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Let the Journey Begin
December, 2000

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 fermenters.

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

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