Let the Journey Begin
By Bobby Bush
With one Atlanta-area brewpub already under our belts, we decided to switch gears for a
brief moment. Just around the corner half-mile or so from Buckhead Brewery in
Cumming stands 1/3rd of a veritable Atlanta institution.
Andy Klubock opened the original Taco Mac in 1979, lifting the name from the
sign left hanging on the vacant building he acquired. Though there are other, lesser
(franchised) Taco Macs, the original trio in the Atlanta suburban communities of Sandy
Spring, Snellville and Cumming have redefined the term “multi-taproom.” Sandy Springs
sports 100+ beers on tap. Snellville has 137 draft choices. And Cumming, where we just
happened to be, is the behemoth. Beneath an authentic glockenspiel tower, inside a large
bar room ready to party, await two hundred and twenty four (yes, 2-2-4) handles. Of
course, there are a few domestic variety brews, but the vast majority are micros and
imports. The list fills an entire legal sheets at eight pica. Same for the bottled beer
selection, which encompasses four or five double glass-front coolers.
This being a maximum 6.0% alcohol state, I was surprised to see several beers
among the multitude of handles lined double-spaced along the back bar wall. Ordering a
LaTrappe Tripel Belgian Ale, I was told by the extremely knowledgeable bartendress that
some higher alcohol beers slip through ATF’s grip. Please keep that a secret.
Taco Mac I.D.s everyone. There are no free samples, but small sample glasses are
available for $1.29. Food, mostly Mexican, is made to order. We had a basket of nachos
with chicken that were delicious. A sports bar with a beer for everyone: Yes! You have
to see it to believe it. Ask for a tour of the keg room. See: www.tacomac.com. My only
(petty) complaint is that there were no cask conditioned ales.
Next stop, Alpharetta, another northern Atlanta suburban burg. Though we’d
been to too many before, we found Hops Restaurant & Brewery first. Opened in April
1999, this brewpub is part of the growing Florida chain. They’re basically all the same,
though I have been to a few with exceptional beer. Tim Gordon brews the corporate
recipes in Alpharetta and performs the same function for two other Hops in the vicinity.
We ordered up a Brewmaster Sampling of all five beers. Served in chilled taster
glasses, Clearwater Light was a lager-like tricycle brew intended, appropriately, for
budmillercoors drinkers. With just a little more body and flavor, Lightning Bold Gold was
tart from Saaz hops. Close to a pilsner in style, this beer was nice but nowhere close to
“medium bodied,” as advertised. Hammerhead Red was malty with a bittersweet finish
and short aftertaste. Chocolate malt with a hint of raspberry exuded from Alligator Ale,
while seasonal Winter Ale was copper in color and malty in taste. This shopping center
brewpub is family fare with beer on the side: delicious medium-priced food and
house-made beer. To answer requests for a dark beer, many Hops, including this one,
have added Guinness Stout on draft.
So it’s on to the other Alpharetta brewpub. Number 497 on my list is U.S.
Border Brewery Cantina. Open since 1995 in a shopping strip, U.S. Border was the
first in the state to apply for a brewpub license. Local interference delayed this South of
the Border style restaurant to the point that it was second to open. Regardless of history,
brewer Chris Trenzi has no problems brewing now. Seven beers on tap and a helpful
bartender, we sipped through them all, starting with Tombstone Gold, a malty sweet ale
with tender hop finish. Santa Fe Steemer was medium bodied, fruity with sour finish,
while Good Golly Miss Molly Pale Ale, at 50 bittering units, was a tongue biter.
“Somewhere between an English IPA and ESB,” Rickman’s Half Century ISB was
enriched with Maris Otter malt and UK hops, putting it close to an English Mild. Bronze
in hue, Durango Dark Lager was smooth from six weeks lagering. Brewed from a recipe
dating back to 1860 “with a few liberties taken,” London Calling Porter was light in body
for style but flavorful with ample portions of caramel, roasted and chocolate malts.
Santaria Dubbel, “sort of a Belgian Brown,” included rye and was very nice for a
Georgia-brewed Belgian. Served layered, Paco N’ Joe, a blend of the Porter and Gold
began malty and finished bitter.
To celebrate each weekend, brewer Trenzi and staff stage Firkin Friday, tapping a
fresh cask conditioned ale. This was Thursday, but we had a taste of the week-old,
hand-pumped, nitrogen blanketed beer anyway. Big mistake. Room temperature, this
cask beer was spoiled. Next time, it’s a Friday afternoon visit for sure.
The night was wearing tired and we still had not found a hotel room. So we
skirted north Atlanta and headed toward the northwestern suburb of Kennesaw. The
Wingate Inn looked nice, had reasonably priced rooms and was just a parking lot away for
the last brewpub, #498, of the night. Water Tower Brewing Company opened in
Brunswick’s U.S. Play in 1996. This large bowling, billiards and video game place was
kind of strange for a brewpub location. In fact, I was practically their only customer on a
cold Thursday night. The bartender did not know the brewer’s name, but later informed
me that Mark Ross manned the brick-encompassed Peter Austin brew kettle and open
Water Tower’s beers weren’t bad nor were they anything exceptional. Kennesaw
Mountain Gold had an over-ripe fruit taste with quick dry finish. A hint of chocolate malt
and suggestive, though underplayed, hops provided the well-rounded profile of Big Shanty
Pale Ale. Malty described Old Town Amber more than adequately, while Thrasher Brown
Ale was a right proper English Brown. Hefeweizen, the brewer’s special, was powered by
clove and ester yeastiness. Starbucks richness invaded the opaque black body of The
General Stout with little hops notice. Burgers, salads, fried food, pasta; all that was
missing were people. See www.watertowerbrewery.com.
Hang tight. There’s more from Georgia at The Impossible Dream.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush