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The Impossible Dream
December, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Time was running out. Just two more days left in the year two thousand and we were knocking on door number 499. Only one away from my pursuit of 500 different microbrewery visits. Unaware of his importance in the scheme of this quest, Crawford Moran, founder and owner of Dogwood Brewing Company greeted us with a big smile and hearty handshake. This west Atlanta micro, with output of 3,000 barrels in 2000, has been brewing right at maximum capacity until the recent addition of two new tanks. Following a little Q and A, Crawford gave us the grand tour of his 20 barrel brewhouse, where we found head brewer Matt Speece hard at it.

Exhaling almost as much steam as his boiling wort, which permeated the former milk warehouse with a sweet and sticky aroma, Matt hardly had time for hello. The lanky redhead learned his way around a brew kettle in Boulder while working for mega-micro Rockies Brewing, but it was Crawford, an avid homebrewer, who first manned the stainless mash tun. That was over four years ago, just as the Atlanta Summer Olympics were about to begin.

Back in the cozy den of a tasting room, it was time to sample Dogwood’s brews. The recipes for Dogwood Pale Ale and Stout date back to Crawford’s homebrewing days. Pale, the brewery’s best seller, was fruity and medium bodied in mouthfeel. At around 30-35 bittering units and dry-hopped with Cascade hops, it was indeed a pleasing brew, especially for 10:00 in the morning. Wafting coffee scent, Stout was thick with a roasted, almost grainy malt taste. Breakdown IPA pushed 50 bittering units and is pure nirvana. Fifty pounds of whole leaf Goldings hops are used to dry hop after the wort is inundated with Crystal hopback exposure. Lagered for two months, Pilsner immediately screamed hops. Dogwood’s only filtered beer, it was light, smacking with perky Saaz and Magnum flavor.

Dogwood brews a different Winter beer each year. So far, they’ve all been Belgian style, including this year’s Belgian Brown-style ale, fermented with Chimay yeast. Other seasonals include Spring Bock, a Belgian-White Summer Brew and Oktoberfest. Needless to say, Crawford enjoys Belgian-style ales.

But it was time to move on, so we bid adieu, shaking number 499, er, Crawford Moran’s Dogwood Brewing hand, and lit out for another.

Sweetwater Brewing Company’s front door was locked with no sign of life through the plate glass walls, so we trudged around to the back where an open dock-high loading door served as invitation. A cacophony of noise, both shrill and grinding, echoed between 20 foot high walls as we sauntered in ready for a celebratory beer. Owner/manager/ brewer Kevin McNerney was pumping empty bottles onto a conveyor 24 at a time. As he worked, we introduced ourselves and started talking beer. Hundreds, no thousands of empty bottles rolled through the system, almost smiling as they were filled with 420 Extra Pale Ale, which we sampled right off the line. No labels, no caps, no pint glasses, this was beer at its freshest.

Named for a nearby creek, Sweetwater Brewing opened in February 1997 hasn’t had time to come up for air. Production hit 8,000 barrels last year. 95% of that did not get beyond Greater Atlanta, over half in kegs. Kevin also learned the professional brewing ropes in Colorado. And it shows. 420 Extra Pale was a good session beer, nicely hopped but not overpowering. The most decorated of Sweetwater’s award winning beers, ESB was medium bodied and Englishly tasteful, while year-round BlueBerry Beer was a golden light ale with berry in the background. Aggressively hopped, IPA left a lasting hop flavor just short of lip-puckering. Exodus Porter, which took silver at last October’s GABF in Denver, was a liquefied dark chocolate brownie, almost sexy as it embraced tastebuds with a warm bear hug.

Nine employees and friends worked the bottling machine for the entire 90 minutes we were there. (Kevin’s partner, Fredrick Bensch, was off on vacation). Slipping away for just a moment, Kevin offered congratulations for my 500th brewery, then posed for a picture as he presented a gift of specially packaged Winter Ale in hand. A toothy grin thankfully hid most of my chubby face.

This is what the beer biz is all about. Friendly people and fantastic beer. Thanks to numbers 499 and 500: Dogwood and Sweetwater Breweries. There’s great beer in Atlanta and more to come. Tag along.

Read more about ol’ Suds’ adventures at Exploring Atlanta.

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

© Bobby Bush

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