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Nov 25, 2014

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The Quest
December, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Okay, hereís the deal. Iíve never made a New Yearís resolution and I wasnít about to start just because last yearís 2000 calendar had a different look. But Iíve always set goals, mostly little goals, for myself. And as the early onset of cold winter pushed 2000 into 2001, the target was looking formidable.

I started visiting brewpubs and microbreweries back in late 1990 and began keeping a list of them shortly after that. In the early days, especially while I resided in California, the numbers grew quickly. Everywhere I went, new breweries were popping up, growing like kudzu on a hot, sticky summer day. Back in September 1999, I enjoyed lunch and a round of taster glass brews at Charlie & Jakeís BBQ & Brewery. It was a nice place, good beer, friendly bartendress, but thatís not why this Melbourne, Florida brewpub is so memorable. It was the 400th different brewpub on my spreadsheet.

So now, just 14 months later, the pursuit for number 500 had almost petered out. Not that Iíd lost interest or had quit traveling. I hadnít. But the easy ones were already on my list. I was stuck at 494, spread over 31 states, and time was running out. So, three days before the real millennium, the missus and I head south. Neither rain nor snow nor cold bone-rattling wind could stop us now. Hot ĎLanta, here we come.

It had been more than a year since my last trip to the hub of Georgia and the landscape had changed somewhat. Gordon Biersch, part of the Chattanooga-based brewpub chain, had opened a year ago. And The Mill had new owners and a new name, Park Tavern. On previous visits, Iíd stuck pretty much to the downtown and Buckhead areas. This trip would be different. I needed at least six new brewpubs to fulfill my quest and there were plenty of breweries in the uncharted suburban sprawl encircling Atlanta. So thatís where we started.

It has almost gotten to the point that I canít slip in anywhere unnoticed. Even though Buckhead Brewery & Grill brewer Gary Essex was expecting us, we decided to sneak lunch at the bar since we arrived earlier than expected. Guess my note pad, camera and ceaseless questions were a dead give away. At least I didnít jump up and down and scream ďthis is number 495Ē or something incoherent like that.

This new (open November 2000) log cabin brewpub in Cumming, a northern skirts town, is Buckheadís third. It all started in Tallahassee in 1995 with the second Buckhead opening later in Stockbridge, southeastern Atlanta. The layout in Cumming is spacious (seating about 300), C-shaped bar right up front, high ceilings, shellacked log walls, upstairs loft with more dining, pool room in the back, stuffed deer and other animal heads, a central fireplace and friendly waitstaff. We ordered our sampler tray, Campfire Chili and Gator Tails (fried, served with horseradish sauce) appetizers, then listened politely while Tiffany, our seasoned though exuberant bartendress, described each brew.

Then we started with the cloudy, unfiltered Hefeweizen, which presented a sour peach taste from its light, unfiltered body. Buck Light was golden and clean, a typical, drinkable tricycle beer. Hops jumped from the glass of Hop Island IPA. This medium bodied brew was very nice, leaving a lingering bitter aftertaste. Seasonal Winter Ale was thick and smooth. This ultra-malty ale, with a little smoked malt taste buried somewhere, took a 2000 GABF gold medal in the Strong Scotch Ale category. The last of the Buckhead beers available on this blustery day was Black Diamond Stout. Flat and silky with a coffee beans meet the roaster malt taste, this dark ale left a tell-tale trail of mocha long after the last swallow.

Sorry, no Budweiser here. Buckheadís other beers, though not on tap at the time, include Red Hills Amber (a brown ale), Ten Point Porter (lowly hopped, no black or roasted malt), Panther Pale Ale (toned down version of Hop Island IPA) and Oktoberfest (brewed with a traditional recipe using toasted malt). Renegade IPA took 2000 GABF bronze. Definitely merits a return trip.

As we sat in comtemplation, we overheard two locals sampling beer nearby. They seemed amazed at this new concept, a brewpub right in their suburban locale. What will they think of next in Cumming, Georgia?

No, thereís really nothing at Buckhead Brewery & Grill to really be amazed about. Just good food, friendly people, an inviting atmosphere and great beer. Thatís all anyone can ask.

Just think, we only have 13 more breweries to go. Road trip deluxe! Follow along: Let the Journey Begin.

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

© Bobby Bush

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