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Atlanta Revisited
March, 2000

By Bobby Bush

As close as it is (just five hours, mostly interstate), it seems like I’d get to Atlanta more often. This southern town that epitomizes urban sprawl has never been one of my favorite destinations. When business draws me there, however, there’s always a decent beer to be had, though the brewing landscape is changing.

Two northside brewpubs- Phoenix Brewing and Percy’s Fish House -both closed last year. Unfortunately, I never paid a visit to Percy’s. The good news is that on New Years’ Eve 1999, in the wake of 2000, a brand spanking new downtown Gordon Biersch opened on Peachtree Street. And, with any luck at all, Southend Smokehouse and Brewery will open their Atlanta location in April 2000.

On my most recent visit, just over two years ago, we stopped in on the state’s first brewpub, John Harvard’s Brew House (part of the Massachusetts chain- there’s also one in the north ‘Lanta suburb of Roswell [closed in 2000]), and Atlanta BeerGarten, both in the trendy Buckhead neighborhood. At that time, their level of priority toward beer differed widely. The former exhibited great respect, near reverence. The latter seemingly using beer only as a vehicle to their means. Things may have changed since then. Closer to downtown, is The Mill Brewery, Eatery & Bakery [new owners in 2000, it's called Park Tavern], one of a dwindling number of brewpubs owned by a Florida-based corporation. Of the five or six Mills that I have patronized, this by far is the best. I hope nothing has changed there.

With that little history out of the way, this one night stand took us to two relatively new brewpubs. Rock Bottom Brewery opened on Peachtree in June 1997. Part of the Big River Breweries, Inc. corporation that bought Gordon Biersch last year, this boisterous establishment shares a multi-story parking garage with the neighboring mall and offers valet parking. The bar was booming on this Wednesday night. Dining required a 30 minute wait for a table. Buzzing pager in pocket, we stood near the bar, hoping to catch the attention of the pumped up bartender. Cask Pale Ale and Cask Big Daddy Brown in hands, we wiled away the minutes watching others try to maneuver their way to the bar for liquid refreshment.

Still warm in my vibrating hands, I exchanged the pager for a table in one of several dining rooms, with sights set on buffalo fajitas. I was not disappointed by this Mexican treat or by the array of Rock Bottom beer. The hand pumped Pale, topped with a creamy white head, wafted a hoppy nose. It would prove to be a little hoppier in taste than the regularly carbonated version. And the Cask Big Daddy was very smooth with heavy chocolate character broken only slightly by a bitter end. With a name change or two, this Rock Bottom’s beers fit the company mold (not that that is bad) and included Hooch Pilsner, Southern Flyer Light Lager, The Loop IPA, Iron Horse Stout and the ‘98 GABF gold winning Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale.

All Rock Bottoms deliver consistently good and sometimes fantastic beer, great food and festive atmosphere.

Much closer to downtown, Max Lager’s American Grill & Brewery has been in business since 1997. Housed in an old two story structure that previously served as a car dealership, we were immediately directed upstairs. The lower level is reserved for dining and has only a tiny bar, but upstairs was where the action was anyway. Six copper fermenters and an equal number of serving tanks greeted us. Starting with a sampler tray, we worked our way through Max’s six standard ales and lagers. From the lager side there was Max Gold, Red and Dark. And in the ale corner were Max Pale, Brown and Stout. All were good, but I’m still wondering if the Pale Ale and Gold Lager weren’t from the same brew with different yeast. Really doesn’t matter, the Pale was a pleasant, sweetly hopped “West Coast Style,” while Gold was a classic pilsner. Red pined Vienna style with sweet tongue and Saaz hops finish, compare to the Brown, which was American style with fruity mouthfeel. Black lager exhibited ale-like texture until the thin dry ending, while the Stout was similar but better rounded. Brewed with cane sugar, which boost alcohol content, the seasonal Abbey was sweet and strong, just like a Belgian-style ale should be.

I’ve got to get back to Atlanta more often. The new Southend and Gordon Biersch offer plenty of enticement.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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