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Exploring Atlanta
December, 2000

By Bobby Bush

With the pressure of my 500th different brewery visit lifted, we headed toward a brewpub that I had visited before, sort of. The Mill Eatery Bakery Brewery, part of the struggling Florida chain, opened in 1996 on the border of Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. John Stuart was the original brewer and still commands that title today. However, as of January 1, 2000, The Mill became Park Tavern. New owner Paul Smith, once a franchise manager for The Mill, couldn’t be happier.

Though we arrived about three hours prior to Park Tavern’s 4:00 opening and brewer Stuart was on vacation, Smith gladly poured us a sampler tray. While he finished other business, we tasted our way through the line-up. Druid Pils was hazy gold with malty bodied and taste evolving into a sweet finish. A traditional pale ale, Red Trail Ale had a light burnt caramel character with short bitter finish. Olmsted Amber - named for Frederick Olmsted, designer of the early 1900s, 166 acre park - was a deep golden orange in hue. Dark chocolate and coffee flavors lurked within its medium body, turning slightly bitter at mid-taste. Just a little light in mouthfeel, Piedmont Porter made atones with malty complexity.

Before we departed, Smith took us on a tour of the two story structure, part of which served as a golf club house, circa 1928. Several times he referred to a table full of trophies, awarded to Park Tavern’s for their delicious barbecue, and recognition as one of Atlanta’s Top 100 restaurants. Next time, we’ll go back when Park Tavern is open. Meanwhile, see www.parktavern.com.

On to Peachtree Street, which courses from south to north through Atlanta and eventually into the infamous Buckhead district. Closer to downtown, Max Lager’s American Grill & Brewery has been brewing since April 1998. Brewer John Roberts was nowhere to be found, but his beers were there for the tasting. We settled in at the upstairs barroom - the lower floor is reserved for fancy dining - and ordered a round of everything. Served in tiny taster mugs, we started with the best selling Max Gold, a mouth puckering bitter lager in the Bohemian Pilsner style. A fruity foundation with clinging bitter aftertaste, with benefit of six week’s lagering, this was one authentic pils. In 1999, the Atlanta Constitution declared Max Pale, along with two other Max brews, as the “best local brew.” And not without good reason. This “West Coast style IPA” reeked of Cascade hops’ grapefruit taste so powerfully that I almost spit seeds. Max Red, done Vienna lager style, was smooth with unobtrusive malt character showing sweet with only small signs of bitterness. Dark copper in color, Max Winter Bock had a malty, thick mouthfeel careening into a sweet-and-sour finish. Topping the list, Max Black was complexity in smoothness. Lagered six weeks and encompassing eight malts in its grain bill, this “dark Lager for non-dark beer drinkers” was easy drinking and very friendly.

We thought we were through, ready to push on, when the interested and helpful bartender brought a small helping of Max Stout from its fermenter. Only three or four days old, hops dominated this green ale. By fermentation’s end, the five malts, including flaked barley, would no doubt be heard among the US Goldings and Fuggles hoppiness. A work in process, this young Stout had promise. Another beer from the tank, though this one was almost ready for serving, Max Common was more Sierra Nevada-like than Max Pale. Very quaffable was apt description.

And we almost forgot Max Abbey. This Belgian-style Triple, which bore strong resemblance to the Georgia-illegal LaTrappe Trippel that I had the day before at Taco Macs, was sugary but not syrupy. Teasing with strong alcohol notes, this medium bodied ale would serves as proper accompaniment with dinner, in place of wine or as an aperitif. There’s more information at www.maxlagers.com.

And there’s more to this Atlanta trip as well. Stick around ‘til next week. Meanwhile, read more about ol’ Suds’ adventures: Peckerhead Brewery.

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

© Bobby Bush

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