I recently found myself 1200 miles from home in Atlanta with a completely free evening and made it my quest to scope out the local brewery scene. As any 21st century person would I took to the web to assist in determining how to spend this serendipitous moment.

SweetWater

SweetWater Brewing Company continued to pop-up in searches, news articles, and reviews. This place has clearly brought craft brewing into the mainstream in the southeast and promotes itself as one of the highest production craft breweries in the country (according to the Brewers Association they were #18 in 2014 – Summit Brewing was #28 in comparison).

The brewery is located in an industrial park north of the midtown area of Atlanta. The “tours” run from 5:30 to 7:30 and the charge when I attended was $10 for a souvenir pint glass, tour, and 6 half glass pours of whatever beers they had on tap – This is how they get around not being able to sell their beer, they sell tours and serve you beer! While they do run their tours throughout the night, chatting with the crowd and servers I found that many people use the brewery as a gathering place to drink a decent amount of quality craft beer for a decent price without ever taking the opportunity to go back into the production area. Fortunately for me this meant that I was able to get my own private tour of the brewery!

Dank TankHaving visited a fair share of microbreweries I was awestruck by the shear scale of this place.  Upon entering, there are racks upon racks of barrels (whiskey, bourbon, gin, tequila) where all kinds of miraculous brews are waiting for just the right time to be tapped.  In the entry area I also came across the “dank tank“, which is basically the pilot vessel for the brewery with an interesting character immortalized on the front.  According to an employee this is an homage to the ambiguously gendered prostitute who would hang around the brewery’s old location and would occasionally complete odd jobs around the brewery for beer.

The rest of the tour covered the usual equipment.  In passing they were emptying one of the fermenters and the remnants from the dry hopping were drained all over the floor.  I have had many exposures to wonderful hop aromas from both home brewing and drinking various high IBU brews, but having pounds upon pounds of hop sediment drained right before you is definitely a sensory experience my olfactories will remember.

Now to the important part, the beers! Like many popular craft breweries, a majority of SweetWater’s beer offerings had higher IBUs (EPA, IPA, double IPA). One beer that I did not try that was popular with many at the brewery (predominantly female or self proclaimed “regular beer” haters) was a blueberry infused pale. Here are notes from what I was able to sample:

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Georgia Brown: Knowing the hop onslaught was coming I went for the brown first. Malty, slight biscuit and nut. Pretty decent brown and a good way to start the evening.

Hop Hash: A “hop hash” infused double IPA.  While I admit I was first apprehensive that the “hop hash” was just a gimmick I was a believer after trying this brew. Strong hop aroma (piney and subtle fruit) well balanced with the malt.

420: This is their flagship brew.  Being an EPA I went in knowing full well that Summit EPA is a standard at home and that the bar was high. Body was a bit lighter than the Summit, distinct hop difference.  Overall I would drink this again but not unique enough to be a “go to” instead of the Summit (if they actually distributed in MN).

IPA: At this point I will admit my palate was pretty blown and my senses were recently rocked by the dumping of hop sediment from a fermenter. Overall it was a solid IPA with a good amount of citrus and medium-light malt profile.

Final Recommendation: If you happen to be in an area where SweetWater distributes, pick some up, and if you find yourself in the Atlanta area, I highly recommend a visit to the brewery. You will not be disappointed!

 

To wrap up the run west I’ve got a happy ending to report, but more of that later. After the Outlaw Saloon adventure we moved west to Reno. Stayed at the El Dorado ( again, a Priceline find) and wandered over to the Tractor Restaurant in Hurrah’s for a late dinner. Way too much food as the bacon infused waffle pile was mounded into a dish that was easily eight inches off the plate and the homemade hash platter was nearly as high with a tasty crab cake on top. We washed it all down with some corked Belgium, leaving the casino way too full.

The Happy Ending
But then, the happy ending. To wrap up things in an appropriate western way we stopped by the In and Out Burger in Daly City. It was on the way to the airport and finally have us a chance at a remarkable burger and collection of fries. Kyle tells me that the fries are cut just before they hit the fat and they tasted like it. We got the burgers “animal style” which added thousand island, onions, and some other needed additions. A great way to end the road trip.

Look for a normal Guys Night soon. Stay hungry.

So, the need to visit a real saloon got to be too great. Kyle and I decided to travel to Rock Springs, Wyoming to check out the saloon at the Outlaw Inn. Perfect setting with the only wait staff in the room having been at the job for a few decades and the locals collecting about the bar in cowboy boots and hats.

No taps but a reasonable lager from up the highway and the never miss Sam Adams lager available by the bottle- don’t think of asking for a glass. The music was a curious but good blend of classic rock and current country with our favorite being the country classic “but I just want to talk about me”.

the food
The chef downstairs at the restaurant made the meal and did not disappoint, although our Mancuisine pals may be less than happy with us. Rather than the usual burgers and fried goodness we went for a German trout platter and a blackened chicken Caesar salad. Both were great and will sit well with us during the long day in the car ahead. Turns out the cook invents something he’s never made before every Thursday and the Trout was this week’s offering. Served with thin potato pancakes and a curious mix of cabbage, tomato, and other stuff it really hit the spot.

Although the gal at the bar did ask what salad dressing we wanted on the Caesar salad she was great in all respects. Especially given that’s he had not been able to sneak outside for a smoke for the last three hours (as told to hotel staff stopping in for a beer before going home).

Given that last night we ate at a Mexican place called Carlos O’Kelly’s in Lincoln, NE (that’s right- O’Kelly’s) at least the outlaw name on the saloon seemed appropriate.

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While attending MacWorld in San Francisco a couple of us had the chance to sample a few local establishments. Here’s the review of one of them.

We walked past the Thirsty Bear one night when looking for a place to eat but the line was quite long. It’s proximity to the Moscone Center most likely draws many at the end of the conference day. Fortunately, a late lunch on Saturday was not a problem. Good thing as we had taken a two mile walk in the morning to the farmers market on pier three to get coffee before the conference and the stomachs were empty.

Isaac had a cheese and pepper sandwich dripping with butter and I had their pork and lamb burger. Both were very tasty and at a good price, especially at a place within a half mile of downtown and of the financial district. The sandwich was served with greens and vinaigrette and the burger with homemade fries. No complaints about either although the burger at Gather in Berkeley the night before was even better. Both places had a list of farms that each food was raised on and it certainly beat the supermarket and big box meats we have been eating lately. Good to have something that needs no seasoning to have flavor.

The help was attentive and upbeat. We have had great service everywhere in San Fran except at Lefty Odoul’s- but if the service had been too good at Lefty’s the place would have lost much charm. As I think about it that Pakistani-Indian place was a bit cool as well. More later.

At the Bear we sampled an IPA, an ESB, and a barrel aged dark ale. All brewed on site and all very good representatives of the species. The ESB, however, was a bit dark with some overtones of porter but was still very nice.

We’ll see if we can get a couple more reviews of San Francisco stops up in the next day or so.

MadisonSo, I’m in town for a conference that starts early tomorrow and it is today. Dinner will have to be out and about but- NO problem, I’m in Madison, Wisconsin! The last time I was here State Street was starting to look like Haight-Ashbury- very corporate. So, decided to take the advice of a good friend and sample the Cuisine of one of the businesses on Capitol Square. Madison has this phenomenal design with the Capitol building having four entrances and large green spaces in all the corners. The “two-blocks on a side” square surrounding it comtains a collection of street vendors, museums, bars, banks and protestors. Plenty to protest in Wisconsin politics today.

To the point, I went to the Old Fashioned on the square. It claims to be authentically Wisconsin in fare and Feng Shui so I stepped over the cow-pie on the sidewalk and entered. The place was hopping as I was seated at the loser bench- solo males all with the same conference folder. Made friends quickly and when Pauline came to take the beverage order I had received plenty of advice about the 150 beers available.  Woody’s Wheat from Sand Creek was my first choice.  When Woody arrived I was drawn into the Heirloom Tomato BLT with FRESH mozzarella cheese and a side salad with the house bourbon vinaigrette dressing.

The BLT arrived followed by Kiss The Lips IPA by Lake Louise Brewing. Great BLT!! Seriously Great. The couple who had been mistakenly seated next to me with their Viola case  had ordered the BLT and the mighty house hamburger.  Both were so good they had to each eat half of each to stay in the relationship. Bottom line- worth the stop. Prices were very reasonable and the food was varied. Help was pleasant and helpful and appeared to be mostly UWMadison students. I will have to return some time.

A final note. My grandfather was from Wisconsin and his favorite drink was the Old Fashioned. As a kid I often thought that his rosy cheeks were from all the cherries he had eaten in his drinks. I’m sure it is a tribute to grandpa that this place has SIX Old Fashions on the menu.  Back in Minnesota a barkeep would need to look at a book to figure out how to make one.  Final proof of Wisconsin Feng Shui, they have MANY jars of pickled eggs just waiting for your lips and stomach.  Need I say more?

During an extended evening walk from one end of San Fran to the other three of us were able to investigate the local color inside a few San Francisco neighborhoods. Brief details are in the boxes in the graphic below. Click to download the full map. If you are in town we’d recommend all of them, for different reasons.  Enjoy-

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