goes on and on. That’s a lot of quick character evolving in a single sip, and it will have you coming back for more.

SweetWater Second Helping IPA SweetWater Second Helping IPA

 

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Tasting Notes: Redd’s Apple Ale

Tasting Notes: Redd’s Apple Ale

Translation: "This is not an apple."
Translation: “This is not an apple.”

I recently heard about a new, um, beer called Redd’s Apple Ale from Redd’s Brewing Company in Albany, Georgia. Now, I had never heard of Redd’s, and first thought it might be an interesting new microbrewery for the state of Georgia. But it turns out, Redd’s is a brand being launched by MillerCoors. OK, nothing wrong with that. They don’t especially want you to know that. But nothing wrong with that. It is brewed at the MillerCoors facility in Albany, so – for you Georgia beer fans –  it does have that going for it.

MillerCoors was nice enough to send me a few bottles to try, and right after I received them,  I also started seeing Redd’s pop up in gas stations and grocery stores in Georgia and Alabama. Redd’s is also available in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana,  Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Maine (how did Maine slip in to this list, does lobster pair exceptionally well with apple ale???).

Just to be clear, this is an ale. Flavored with apple flavor. Colored with caramel coloring. It is not a hard cider (fermented apple juice). Now, you might ask, “why bother making an apple-flavored beer when you can brew a good cider from apples?” And I might answer, well, MillerCoors probably knows a lot more about turning grains into beer than they do about turning apples into cider. And that’s probably true, but it’s also true that they not too long ago snapped up Crispin Cider, who definitely knows a thing or three about turning apples into something liquid, delicious and mildly intoxicating (try their “artisanal reserves” if you can find them – in fact, maybe I’ll do some tasting notes on those soon).

Anyway, my intent is to share what I thought about the experience of drinking a Redd’s Apple Ale, regardless of corporate owner, regardless of state of origin, regardless of whether it’s an apple (cider) or an orange (ale… wait, that didn’t quite work…). As I said, anyway…

Redd’s Apple Ale
“Ale with natural apple flavor and caramel color”
5% alcohol by volume
Tasting Date: October 5, 2012

Redd’s Apple Ale is a lovely, moderately deep gold in color (in fact, it is downright caramel-y looking!). It pours with a nice fizz, but no head whatsoever, reinforcing that this is not going to be a typical ale.

On the nose, Redd’s doesn’t give too much, with a bare hint of green apple over dusty malt. Poured into a glass, the carbonation is lively, and it hits the tongue with a pleasantly smooth, bubbly fizz.

Overall, this comes across a lot like an easy-drinking version of a hard cider, not harsh or bitter at all. It’s very crisp and green appley, with an undertone of malt that comes on a bit stronger through the finish. Again, nothing particularly ale-like about this.

Redd’s goes down easy, and is definitely appealing at first, but manages to quickly become boring. I was nodding my head in OK-this-is-not-bad appreciation with the first few sips, but then realized I was not at all eager for more – not for any negatives present, but rather for lack of any sort of ongoing interest. While the apple flavor is the dominant note here, it really is that – apple flavor – rather than the apple characteristics that can evolve into something more in a good hard cider.

Verdict? Fair* – this is easy drinking, and offers a nice approximation of a hard cider – but why buy an apple ale when you can go for a real apple cider?

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: this bottle was provided as a tasting sample

The State of the Atlanta Sipping Scene

The State of the Atlanta Sipping Scene

Thirsty South has been covering the Atlanta drinking scene for a year now, and we must say that the state of the Atlanta sipping scene is STRONG. Whether you care about coffee, beer, wine, or cocktails, the past year has seen many good things. Here’s our take on the latest and greatest, with as many bad puns as we can fit in.

Coffee Is Roasting Hot, Percolating Wildly, Brewing Beautifully

If you need proof of how good, serious coffee is taking hold of this city, just consider that this past week Octane opened up the latest addition to its expanding empire: a new shop in Grant Park (check out their awesome espresso machine), joining the flagship Octane on the Westside and the mini-Octane “Pocket Bar” at the Bank of America Plaza as beacons of light in the haze of not-receding-fast-enough Starbucks-induced coffee coma. Meanwhile, Steady Hand Pour House is rocking and rolling and settling in nicely over in Emory Village. Empire State South is kicking what has to be the best coffee-bar-inside-an-award-winning-restaurant this side of the Mississippi. And Jason Dominy over at Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters is emerging as one of craft coffee’s leading evangelists, with “coffee ambushes” all over town converting unsuspecting onlookers into Clever Coffee Dripping devotees. All praise the bean. On the downside? Why can’t there be at least one great coffee bar in Buckhead? (Octane, here’s your neighborhood for store number four)

Beer Is Hoppin’ and Growling Ferociously

The beer scene, even more than coffee, has truly gone insane (in a good way) over the past year. No one would have guessed a year ago that fresh growler fills would be available all over Atlanta, from Whole Foods to Hop City to Ale Yeah! to The Beer Growler and what seems like another new place every other week or so. The Beer Growler got growlers going in Athens last December and Hop City led the charge here in Atlanta, and there’s no stopping the trend now. It seems inconceivable that Ale Yeah! wasn’t even around this time last year, but now Atlanta has multiple world class beer shops (Ale Yeah! and Hop City in particular) to join its world class beer bars (The Brickstore and The Porter in particular).  And places like Tower and Green’s have continued to step up with great selections of their own. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s bars and restaurants are putting more effort into their beer lists and supporting our local brewers more than ever. Speaking of… Jailhouse, Red Hare, O’Dempsey’s, Wild Heaven, Monday Night Brewing all hopped heavily onto the scene in the past year. Are you serious?!? This is crazy growth, and thankfully a lot of great beer is being churned out by these local upstarts who are standing proud next to stalwarts like Terrapin and SweetWater. Wild Heaven probably made the biggest splash, and their Avondale Estates brewery will be a welcome addition once they get it up and running, but Jailhouse is showing that they can also play with the big boys and make some of Georgia’s most adventurous beers.

GA Wine Is Winning, Atlanta Wine Shops (& Lists) Are Bubbly & Sparkling

The past year has seen some of Georgia’s wineries continue to impress in competitions and tastings, gaining broader awareness for their quality. Yonah Mountain got some great press for kicking Napa butt in a blind tasting. Wolf Mountain and Frogtown picked up a bunch of gold medals in Los Angeles and from the Tasters Guild International competitions, among many others. Closer to home, on the retail front, exciting boutique wine shops seem to be sprouting up all over town. Perrine’s, Le Caveau and H&F Bottle Shop all opened up in the past year, and all offer passionate perspectives and impeccable selections. They are everything that Total Wine is not, thank goodness. On the wine list side of things, Empire State South (again!?) introduced one of Atlanta’s most exciting lists, full of impressive Burgundy, Riesling and grower Champagne. Who could ask for anything more?

Cocktail Culture Is Strong, the Competition Is Stiff & Spirited

Getting a well made drink around town is easier than ever. Again, restaurants have shown that a bit of attention to their bar program can really pay off. And a spirited community of barkeeps (AKA mixologists) is stoking the collective talent and enthusiasm all around town.  H. Harper Station is our pick for the most noteworthy newcomer on the cocktail front, thanks to Jerry Slater and crew’s purposeful punch bowls and bourbon bravado. Barrel-aged cocktails hit the scene at Iberian Pig and Double Zero. And while Greg Best and team continue to set Holeman & Finch apart from the rest, Miller Union, Cakes & Ale, Abattoir, Leon’s, 4th & Swift, The Sound Table and Pura Vida all continue to churn out serious stuff from behind the bar. It’s a great list, but we could probably name ten more right behind them. Oh, and best use of shochu in a cocktail? Miso Izakaya, hands down. The only regret? That Pappy Van Winkle is just too damn hard to keep in stock.

In summary, it’s easy to see that the sipping scene is sizzling in Atlanta. The public is thirsty for excellence in all its forms, and thankfully we have purveyors, brewers, baristas and more ready to quench that thirst. We’ll drink to that.