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Creature Comforts and The Southern Brewing Company Athens GA

Creature Comforts

Athens Georgia is a small college town about an hour and a half drive East of Atlanta. I visited mainly for Creature Comforts and while I was planning the trip I read about The Southern Brewing Company and their barrel aging program. People rave about the Tropicalia IPA from Creature Comforts, though when I tasted it, it didn’t blow me away, perhaps because I assumed from the name it was going to be a hazy IPA. I had two IPAs at Creature Comforts and they were both excellent examples of the West Coast style of IPA, hop-forward, low malt bill, and crisp dry finish while not too bitter.

What really impressed me though was their berliner-weisse. I didn’t drink any of the base while I was there but when I visited they had a number of versions available. Both the Terry Swish, with three kinds of fruit, and the dry-hopped variant were fantastic. I enjoyed both of them so much that I brought back a six pack of the base to explore it further. I enjoyed the cans so much that I wished I had brought back a second six-pack. This is the new standard against which I will rate berliner-weisse beers for some time.

 

 

San Diego breweries sell a lot of fruited berliner weisse and gose but usually they go a bit too light on the fruit for my tastes. This one was bursting with fruit and so good that I got two of it out of the tour. The dry-hopped version was perfectly balanced, with tons of hop aromas and no bitterness. The fruity hops went nicely with the citrus kick of the gose.

A note on the way breweries sell beer in Georgia, or at least while I visited, they can’t sell beer directly. Instead, they sell you a tour that includes a glass and six six-ounce pours. They have tours available but you don’t have to take one. It is their way around the silly laws. Other silly laws limit your ability to take home beers, so that you can’t buy more than 72 ounces of beer to go in one day per person. The tour thing should be changing soon for smaller breweries based on a law that has already been passed, which would allow them to sell directly. It will be interestin to see if they start doing taster flights like other tasting rooms.

Creature Comforts makes some great beers and everything I tasted when I visited was well-made. I also brought home a bottle of one of their sours to try later. They have a large open tasting room with plenty of seating inside and outside and it can get quite busy on weekends. I happened to visit on a particularly busy weekend because it was graduation time for many and they celebrated by going to breweries.


Top 2:
Terry Swirl
Dry-hopped Berliner-Weisse

The Southern Brewing Company

Compared to Creature Comforts’ West Coast style IPAs, everything hoppy I had at The Southern Brewing Company was more malty in the classic style. I didn’t even bother with their IPA once I realized it was as malty as their pale ale. There is nothing wrong with the style but I don’t particularly enjoy drinking it. The pale ale was really well made and a good mix of fruity hops and biscuit notes from the malts.

What I really enjoyed was their Berliner weisse and their Cherokee Rose. The Berliner weisse was complex and balanced. The Cherokee Rose tasted like an earthy saison with some mild funk. They also had a barrel-aged saison on tap that was funky as expected and nicely done. I also enjoyed their mexican-chocolate stout that was left over from Cinco De Mayo. It was appropriately balanced and medium body with notes of spice and mild hot pepper heat on top of a nice roasty stout.

I wanted to try some of the sours they were selling bottles of but besides the saison I couldn’t try them. Thankfully I found a bottle of their peach sour at a local shop and brought one of those bottles home along with their bourbon barrel aged stout. Southern also had a nice tasting room with an even larger lawn area for people to hang out in the sun. It is a shame California has such restrictive laws that require enclosed spaces at breweries or we could have something similar. They used the space to put on live music and it was good and relaxing. The crowd was even more insane at Southern.

If the sours from both breweries turn out as good as I hope, it makes for a great visit to enjoy the laid-back town of Athens and have some great beer while you are there.

Since writing this post, I tasted the peach sour and barrel-aged stout I brought back with. The peach sour was well-made though pretty standard for the style. The barrel-aged stout was also quite tasty though a bit thin because I assume they blend it down after aging in the barrel. It is a nice change from some of the thick sludgy stouts I see a lot of. Both were nicely done but not something I would make a separate trip to buy bottles of.

Top 2:
Cherokee Rose
Mexican-Chocolate Stout

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Wren House Brewing – Phoenix Arizona

Wren House is a new brewery in the area and the quality of the beers were about what I expect from a new brewery. However, I came in with higher expectations. This is because the brewery has been hyped like crazy online. While the beers didn’t live up to the hype, Wren House is still a solid place to visit. They have a tiny location and they get loud quickly both from people talking and loud music. This, combined with beers that didn’t blow me away meant I didn’t stay very long during my visit.

Wren House 01

I tried four beers, their grapefruit berliner weisse, porter, unfiltered IPA, and imperial porter. The grapefruit berliner weisse was dry and bitter, primarily bitter grapefruit. with lots of carbination. I didn’t care much for this but then I am not as big on fruited berliner weisse as others. This was quite popular with others in the room. The porter was bitter and smoky with a dry finish and prominent hop character. It was almost more of a black session IPA than a porter. If they had labeled this as hoppy on the board I would have tried other styles. The bitterness is far too much for what I like in a porter.

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The IPA was a good combination of fruit and pine while not too bitter over a soft mouthfeel. There was a lingering mouthfeel that I didn’t like but that I can’t identify. It did signal to me that something was off ith the beer though. The imperial porter was the best of the bunch with notes of marshmallow, cherry, and burnt toffee. It was not too sweet or too boozy. I would have liked to have been able to try their base berliner weisse so I could judge it that way but the fruit varieties didn’t grab my interest.

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Wren House is a solid new brewery worth checking out if you are in the area but don’t expect it to live up to the hype spreading about it online. I’m unlikely to return more for the tiny loud space than anything. It is not the atmosphere where I want to sit and sip a pint.

Top 2:
Grapefruit Berliner
Imperial porter

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Eppig Brewing North Park San Diego

Eppig Brewing is a new brewery that takes advantage of a space that was designed to allow three breweries to open next door to one another. They have a small space just off El Cajon Blvd that can easily get packed. They have a large number of beers on tap so it was impossible to try everything in one visit.

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I started with the lagers because I heard that they were quite good. My first flight consisted of their Schwartz (dark lager), Zwickel (unfiltered pilsner), Festbier (imperial wheat), and Berliner Weisse (tart wheat beer). My second flight consisted of Factory of Dreams IPA, 10:15 to Denver IPA, Double IPA, and their stout with coffee. Of the two I much preferred the first flight.

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The Schwartz was smooth and roasty with mild smoke, a good version of the style and better than most San Diego attempts I have had. The Zwickel had a nice medium body and a mix of fruity and floral hops. Though well made the floral hops were a bit too much for me and not my favorite hop profile. I didn’t really care for the fest beer, which has a dry citrus finish but is also too harsh at the end. It was a popular beer with others while I was there but not for me. The berliner weisse was a good mix of grapefruit and lemon notes with a bitter dry finish while not too tart. They had two fruit options of this as well but I stuck to the regular.

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On the IPA front, I encountered some of the harshest most overpowering bitter IPAs in all of San Diego. Both the Factory of Dreams IPA and the double IPA were extremely bitter with very little aroma to speak of. According to the brewer, the double IPA is made with tons of simcoe, a hop I don’t care for generally, but rather than being too much pine aroma, they both shared a strong bitterness that lingered at the back of the throat.

While the 10:15 to Denver was more drinkable and had hints of grapefruit it was still too bitter. I didn’t finish either of these beers. I had a chat with the brewer about the harsh bitterness and as usual was told “they are IPAs, they are supposed to be bitter.” I ended with the stout with coffee that I found to be average with tons of roast and a bitterness that lingered on the tongue.

Eppig is a new brewery and I’m glad to see them come out of the gate with solid lagers and fruited berliner weisse style beers. Not every brewery needs to brew IPAs but if you are coming to North Park go elsewhere for your IPAs. The fruited berliner weisse beers were quite popular as well, but I stuck with the base. Hopefully I will be updating this article in a few months to indicate that they have improved the IPAs to something more in line with their neighbors at North Park Brewing.

Top 2:
Zwickel (unfiltered pilsner)
Schwartz (dark lager)

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Denver Breweries – Crooked Stave, TRVE, and Strange

I recently made a short weekend trip to Denver and during that time I visited some breweries I missed out on the last time. I heard a lot of great things about Crooked Stave and to a lesser extent TRVE, and visited Strange because someone I was visiting recommended them.

Crooked Stave

Crooked Stave has been brewing farmhouse ales and sours as their main focus for a while. Sometime more recently, they started experimenting with IPAs and have come up with some fantastic cloudy/juicy IPAs. While the taster price for their sours initially seems ridiculous (some are $4 or $5 for a 5oz taster) keep in mind that those same beers are $14 for a 375ml bottle, so the price on tap is not much worse per ounce than a bottle.

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Crooked Stave is located in the back of a small shopping complex that was converted from an old abandoned brick building. When you first pull into the dirt parking lot in front, which is almost always full, you may question whether you should be there at all. It looks quite sketchy. Once inside, you will see a number of small shops and restaurants and Crooked Stave’s tasting room is at the far back area. They don’t have an outward sign telling you where to go either, but once you are inside you will feel right at home in their tasting room setting. Tasters range from $2 to $5 depending on the style and I broke up my tasting into two sets of 3 and came home with a few bottles as well.

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I started with the Damn IPA which was cloudy and nicely carbonated with tons of citrus and ginger notes. The Sourless IPA was also quite tasty with lots of citrus and some mild herbal note and a bitter finish. Both were solid examples of the juicy IPA style. I got a taster of the porter for my husband before he went off to do other things but he didn’t care for it. I found it to be very delicious with lots of cherry notes that balance with bitter chocolate and some herbal hop notes. The beer was quite smooth and medium body.

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For sours I started with Origins, a Flanders Red style of sorts. It had a strong tart kick with some mild jam notes and hints of caramel and mild balsamic vinegar. I went next to the two L’bretta beers one with raspberry and one with blueberry. I found the raspberry the clear winner with tons of jam character, strong fruit notes, and a nice tart acidic finish. The blueberry was a bit more subtle and less acidic. Flavors are so subtle that if you drink it right after the raspberry you might miss parts of it.

Known for:
Fantastic sours and now great juicy IPAs.

TRVE

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TRVE is a younger entry on the scene and has a heavy metal theme at their brewery with leanings towards satanic imagery. Thankfully the music isn’t blasting as loud as a typical metal head might prefer so you can still order beers and have a conversation without going deaf. I had a total of four tasters because while they were good I wasn’t craving more and my friends wanted something a bit more hoppy.

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The first beer I had was a hoppy saison called Caeruleus. It was nice and fruity with a good mix of spice and some mild hop kick. The aged saison was lightly tart with lots of lemon notes and a crisp finish. The IPA was smooth and balanced, mostly herbal hops, fairly average. The gose was a darker version of the style which added a nice caramel note to the typical lightly tart and lightly salty gose. I brought home a bottle of a currant sour from them so hopefully that is more impressive. While I enjoyed the beers I had, I don’t feel an urge to return to the brewery based on the beers available on tap.

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Known For:
Visit for Belgian style beers and a collection that plays with different styles.

Strange Brewing

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Based on a recommendation from my friend we stopped for a flight at Strange Brewing, which consisted of six beers mostly stouts and IPAs. Stout was very true to style 5% stout. The cherry bomb stout added a little kick with cherry and peppers but nothing outstanding. The different IPAs were all fairly average with the exception of the grapefruit IPA which had a lot of great citrus character even though it didn’t taste like it had any added zest or juice.

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Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Select Breweries in the Twin Cities

I visited Minneapolis Minnesota on the weekend of May 20, 2016 and I got to visit a few local breweries. My experience was slightly different than usual because of an art festival that was going on, which actually made Surly not as busy as usual and made it a madhouse at Indeed Brewing, really busy at Dangerous Man, and made Fair State not so fun to visit, since they chose to use plastic cups for the weekend. This led me to visit two other breweries I wasn’t planning on visiting, thanks to a recommendation from a friend, Sisyphus and Boom Island.

First I will start with some general thoughts on the area. I really liked that the breweries were all in an area that is pretty small so that the breweries are not too far apart and none are too far out of town. Also a lot of the larger breweries don’t serve tasters, thus I didn’t try as many beers at the breweries listed as I normally would. While I might taste a lager of a pale ale and end up liking it enough to do a pint, I rarely will just order one I haven’t tasted before. Also if you happen to come visit wanting to bring bottles home, the liquor stores are all closed on Sundays so plan accordingly.

Surly

This photo somewhat gives you an idea of how massive Surly's brewery location is.
This photo somewhat gives you an idea of how massive Surly’s brewery location is, thanks to the person sitting in front.

Surly is probably the most popular of the breweries around the area and certainly one of the larger more widely distributed breweries. Their cans are a mainstay in the general area extending to neighboring states. During my visit to Surly I tasted the Pentagram dark sour, Furious IPA, Four Imperial Stout, and Todd the Axe Man. Pentagram was a very tasty nicely balanced dark sour with plenty of jammy wine notes, and a light sour finish. I mainly tried a small pour on tap so I could make sure I wanted bottles for myself. Furious is Surly’s first IPA and while it was I’m sure groundbreaking when it first came out I didn’t really get into it. It is super dry and quite bitter with a mix of citrus and pine flavors. While it is not overly malty, the malts do give it a solid balance. I found it to be a bit too bitter personally such that it lacked prominent aromas from the hops.

The delicious Pentagram sour.
The delicious Pentagram sour.
Four imperial stout.
Four imperial stout.
Todd the Axe Man, delicious IPA.
Todd the Axe Man, delicious IPA.

Four Imperial Stout was originally their fourth anniversary beer and it was the one beer my husband enjoyed during our visit. It is a double milk stout made with espresso. It was super smooth and creamy with powerful coffee flavors, very reminiscent of some recent San Diego espresso beers. Surly also has lighter coffee beers but when trying one back home I wasn’t too big on them and found them to taste a bit thin. Todd the Axe Man, while also quite bitter, is much more balanced than Furious and it is exploding with fruit flavors including lots of tangerine and melon. I really enjoyed this one and ended up coming home with a four pack to share with my friends back home. I recommend skipping Furious and going straight for Todd if you are into IPAs.

The brewery had a huge beer hall feel to it inside.
The brewery had a huge beer hall feel to it inside.

Top 2:
Four Imperial Stout
Todd the Axe Man

Fair State

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I only briefly visited Fair State because they had run out of most of the specialty beers they had earlier in the week and they were serving beers in plastic cups and were not allowing tasters. While I only tried one beer at the brewery, I did pick up two bottles of their specialty offerings to bring home with me for later, that I am excited to try. I tried the Lactobac 12, a ginger and lemon grass sour. It was tasty and balanced with a solid ginger taste and a good light tart kick. The alcohol is so low you might confuse this beer for Kombucha. I would have loved to have tried more but I don’t like drinking from plastic cups. Perhaps on another visit I will try more. Fair State is known for their sours and wild ales. I was quite impressed by the dark sour I brought home with me after visiting.

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Dangerous Man

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I also only tried two beers at Dangerous Man. This was mostly because I didn’t really get into the two stouts I tried and they were quite crowded at the time. They are often praised for their chocolate milk stout and the peanut butter porter so I started with those. The chocolate milk stout was super smooth but also fairly light body and didn’t have a ton of chocolate flavor to it. While it wasn’t dry either, I didn’t get much flavor overall. The peanut butter porter is a good example in the style that has gotten popular at a number of breweries and has a nice smooth light body and a solid nutty finish. If you have enjoyed other popular peanut butter porters then you will also enjoy this one.

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I would have tried more beers at Dangerous Man but they didn’t offer tasters and I wasn’t excited to try any of the other beers on tap at the time.

Sisyphus Brewing

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This is the only brewery where I got to do a flight of tasters. The brewery is fairly new and brews on a really small system but came highly recommended by a friend. They have a nice relaxed tasting room that was even more relaxed since they were not close to the festival going on. I tasted the amber ale, apple ale, apogee IPA, Feast of Littlefoot IPA, and India Brown Ale. The amber ale was really smooth and fruity with hints of peach and a mild caramel malt finish. This is one of the best ambers I have had and really says a lot about the talents of the brewer. The apple ale was tasty and very crisp with a light body and mild apple flavors. It is a mix between a cider and a beer but not fully a cider.

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The two beers I list as IPAs might have been listed as pale ales on the board but they are both strong enough at 6.5 to be an IPA to me. The Apogee was really balanced fruity/juicy IPA with a dry finish of citrus and pine. I enjoyed this one the most of the two IPAs and was glad that it was fairly low on the bitterness. Feast of Littlefoot was also quite fruity and citrusy but a lot more dry and bitter on the finish. I went back and forth between the two IPAs and enjoyed how they both developed over time. The India Brown Ale is a really hoppy brown ale that is dark enough to be a stout. It was super bitter and hoppy with a bit of a smoky finish. To me it was simultaneously too bitter and too smoky and I didn’t really like it at all. For a new brewery, Sisyphus was quite impressive and I was glad I visited. I’m sure they will become a mainstay in the community over time.

Nice inside space at the brewery.
Nice inside space at the brewery.

Top 2:
Amber
Apogee IPA

Boom Island Brewing

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Boom Island is known for Belgian beers and they were my last stop for this trip. I tried the triple brett wild ale and the Belgian chocolate stout. The triple brett was very smooth and malty and tasted like a dubel style beer with added brett. The malts give it delicious flavors of dark fruit and the brett balances things out with some nice funk. Neither my husband nor I really cared for the Belgian chocolate stout. It was super dry and mildly hoppy, which combined with the Belgian yeast for something I didn’t enjoy. It didn’t seem to have much flavor of chocolate or roast to me either. Still, I got the sense from the triple brett that the brewery knows how to do Belgian styles right and I would have ordered a flight if they hadn’t had the triple brett available.

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In general I found the beer scene to be vibrant and worth visiting during my visit to the Twin Cities. Cans of Surly’s Todd the Axe Man are easily obtainable outside the area but their more limited Pentagram not so much. Also Fair State’s sours are fantastic and worth stopping by to check out if you are into the style. They seem to have a great tasting room spot so it is a shame that I visited in the middle of a festival. As far as visiting a brewery directly, Sisyphus is a great place to hang out while you are in town. I really wish I had gotten to visit Indeed brewing but it was way too crowded for me.

There are tons of breweries I missed so if you think I missed a key one that I didn’t even mention, tell me in the comments.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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