I got back from Austin on Sunday.
For five days or so, I’d been there for the World Horror Convention. Now, before it starts to sound like I’m bitching about wasting my time, let me give you some perspective: First, I had fooled myself into thinking that there would be more movie-related and esoteric stuff there - things to look at, things to touch and listen to. Turns out, the convention was predominantly for horror writers. “Awesome, Will,” you say, ” Aren’t you trying to sell an agent or an editor on your horror novel?” Well, yeah. And that particular part of the following story is the happier part. But I really, really, really wanted to drink beer in Austin and watch horror movies all night. And maybe see some cool costumes. Now, I cannot fault the WHC for these omissions - it’s entirely my fault for not doing more research into what it’s all about - but even as I can’t fault them, I can’t help but be disappointed. Feh. I’ll know next time.
Second, I have come to mostly despise “writers’ conferences”. Except for the potential exposure to agents and editors, and the occasional appearance of a writer I absolutely love (in this case it was Peter Straub), I find most writers’ conferences to be an exercise in jockeying for attention and the repetition of a lot of stuff that I already know. (I may not act on this knowledge, sometimes to my detriment, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard 99% of it before. I don’t need another workshop on setting my scene or building my tension. Thanks.)
I need to note before I piss them off that the Aspen Summer Words Retreat last year proved to be an exception to this rule. I had a great time there, and I learned more than I have in a long time.
But again, I didn’t really want to go to yet another writers’ conference, even if it was for horror fiction specifically. Hell, for reasons I choose not to disclose in this public forum, I gotta say that the fact that it was a conference for horror fiction actually made it even less attractive.
So yeah, I felt like I was wasting a lot of time. It didn’t help that I’d just published a small short story collection on Kindle, and was trying to get it published on Nook and iPad as well, when all my efforts got interrupted. I didn’t have a laptop with me, so I left home unsure if the formatting on Kindle looked good, unable to finish getting the other HTML versions done, and incapable of adequately marketing and selling any of the versions. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should be doing in that regard, and mostly helpless to do it.
It also didn’t help that 6th and 7th Street in Austin were kind of far from the hotel. That’s where most of the bars and music venues are in the city, and they were a $20 cab ride away. So if I wanted to go downtown to hang out, I had to make a day trip of it. I did go down there - Thursday and Friday nights - but it would have been nice to be able to flit back and forth at my leisure. My best buddy Jay’s moving to Austin, so next time I’m there I’m staying at the Hilton, where he works.
Still, I was there for five days, and if you know me, then you know that I made the best of it. I always do. First, I got to see my old friend Deb Pagell. She moved to Austin about 4 or 5 years ago, and it was good to see her. While I was hanging with her and her cool, cool friends, I got to try a local IPA from Live Oak Brewing. It… was… awesome. I can imagine that it would become fairly average if it was bottled and shipped to Georgia. But in Austin, just around the corner from where it was brewed, it was so fresh and hoppy and delicious that I fell instantly in love.
I also got a chance to run over to Great Hall Games, a gaming store on North Lamar that made me miss the good old days in Atlanta when The Atlanta Game Factory and The War Room were open. Sure, I play games a lot despite not having a physical gaming store to visit, but there’s just something so enticing about playing in a place like that, surrounded by games. Great Hall Games also had an impressive array of loose bits - cubes, pawns, “meeples”, chips, cards - that you could buy to replace missing parts from your games. Or, if you’re like me and you fancy maybe designing a game or two, well, you can put together a nice set without having to “borrow” bits from your existing games. Loose bits = great idea. They sell them on their web site.
The hotel I stayed in, though too far away from downtown, was still great. The food and service was excellent, the room comfortable and big. The thing that really sold me though was that all the inner rooms had glass paneled double doors which opened onto a cloistered walkway, which in turn overlooked a spiffy courtyard and a swimming pool. The first night I was there, before the convention crowd actually arrived, I hung out on the walkway reading a book, drinking whiskey, smoking a good cigar, and feeling the spring breezes blow. What a great night - and then I got to go to sleep without an alarm clock to wake me up.
Finally, I did mention that there was some happiness involving my meetings with the editors and agents who attended the convention. I don’t want to get my hopes up or jinx myself, so I’m not going to go into great details here - just suffice it to say that those particular experiences made my day, and might make going to the World Horror Convention next year truly worthwhile.
I’ll keep you posted on that.
I have FINALLY caught up on all the sleep I lost this weekend. Note to self: no matter how much money you’re saving, ALWAYS get your own room. You’re a light sleeper, and you cannot abide snoring.
Some quick notes about Athens, GA, then on to the Brewfest and the beer.
Downtown Athens itself hasn’t changed much since I was there 10 years ago. Businesses come and go, but the atmosphere and attitude and overall appearance remains more or less the same. Most notable changes for me: The subtraction of that Chinese restaurant on the corner of Broad and College that we ordered so much shitty Chinese food from back in the day (a Five Guys has taken its place). The addition of Trappeze Pub on Hull Street, across from the Morton Theatre. Trappeze is as close as Athens gets to a Brick Store or Porter Beer Bar - a good but not overwhelmingly great selection, rotating taps, and decent pub food.
Oh, and in case you were hiding under a rock, The Georgia Theatre burned up. It’s still there, but the memories I have from there - GWAR, NIN, The Sundays, etc. - are all crispy now, and smell of smoke.
On the University of Georgia campus there are HUGE changes. Most of the old buildings are still there, but they all have additional electronic security stations (I still remember the old days when me, Bugsy, Kelly, and the rest of the Reed “Security” Team carded people who tried to get into the dorm) as well as handicap ramps. It’s sad that they need additional security. It’s good that the buildings are more wheelchair friendly now.
In addition to the old buildings, there’s a smattering of new ones, like the Zell Miller Learning Center. R.E.M. once wrote a song called Feeling Gravity’s Pull. I now believe that was just Michael Stipe waxing prescient about the various gravitional pulls from all the enormous new buildings. The Psych/Journalism complex seems so small in comparison….
One great thing about the Classic City Brewfest was the location: the Foundry Park Inn and Spa off of East Dougherty. A lot of beer festivals I’ve been to are mostly outdoors, and while I certainly approve of being outdoors drinking beer during Spring, it sometimes gets so hot that no amount of beer will cool you off, and there’s always good old pollen to contend with. The Brewfest had one outdoor “room”, but the majority of it was in banquet halls, meeting rooms, and the adjoining restaurant. You had to go from room to room to get your next beer, which was fine by me. Somehow, it prevented overcrowding, and there was always an air-conditioned option.
For the uninitiated, here’s how a beer festival works, more or less: you pay a flat amount of money and you get in, with a small sampler glass that you carry around from table to table, trying various beers from various breweries. You do this for hours - sample, sip, rinse, repeat. If you pace yourself, you can last until the festival is over. If not, well, you’re drunk, so who cares?
I tried a lot of beers. Some were old favorites that I had to have again. Many were new. Here’s a quick list of my honorable mentions in no particular order: Avery’s IPA in a can, Weyerbacher’s Double Simcoe IPA, Orange Blossom’s Coconut Porter, Bell’s Hopslam in a cask, Sierra Nevada’s Ovila, Heavy Seas’ Genesis 15, Rodenbach’s Gueze Boon, Rogue’s Brutal IPA/Bitter, Southern Tier’s 2x and Jahva, and whatever it was that Terrapin was serving up in a cask.
My favorites of the day were:
3) Lindemans Lambics Cuvée René - I’m just now starting to really get into sour beers, and this one puckered my lips in just the right way. It’s got a funky smell (funky in a good way, not funky as in sweaty socks) and it piles on green apples and lemons that linger long after you’ve swallowed. It’s possible that people who like wine but not beer might get into this one. It’s also possible that you’ll dig it if you like Sweetarts.
2) Moon River Brewing’s Rosemary Swamp Fox IPA - Yet another reason to visit Savannah. You might not think that a beer that tastes like flowers would be appealing, but this is delicious. It’s not the kind of beer you’d want several of, because the floral “feel” on your tongue might get tiresome, but the amazing complexity of flavor - flowers, spice, and beer - is certainly worth trying.
1) Peak’s Spring Simcoe Cask - My FAVORITE kind of beer, hands down, is a fresh green hop pale ale, and this one delivered. You visit this site enough, you’ll hear me espouse the virtues of beers that offer a hop flavor so fresh you can taste the grassiness, the earthiness of it. It’s hard to pull that off, but Peak did. I went back again and again to get samples from their Simcoe Hop cask, and I bought a six-pack of the beer the very next day.
A few thanks, then I’m done. Thanks to Jay for the hotel room, despite the noise. Thanks to Matt Simpson for the swag and samples. And finally, thanks to beer geek Matt Crowther for listening to what I liked and pointing me to the tables that would give me what I wanted.
Next up, The World Horror Convention….
I’m really excited by all the cool conventions and workshops and cruises I’m going on all spring and summer long, starting this weekend. Typically, when I’m about to attend this sort of shit, I always promise that I’m gonna Tweet the whole time and I’m gonna do a write-up of this or that whenever I get back, and then I NEVER Tweet it, and I only do a write-up about half the time.
That said, I DO plug these things quite a bit, both before and after - just not quite to the extent that I imagine I will, usually because I’m so immersed and having so much fun. I certainly hope that those involved - those who have monetary gain tied up in these cons and retreats - appreciate the free press I’m giving them. I hope they benefit from it. I guess if that they don’t benefit from the free press, then there’s no tangible reason for them to appreciate it, other than appreciating my fruitless, often noisy, mostly altruistic efforts.
So what’s happening in the near future? Well, in the months of April and May, which are otherwise filled with more birthdays and anniversaries than I can count, there’s this weekend’s Classic City Brewfest, the World Horror Convention at the end of the month, and next month’s East Atlanta Beer Festival.
Classic City Brewfest. I’m leaving this Saturday afternoon for Athens, GA with two of my best friends, Jay and Eddie. Jay’s an events manager at the Hilton Atlanta, and Eddie is one of the owners of the Ale Yeah! Craft Beer Market in Decatur. I think they’re awesome company for an excursion like this, and not just because of what they do for a living. They love beer as much as I do (maybe more), they’re fun, and like me, they attended UGA many, many, many years ago. While we’re there, we’ll likely have a few with my friend Matt Simpson, The Beer Sommelier. And hopefully, next week I’ll return to this site with a rundown of all the best beers we encountered at the Brewfest. And maybe with a raunchy tale or two to tell as well. Although not about Eddie, Matt, or me - we’re married. So I guess that just leaves Jay.
The World Horror Convention. I have no idea what to expect from this. All I know is that I LOVE horror movies and horror stories, and that I love Austin, Texas. So when I saw that there was a convention in Austin that covered all things horror, I just HAD to go. I tried to get my friends Darrell and Stephanie to go with me, but they fell through, and I’d like to take this opportunity to point out to them that I think they’re missing out…. I have nothing scheduled for my weekend there, although I did enter the Black Static short story contest, and I’m probably going to sign up to pitch The Talented Boys (it’s a horror novel after all) to someone. Otherwise, I’m winging it - meeting creepy people, watching horror movies, and drinking a shit ton of beer on Sixth Street.
East Atlanta Beer Festival. Not much to say on this one. Yet. Jay and I have gone to it several years running and always had a grand time. This year, Jay might not be able to go, but I think my friend Michael will go with me. And maybe Rob’ll grow a pair and stop bailing at the last minute. The EAB web site says tickets will go on sale early in April, but as of this writing, I’ve seen no movement in that direction. When they DO go one sale, I shall purchase some. VIP, baby - the only way to go.
You know, it’s been a while since I posted anything about the stuff I like. Except games. I suppose I HAVE posted a few things about the gaming phenomenon, but in those posts I really didn’t tell you anything about the games I’ve been enjoying of late. So let’s rectify that, shall we? Last week here in the United States we celebrated Thanksgiving, and during that slow and thank-filled day, I had time to reflect on some of the things I was enjoying. The things I am, in fact, thankful for. And now, whether you want to read all about it or not, I’m gonna share. Indeed, here are some of the things that Will Kenyon is digging these days- the things I’m drinking, watching, reading, playing, and listening to.
Beer and Booze
1) A few weeks ago, I was at Midway Pub in East Atlanta and got to hang out with some of the promotional reps of some of my favorite breweries, including Terrapin out of Athens, GA. That’s how I heard about the drop the next day of Terrapin’s So Fresh & So Green, Green. I really like fresh hop beers, so naturally I went to Green’s the next day and picked up a bottle. Holy shit. There are a lot of fresh hop beers running around on the market today, but the in-your face greenness of this beer’s aroma and flavor is the best I’ve ever had. If you want to know that the stuff you’re drinking truly comes from God’s green Earth, then this is your beer. Of course, it’s sold out across Atlanta, so that one bottle’s all I’m gonna get for a while.
2) I tweeted about this next one right after I had a bottle. And believe me, as good as it is, one bottle’s all you need of Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout. Hell, it’s like a dessert - you might not want more than a small glass. But you’ll want it, oh yes, you will. It’s in limited supply, and it’s probably gone by now, but if you see it anywhere, have some. Skip the tiramisu or the cake and have the crème brûlée instead. IT TASTES JUST LIKE THE ACTUAL DESSERT. And it’ll get you drunk, too, so that’s a bonus.
3) Eddie lives down the street. I’ve known Eddie for 10 years. Eddie and I have remained friends despite some trepidation and some serious falling outs. And now, Eddie has notched an enormous amount of respect from me, because Eddie is doing something I’ve only ever talked about. He’s opening his own store and selling something he has a passion for: beer. Eddie Holley is indeed one of the very few people I know who is more into beer than I am, and now, because of him, I have a new place to go for my beer adventures, and a new guide to show me the way. Ale Yeah! Craft Beer Market opens this week, folks. I’ll be among the first in line. If not the first. You should be the second.
Books and Literature
4) Last June I met Colum McCann at a writing festival. He had just won the National Book Award for Let The Great World Spin, and he turned out to be a cool cat, so when I got back home to Atlanta, I bought his book and put it on my bedside table. It sat there through the summer while I finished up a few books already in the queue. Then, about a month ago I picked it up and started reading. Ironically, you’d think something so beautiful and rich would be like candy to a baby - that I’d read the whole thing in a couple of days. But no. It’s taken me over a month. This bothered me at first, but then I realized why I’m taking such an inordinate amount of time with this particular book.
I don’t want it to end.
5) I haven’t started Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book yet (see above), but it’s next in the queue and I’m giddy for it. I’m so ready to start Gaiman’s latest children’s book (although I’ve been told that some of the concepts are WAY above children’s heads, and that some of it’s downright scary) that I may start reading it alongside McCann’s book. I’ve been know to simultaneous read like that before. This might be a time for it. I love Neil Gaiman. He doesn’t know this, probably doesn’t know who I am from Adam, but he’s a friend of mine.
6) Twenty-two people are reading MY book right now. Some of those people are agents and editors. Most of them are my friends. I’m excited to hear what each and every one of them have to say about The Talented Boys. Is it as over-the-top as I think it is? Is it as quirky as David Wong’s John Dies At The End? Is it a page-turner? Did I get the characters right? How was that sex scene? Did my changes at the end work? Was it scary? Gross? Funny? Pins and needles, people, pins and needles.
7 & 8 ) I have some friends who play a lot of different games. In truth, I don’t actually play that many, at least compared to them - although the average person not initiated into the world of gaming might say my 300 or so games is a lot. Still, when I find a game I like, I tend to be loyal to it, and while I’m always looking for something new and cool to try out, I never fear busting out an old standby and playing the shit out of it. Many of my games are worn thin - I’m currently wearing out my third copy of Twilight Imperium.
Two newish games have emerged in the past weeks as being top of the heap for me, though. I’ll move on to my favorite standby in a moment. For now, allow me to introduce you to Glory To Rome and Innovation - two CARD games that hit that sweet spot for me. In Glory To Rome you’re a Roman Senator trying to rebuild burned buildings, all for the glory of Rome (and since you win the game by having the most influnce, it’s also for the self-serving purpose of asserting your power over your constituents and fellow Senators). In Innovation - which has, appropriately enough, a fairly innovative mechanic - you’re a society trying to build your scientific and societal strengths. I’ve heard it said that it’s Civilization stripped down to just the tech tree, and that seems accurate enough of a summation.
9) My favorite standby at the moment is Railroad Tycoon. I took it down to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving in the hopes of playing it with my brother and sister-in-law and… my daughter Madeleine. It didn’t get played, and the hole that omission left in me was remarkable enough to, well, remark upon. I DID get to play it this weekend with my friends Jim and Ken, and now I just want to play it again and again. I am really anxious to play it with Mad.
And… crap. This post’s already exceeding the word count I like to maintain with my posts. So I suppose I’ll have to sign off for now and hold my choices in Movies, Music, and Television (numbers 10 through 15!) until next time. Which will be soon, I assure you. Maybe tomorrow, probably Tuesday. In the meantime, digest what I’ve said - consider these things my recommendations, and if you think I might have any modicum of taste, check ‘em out. Except the Terrapin, of course. It’s sold out, so we’re all out of luck there.
Hmm. Maybe Eddie can hook me up.
A few weeks ago, Jay and I went to Sweetwater’s Brew Your Cask Off Festival, where 75 local entities (bars, non-profits, etc.) had answered Sweetwater’s call to make casks of unique, one-of-a-kind, sometimes highly experimental beer by adding their own ingredients to a base of Sweetwater’s creation.
I found out last week that MY FAVORITE beer of the evening - the Knobzilla Vanilla Oatmeal Stout, created by Wes Anderson, Beer Program Manager at the Cypress Street Pint and Plate, with help of course from the folks at Sweetwater - won the People’s Choice Award for best beer.
For the beer geeks reading this, here at Beer Advocate is a summary of the beer and an overview in Wes’s own words about how they went about making this fine, fine brew.
I also found out, via Wes, that Cypress Street was hosting a Beer Geek evening in which they would tap the LAST EVER cask of Knobzilla Vanilla. So naturally, I HAD to go there, so that I could taste the beer one more time, and congratulate Wes.
Congratulations again, Wes! And all of you who worked to make this drinking man happy. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but I’m gonna add my voice to the chorus: Sweetwater! Get Wes’s recipe! Make this beer a rotational brew! I want to drink it again!
One last thing: I think the idea of having a regular Beer Geek evening, wherein the hosts tap a keg of something new and exciting every week, is a great idea. Many of my favorite local bars already have events like this, and I’m please to see that Cypress Street has added itself to the roster of places I can go to have such a treat. Cypress Street’s Beer Geek evenings are on Tuesdays, starting at 7 pm.
It’s Monday!!! My original plan was to write about Sweetwater’s cool idea for a festival the minute I got back home from it, thinking at first that it would be an afternoon thing the way a lot of these events are. Turns out it was an evening thing, so I decided to write about it the DAY AFTER. Well, scratch that as well. It’s MONDAY!!! Two days later. I’m OK, BTW.
And here’s the skinny….
For those who don’t know (And you SHOULD KNOW, because Sweetwater’s beer is among the best that small breweries in America have to offer. If you live in the Southeast and don’t know Sweetwater, then you should probably just keep drinkin’ yer Bud and don’t talk to me.) Sweetwater Brewery is a local Atlanta establishment, founded in 1997 by friends Kevin McNerney and Freddy Bensch. Their beer has won awards year after year, and their rotating “Catch and Release” seasonals are ALWAYS at the top of what I choose to drink.
A while back, Sweetwater put this weekend’s festival into motion - the premise being that 75 local entities, ranging from local bar establishments to organizations like the Atlanta Humane Society to local beer and food celebs, would create casks/kegs of original beer using base ingredients provided by Sweetwater. Then Sweetwater would charge admission to us “lay folk” and have us all come in for a huge tasting.
A worthy experiment, and one I’m happy to have participated in.
My buddy Jay and I showed up about 6:15, got our tasting glasses and a “guide” to all the would-be brewers and what they had to offer, and went straight to our first cask. The weather was awesome - I think it’s a sign that God decided to relent on the Atlanta monsoon season long enough for us to get our beer on.
The beers were laid out in tight rows under a series of big white tents. You walked up to a person manning (or womanning) each station, asked for a taste of what they were pouring, got it, and walked away to drink it. Sometimes the crowd was a little thick, but most everyone was congenial and generous about getting out of the way - we all knew better than to stand between a beer fan and his/her beer. In addition to the rows of casks, we had Mellow Mushroom pizza and what looked and smelled like some curry dish available to us, as well as a variety of informational booths offering… information. On topics.
Also, Sweetwater had their regular kegs available inside, if you wanted to go with the tried and true. Jay and I did that once - at the suggestion of my friend Matt Simpson, The Beer Sommelier, we went inside and got a pour of Sweetwater’s own quad Belgian. It was OK, but neither Jay nor I are huge Belgian drinkers, so we soon returned to the grand experiment.
Jay’s a hop head to the bone. That means he prefers beers with a huge hop kick - beers like Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute and HeBrew’s Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA. I’m also a hop head (my favorite beer last year was Moylan’s Hopsickle, hands down) but lately I’ve been really into stouts and porters with super complexity and more malt than hops.
I tell you that because we all had the opportunity to vote on our favorite cask, and our current tastes heavily influenced what we ultimately voted for. I’ve checked the Brew Your Cask Off! Festival web site, and as of this writing, they haven’t posted a winner - if they ever do post one, that is. When they do, I’ll follow up this post with an announcement.
If you ask me, with some exceptions (yes, there were some failed experiments) every beer was a winner, because every beer had a unique flavor and approach. And every person there won a little something, because they quite possibly got to taste things that NOBODY will ever taste again.
That said, let me tell you a few beers I’d LIKE to taste again. Except for my “Number One”, these are in no particular order.
Will’s TOP TEN from Sweetwater’s Brew Your Cask Off! Festival/Tasting:
- South Atlanta Home Brewers’ Brown-Eyed Cask - an excellent, if common, dark, hoppy, oaky beer.
- Wild Wing Cafe’s Asshopper Ale - Tastes like a typical dark ale until you let it sit there a second. Then… peppermint! No shit.
- Green’s Hop Cocktail - Green is the name of the place, and if I recall correctly, also the way the hops tasted.
- Atkins Park’s Morning After Pill - What was that finish? I couldn’t identify it.
- Charlie Mopps’s All Hopped Up - For us hop heads, a delicious Double IPA.
- Brickstore Pub’s Sticky Bun Stout - Didn’t look dark like a typcial stout, but who cares. Sweet, baby, sweet. (Literally).
- Park Tavern’s Kona Koconut Porter - Yep. Pretty in-your-face coconut flavor.
- Team United Distributors’ Beer Guys Untied IPA - This one was Jay’s favorite. Quad-hopped = enough to make you pucker.
- Porter Beer Bar’s It’s Nuts In Here - Really green, almost mossy. Kind of like tea, you know?
And my favorite beer?
Cypress Street Pint & Plate’s Knobzilla Vanilla Oatmeal Stout. Concocted by CSP&P’s Wes Anderson, the Knobzilla was a brilliant mix of outstanding malts with hints of coffee and chocolate and an ingenious infusion of whiskey that made it smooth and sweet and subtly complex. Fucking great beer.
Thank you, would-be brewers, for giving us inspirational, imagination, flavorful beer, and thank you Sweetwater, for helping them along.
I know a lot of you are old enough to remember Cheers, and you remember the opening song, how it went:
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name
You may also remember how, whenever Norm would walk in, he’d say, “Hey, everybody,” and everybody would say, “Norm!”
Well, Norm - even for the drunk that he was, even though he bemoaned his life and his relationship with his wife - was in truth a very lucky man, because he WAS the guy who had that place - that place where everybody knew his name.
I feel lucky as well, because I have a place like that. And even though there are bars in the ATL with better food and better beer selection, there is no place on Earth like my favorite bar: the East Point Corner Tavern.
It’s down the street from me, literally 5 blocks away - stumbling distance, as many would say (especially those who’ve seen me stumble home). And when I’m there, I feel as safe and welcome as I do in my own home - sometimes safer and more welcome. Plus, believe it or not, I usually don’t keep booze or beer in my house, and there’s ALWAYS booze and beer at the Tavern.
Get this: when I walk into the Tavern, usually in the mid-to-late afternoon, I usually walk in and say, “Hey, everybody!” and several people will always say, “Will/Bill!” (That’s my nickname, because of the confusion over what people call me, which is in fact… both.)
It’s a scene right out of a beloved and trendsetting sitcom.
If you’re visiting for the first time, then I suggest you eat there. Like I said, there are places that MIGHT have better food than the Tavern, but I have NEVER had a bad meal there, and it’s always consistently inventive and tasty. As a side note - although they have excellent “never been frozen” fries, I usually get a side of green beans or asparagus with my sandwiches and hamburgers. I don’t know what they do that makes said side dishes so fucking good, but it’s always reassuring that while I’m consuming something that’s so bad for me (alcohol) I’m at least eating my vegetables.
Of all the Corner Taverns, owned and operated by Mike Rabb, Jayson Da Luz and I THINK one other person, East Point’s establishment has in the past had the absolute WORST beer selection - but I know that this was because it’s a business, and the clientele inherent to East Point have not in the past been the most discerning of beer drinkers. Why stock beer that won’t sell, right?
Ah, but thanks to some small changes - and the awesome addition of an additional row of taps - I can now go in and drink some of my FAVORITE beers, like Dogfish Head’s 60 and 90 Minute ales, Victory’s Prima Pils, and Kona’s Pipeline Porter. And I bet that if I asked really nicely for Andrea Kruse to score my current favorites - Dale’s Pale, the Great Divide Yeti, and Moylan’s Hopsickle - she’d make every effort to have some waiting for me when I returned. It’s like that.
The idea for this blog post came to me a week or so after I stopped writing articles about Atlanta bars for Examiner.com (ask why I stopped and I’ll tell you, but it’s not something I should bring up in a loving, positive post like this one). While I worked for Examiner, I was limited to lauding only bars in Atlanta proper, and East Point Corner Tavern didn’t qualify. BUT IT’S MY FAVORITE BAR, hands down.
I finally started writing this post on Monday, and here it is Friday and I’m just now finishing it up. The point of telling you all that is because, coincidentally, today, THIS Friday, is the last day for Miss Starr Neel, one of my current favorite bartenders at the East Point Corner Tavern. The fact that she’s leaving and that I’ll miss her should give you some indication of how much I adore this bar. I don’t think a lot of people genuinely miss the people who serve them beer when those people go away and the beer is still flowing. It’s kind of like when Coach died on Cheers (although Starr isn’t dying, she’s just moving to Denver).
So yeah, I dig the booze and the food, but most of all, I dig the people who work there and most of the people who go there - at least the ones who are as regular as I am (the ones who recognize something great when they see it). I dig Mike and Jayson and Deb and Angelica and Amy and Anna and Heather and Andrea and Starr and Deedlebug and Tony and Candace and Chris and countless other people who’ve come and gone while I keep coming and going as well.
And speaking of going, I’m finished with this post, and I’m headed to guess where.
This past weekend I had the opportunity – as I often do – to do two of my favorite things simultaneously: drink delicious American microbrew beers and play board games. This time around, though, was a little different, because I’m gonna blog about what I played and what I drank.
Read this, dear reader, and it’ll be like you were there.
One reason why I feel like blogging about last weekend was because of all the new things I was trying – new beers AND new games.
So… last Thursday I drove to Kennesaw, which is far, far away from where I actually live; I did this because in Kennesaw I can get my games at a discount. Two of the games I picked up were Thebes and Ad Astra, two “Euro” style games, one of which I like a lot and the other which I was curious about since I like the game designers. Those who know me know that neither of these games are typical of what I enjoy. But if you keep reading, you’ll understand why I bought these games which are so far afield of what I usually like.
While I was in Kennesaw, I decided to stop off at Total Wine and More and buy a 6-count variety pack of beer. Summer just ended, as you know, and autumn is my favorite time for beer, since a lot of good fall and winter beers get released, and its Octoberfest season. Plus, I’d been floundering around all summer trying to find something crisp and light and tasty (i.e. summery!), and realizing that I don’t really like crisp and light and tasty – I prefer dark and heady and tasty.
So I ended up buying a variety of stouts, porters, and pale ales, some of which I’ve had before, some of which I haven’t. I took these beers home, stuck them in the refrigerator, and started opening up my new games. By Saturday the beers were chilled, all the games punched and organized, and all the rules read.
Saturday I sat down with my friends Jay, Eddie, and Freitag and laid into both the games and the beer. We had a grand old time, but that’s beside the point – at least the point I want to make here. Instead, here’s a blow by blow rundown of several of the beers I drank as well as three of the games we played.
Beer #1 - Left Hand Imperial Stout: Imperial stouts are my drink of choice this year – I like the richness of them, the way the beer lingers in your mouth (beer aficionados would call this chewiness), the complexity of flavors available in a beer this rich. So by default, I like Left Hand’s entry into this genre. I will say, though, that this beer is actually lighter than many of its counterparts. So if you’re looking for a more full version of an imperial stout, this isn’t it. But for those who like lighter beers, this might be something you enjoy more than say, a Yeti or even a Rasputin.
Beer #2 - Great Divide St. Bridget’s Porter: Speaking of Yeti, this beer is from the fine purveyors of that most auspicious beverage ( my current favorite). But this one? Not so good for me. You have to understand, though, that THIS IS A MATTER OF TASTE. While I like richer beers, and I dig licorice hints, berry hints, chocolate hints, I don’t like charcoal. I can tolerate a certain level of charcoal-y flavor, but when it gets overbearing, I get turned off. Now, overbearing to me might not be the same as it is to you – for instance, I know that Eddie is much more tolerant of “charcoal” than I am. Keep that in mind. Try this beer and taste for yourself.
Game #1 - Chaos In The Old World: I actually didn’t buy this one – Eddie brought it over at our request. CITOW is a game based on the Warhammer universe – a place I’ve avoided by avoiding miniature gaming and the Warhammer card game. But the premise for this game – that you are one of the old powers of chaos vying for control over the ruination of the world – and the attractiveness of the game components, made me want to try it.
I’m glad I did. The game is pretty simple, and the strategies don’t run very deep, so the time it takes to play – an hour or two – works well. There’s decent variety/replayability in the fact that each “power” approaches his victory in a different manner. Also, it’s one of those games where you have to start wailing on people as soon as you’re out of the gate, so no “turtling” or inadvertent “cold wars.”
It’s fast-paced, it seems balanced, it’s highly interactive, and it’s fun. As games should be. I didn’t buy it last Thursday. But I will.
Beer #3 – Tommyknocker Pick Axe: It boasts on the label that it’s a pale ale, and I guess that’s what it is. But what an unusual pale ale. It has all the trappings of a typical ale of this variety – hoppiness barely offset by the malt, a full front and a kick to the finish. But lemme tell you about that finish: it’s fruity, which is way unusual. And in this case, really good. This was my favorite new beer of the evening – I like Mountain Dew, and with this beer, I got my lemon-lime on. Sort of.
Game #2 – Ad Astra: It’s made by Fantasy Flight, and the premise is that you’re a sub-race of human who’s out exploring space, since our sun is dying. But all similarities to the space-faring “Ameritrash” games that I enjoy ends there. This is a worker placement, resource management, and tile exploration game – a Euro in disguise. A Euro in space.
Fooled me. I bought it.
Still, I enjoyed it, as I typically enjoy most “European” games the first time I play them. At least it’s not scripted – there’s no set move you have to make in order to optimize your position. And one really cool thing is that the “worker placement” aspect, which is actually the placement of a series of cards, is done in secret – a la orders in Diplomacy and A Game of Thrones. So you can’t know what someone else is planning – you can only anticipate. That makes things interesting….
Ad Astra will get played, but I don’t think it has the replayability of more varied games.
Beer # 4 - Dogfish Head Midas Touch: Dogfish Head is a brewery that is constantly experimenting with recipes, and this is no exception.
This beer – which isn’t really a beer, but more of cross between a mead and wine – comes from “ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas.” The bottom line for me is that it’s really sweet, which makes it something I won’t drink too much of in a night. But BECAUSE it has such an unusual and full flavor, one or two Midas Touches make an excellent addition to an evening of drinking.
Game #3 – Thebes: When I tell people I like Thebes they say: “But it’s a Euro!”
Oops. You know, I guess I should post an explanation of what is meant by “Euro” and “Ameritrash”. So go here, read this thread started by my friend Matt Thrower, and I think you’ll get it.
Thebes is not a Euro by my definition. You’re not trying to build to the next level of civilization. You’re not placing workers or choosing roles to optimize your resources and constructs. You ARE gathering resources, but they aren’t bricks or hay or cow turds. They’re books and knowledge, which help you to eventually travel to one of 5 archaeological sites and dig in the dirt.
And here’s where the game varies from most other games I’ve seen – you have to maximize your “dig” potential – but regardless of how much digging you do, luck has to play a factor. You see, when you “dig”, you actually pull tiles out of a bag. Those tiles MIGHT have treasures on them. They MIGHT be empty. I’ve seen players go to the bag, draw 3 tiles, and score 14 points. And I’ve seen players go to the bag, draw 12! tiles, and all of them were dirt.
I love that shit.
Would it be too “punny” to say I dig it?
So there you have it: some beers I recommend for your drinking pleasure (and maybe one I don’t), and some games I think everybody who even remotely likes games ought to try.
These are a few of my favorite things….
As it happens, a friend of mine now works for a beer distribution company in south Alabama where my brother lives, and this friend - Chase - wanted me to help him scout out some breweries for his company to look out for. This came shortly after Alabama lifted its ABV restrictions to 13.9%, which opens the way for a lot more variety in the beer selection there.
As it also happens, Chase and my brother and their whole crowd are very much “mass produced” beer drinkers, with Bud Light and Natty Light being the swills of choice. Chase has sampled a lot more variety simply because of his job, and my brother Ray has had more variety from traveling and because of me, but “bringing the beer” was gonna be an interesting “sell”, if not a tough one.
The beers you see in that picture to the left are some of the ones I brought. And we drank them all. This thing that I’m writing now is sort of the rundown of those beers, why I chose them, and what the overall reception was.
Before I break it down, though, I gotta tell you a couple of interesting things I learned by talking to Ray and Chase. First, Chase told me about some of the odd policies that some breweries have regarding who can carry which of their beers. I was actually surprised to find that some brewers won’t let their beers be sold side by side with certain competitors. That flies in the face of the whole “we’re in this together” mentality that I perceived among the small-time breweries out there. I suppose I can accept that there’s gonna be some fierce competition, considering that their “audience” is relatively small (although it is growing!) but I guess it’s fiercer between some than it is between others. And all of them have to be on the offensive/defensive against the mass market guys, who always have the money and resources to elbow in on certain flavors and varieties and edge out the little guys with abysmal imitations backed by slick ad campaigns. Still, if any of you brewers out there read this, and you have a specific reason for not allowing a certain distribution “combo,” enlighten me. I’m not gonna give out your secret, but I am waaaay curious.
Another thing I learned is that, silly as the alcohol restrictions in my state of Georgia are, Alabama has some even more fucked up policies, and most of those fucked up policies stem from people in the religious right strong-arming state lawmakers into making everyone adhere to their religious dogma. Here’s the deal with that: I believe that fundamental religious people vote more than alcohol consumers and less dogmatically religious people do, and that makes their voice and money more vital for policy-makers, even though the uber-religious gotta-infringe-on-your-rights-so-you-don’t-commit-a-sin folks are in the minority. (Are they in Alabama? Someone enlighten me there, too.)
So here’s the deal: if you like alcohol or you think that drinking or purchasing alcohol should be a personal choice, then vote more often. Vote every chance you get. The fruitcakes vote, and so should you.
OK. Stepping off soapbox. On to the beer.
1. Yeti Imperial Stout by Great Divide. This is what I started them with. It was a specific request from Chase, and I’m not sure why he requested it, because this dark, chocolaty imperial stout is practically the opposite of Bud Light. The head on the Yeti is darker than most ales, and this beer has the consistency of motor oil - not fizzy water. Personally, I like this beer a lot - it’s very representative of what imperial stouts have to offer. So you can imagine I had no complaints when I ended up finishing the bottle by myself (Chase and Ray drank a little and were ready to move on).
2. Victory Prima Pils. Victory is one of the breweries Chase’s company is courting, and for “session” drinking - when you plan on drinking a lot of a single type of beer - this is currently one of my favorites. I think it’ll go over well with Chase’s potential audience, and after he and Ray tasted it, they agreed. For you, dear reader, it’s a solid lighter choice, a pilsner with just enough IBUs (that’s a measurement of bitterness for the lay person) to make it more interesting than Heineken.
3. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale. Currently, this big hoppy IPA is one of my favorites. My brother decided to grill that evening, so we had an assortment of sirloin and New York strip to chow on, along with potatoes and grilled zucchini. As luck would have it, dinner was served just as I cracked open the Torpedo I’d brought along. Allow me to say simply this - I like IPAs a lot, but I’ve never really paired one with a steak (I don’t eat a lot of steak). This pairing - the Torpedo and the sirloin - was incredible. I’ll do it again, and you should try it, too. BTW, Chase and Ray liked the Torpedo, but unfortunately Chase’s competitor already has a contract with Sierra Nevada.
4. Three Philosophers by Ommegang. I personally prefer IPAs and stouts to Belgian-style ales, but I like Ommegang a lot - the freshness of an American-brewed Belgian vs. an imported one is distinct enough to taste. Also, the cherry finish on their Three Philosophers is a strong selling point for me. Apparently, it’s a selling point for my brother as well - this was his favorite of the evening, and he’s asked me to bring him some down when I come back to visit. Of course, Chase could always get a contract with Ommegang and Ray would always have Three Philosophers available….
5. Dale’s Pale Ale by Oskar Blues Brewery. While the idea of quality beer in a can fascinates me, I have to admit that the variety I brought was breaking down at this point, especially as I was discovering that Chase and Ray didn’t have the taste for hops that I have, and several of the beers that follow are on the hoppy side. I brought the hops because it’s summer, when I prefer to trade malt for hops. This unassuming piece of canned heaven packs a lot of hops - not the most I’ve ever tasted, but enough that I consistently buy Dale’s for “sessions.” And Dale’s isn’t even my favorite offering from Oskar Blues.
6. Chimay Red. Nowadays, I find typical Belgians like this one kind of uninteresting, but I figured it was representative of a beer style Chase would need to pursue. Sure enough, he brought over a Piraat which we didn’t open, but that I find similar in taste to Chimay. My brother actually liked the Chimay (not as much as the Three Philosophers, though!), so I guess we discovered a niche beer style he’s going to enjoy for a while.
Which brings me to a point that I made in my very first blog post about beer - that even the most dedicated Budweiser drinker could probably find a flavor or variety in all the varieties out there that would please him (or her) enough to make a break from the mass-produced market.
7. Abita’s Strawberry Lager. Which brings us to Derrick. Derrick is Ray’s good friend and almost next door neighbor, a hilarious ragamuffin of a guy - imagine if Gilligan was outspoken and actually stood up for himself. Anyway, we cracked open this strawberry-flavored concoction from Abita, and Derrick wouldn’t let anyone else have any. Derrick’s preferred libation is Natural Light, so there you have it - my point made in spades. For myself, when I first tried the Strawberry Lager, I was expecting a lambic-style sweet drink or at the very least an imitation of Pete’s Strawberry Blonde. Abita’s drink, however, is much better than either, because while the strawberry is certainly present, it is never overpowering. Not something I’d drink every day, but certainly something worth having a few times over a hot summer.
8. Rogue Dead Guy Ale. It was getting dark when we opened this one, and I thought we were opening the next one down (the Donkey Punch). So I was surprised when my hops-resistant friends actually liked this beer. Then I looked and saw that they had actually opened this malty, dry, brown bock-style beer. Since these guys were familiar with Amber Bock, I was no longer surprised. A step up, though, so mission accomplished.
9. Sweetwater Donkey Punch. This is the latest offering from Sweetwater’s Dank Tank, their single vat dedicated to the truly experimental and unique. Well, a few year’s back the Donkey Punch would have been experimental and unique, before places like Moylan’s went hop crazy and places like Dogfish Head went off the infusion deep end. Now the Donkey Punch (which, because of censorship policies now bears the double entendre moniker DP) is pretty standard. This doesn’t make it a bad beer - it’s not - but it makes it kinda… normal. Except for the name.
10. Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale. Naturally, we all had a good time reading the label of this strong red ale, which echoes the sentiments I have toward mass-produced beer almost exactly (including the arrogant stance: fuck fizzy piss beer). For them, the Arrogant Bastard went over well enough, but I think it was too late in the evening for it to make a lasting impression. For me, this ale represents a typical red or brown ale, except that when you’re sitting down and drinking it, I mean really paying attention to what you’re drinking, the complexity of the flavor is astounding.
And that’s it. That’s what we plowed through, the four of us - me, Chase, Ray, and Derrick - on a Monday night in July, with the temperature a balmy 85 degrees (at night!) and the fireflies and mosquitoes battling for our attention.
Fortunately, most of our attention was focused on the beer.
During the last Georgia legislative session (back in February, to be precise), a bill came before committee which would lift the statewide ban on alcohol sales on Sunday. The bill failed. While in the state of Georgia we are finally allowed to purchase alcohol in bars and restaurants on Sunday, alas, we cannot go to our local grocery or liquor store to purchase something we can enjoy in the privacy of our own homes.
Now a new effort has begun to lift the ban, and grant the decision to allow alcohol sales to individual municipalities. While the original effort focused on lobbyist efforts, this one will focus more on publicity and public awareness. In a sense, that is one of the purposes of this post – to let readers know what has happened, and what they can do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
According to Zak Koffler of the Young Democrats of Georgia, during the presentation of the bill earlier this year, “Members of our state legislature decided to pander to the religious extreme to gain support for their campaigns for higher office. Among those leaders are names that you will be hearing a lot of in the near future: David Shafer, Casey Cagle and Eric Johnson.” Indeed, Shafer, Johnson and Cagle are considering running for either the state governorship or lieutenant governorship in the future, and the money and influence of the powerful fundamentalist lobby is an important political consideration.
Some points for you to consider as you explore further:
- I am biased, and shamelessly so. In some articles I wrote elsewhere, I covered the details of why the ban makes little sense: the first one is here, the second here, and the final one here.
- Support for this bill is bi-partisan. Politicians on both sides of the aisle recognize that “safety” concerns are mostly bogeymen, that revenue from Sunday sales will help area businesses, national businesses, as well as government coffers, and that the ban on Sunday specifically is a direct violation of the separation of church and state.
- Everyone involved recognizes that religious extremists are not the only people who oppose the bill. Some other businesses do as well – but they are a small and not nearly as “persuasive” group. Also, and yeah this is kind of callous on my part, their losses would be minimal compared to the gains everywhere else.
- This is not an “attack” against religion. The truth is, this is a blow for personal freedoms. What you do on Sunday should be up to you: if you want to spend the day interacting with your God, then you should be allowed to do so. By the same token, if you want to get a six pack and watch the game at home then… you should be allowed to do so.