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.