By Bobby Bush
This late December Atlanta tour was quickly coming to a close. Cold, windy weather,
peppered with snow flurries, instilled yearnings for the comfy confines of home sweet
home. But before hitting the I-way, we had plans for a few more stops, though only one
could be added to my “new” list.
Rock Bottom Restaurant Brewery, like most of the other proper-Atlanta
brewpubs, resides along Peachtree Street. Part of the Chattanooga-based Gordon
Biersch chain (see last week’s article), there’s only one other Rock Bottom, in Charlotte,
under GB’s control. [The real Rock Bottom, a Denver corporation, just purchased the
New England Brew Moon group].
Anyway, enough with the lineage stuff, it was beer not parentage we were after.
Rock Bottom brewer John Glenndening usually keeps two ales on cask, but not today.
We settled for a sampler tray of seven miniature glasses. Sporting a foamy white head,
thin yellow Southern Flyer Light Lager was sweet right up to its quick bitter finish.
Hooch Pilsner, made with “classic German lager yeast” and German Hallertauer hops, was
light bodied and increasingly bitter right until the end. An “American-style Pale Ale,”
orange-gold colored Pinstripe Pale Ale presented a fruity first act closely followed by
green grass bitterness in mid and final mouth. Scotch Ale, the seasonal offering, covered
the tongue with smooth maltiness parting with a sullen bitter finish. Magnum hops
powered The Loop IPA, a copper-hued, succinctly American-style IPA, meaning malt
played a secondary roll in its flavor profile. A 1998 GABF gold winner for the
corporation, Sweet Magnolia Brown had a caressing medium mouthfeel and obvious
crystal malt, with a touch of chocolate malt, flavor. Though a tad grainy, Iron Horse
Stout was neither sweet nor bitter, just milk smooth with the taste of coffee, among other
Open since June 1997, Rock Bottom was built for beer. Brewery and fermenters
are enclosed behind glass in the entryway. Horizontal serving tanks are stacked, two rows
high, behind the bar. Though only 14 stools fit in front of the bar, the bar area - full of tall
tables - is ample. Plenty of televisions, at most possible angles, a pool room in back and
comfortable dining rooms complete the scene.
Just a few blocks south on Peachtree resides the state’s original brewpub. John
Harvard’s Brew House is the only Southern part of the Massachusetts-based chain
remaining. The Roswell JH closed in 2000 after only a brief run. There’s a great JH
going strong in Washington, DC.
Situated just a few doors up from Atlanta BeerGarten, which lucky-for-us was
closed, we pulled up to the John Harvard’s bar for lunch and beer. Stain-glass Garcia
beaming down from the back bar, we slurped into a sampler tray, quickly moving beyond
the malty tricycle Buckhead Light Lager, lager-like Centennial Gold, koolaid saccharin
Raspberry Red and unusual (no spices or overt yeastiness) Belgian White for the good
stuff. Brownish gold, Ivy Pale Ale presented flat mouthfeel and full hoppiness with
chocolate underpinnings. Munich Amber, a medium bodied lager, was ale-like in flavor,
capped by tangy caramel finish. Winter Solstice Ale created a warming effect within its
malty, caramel bear hug flavor characteristics, while Loch Lanier Scotch Ale was less
startling, its smooth maltiness giving way to a short dry finish. Very, very drinkable.
Black with harsh grainy aftertaste, Export Stout was full bodied, combining a bittersweet
and persimmon sour mid-mouth effect
The bartender explained that Pete Seaman is head brewer, though most of the
brewing is left up to Chris Buckafusco these days. We tasted his cask, though we never
learned its named. At this early lunch hour, no one knew. Warm, flat with creamy white
head, hops dug through the thick texture for recognition. I think it was the Ivy Pale Ale,
mellowed and slightly less hoppy than its carbonated counterpart. Lunch finished, bill
paid, the curious bartendress asked if I was a reporter. “No,” I replied, “we’re just
consumers.” (I’ve never considered myself a reporter, just a beer lover).
Unfortuantely, John Harvard’s closed shop just 30 days after this visit. The
Massachusetts brewpubs are still operational. See www.johnharvardbrewing.com.
Though I had designs on a few more stops, the missus agreed to only one more
before we headed north. Down to Stockbridge, about 20 miles south on I-75, was deja vu
all over again. This Buckhead Brewery was identical to its younger sister in Cumming,
Georgia, the site that began this journey, with two exceptions: the parking lot
configuration and the fact that operations brewer Gary Essex was nowhere to be found.
Open since June 1999, this Buckhead was the Florida corporation’s second. The original
is in Tallahassee.
Seriously lacquered log cabin, central fireplace, horseshoe-shaped bar, brewery,
menu, even the beers were duplicated perfectly. A table of camouflaged hunters were
enjoying a late lunch as we quickly worked our taster glasses. The line-up was redundant
as well: Buck Light (thin, crisp beginners’ beer), Red Hills Amber (medium body, burnt
caramel taste), Hefeweizen (cloudy with notes of clove and yeast), Coyote Pale Ale
(hoppy from mid-taste onward) and Oatmeal Stout (deep roasted flavor, thick mouthfeel).
That new Buckhead in Alpharetta should be open by mid-2001.
Satiated with the beer of Greater Atlanta, my idea to detour through Athens,
Georgia on the way home to visit Burnstone Brewery didn’t have a bat’s chance.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush