Family bonding over flights

Sometimes, visiting a brewery is all about the beer. The chance to finally try beers I’ve read about or had recommended to me for months at a time can be tantalizing.

Other times, what makes the day enjoyable isn’t really the specific beers at all. It’s the downtime, the conversation, the relaxation.

On a scorching Sunday afternoon, my mum and I arrived at Brooklyn Brewery just as it was opening. We found some stools to perch on and ordered one of the signature flights.

The lager and the IPA I’d had many times before, but the brown ale was a pleasant surprise. Rich and deep, with a hint of malted biscuit and berries.

But the real surprise was the sour, or rather, how much my mum liked it. It was refreshingly tart and dry, with undertones of passion fruit.

I’d forgotten how much fun sharing a flight could be, especially with someone with different tastes. My mum has accompanied me to many a craft beer bar or real ale pub over the years, and I’ve learnt a lot about her preferences. She likes pilsners and lagers. Pales and bitters sometimes, but nothing with too much dry-hopping. Darker styles are more hit and miss, with the odd exception of Titanic Plum Porter.

But since I haven’t traditionally been a huge sour ale fan, I’ve never had the opportunity to gauge her appetite for that category of beers. So now, it turns out that we have a new drink to enjoy together. And since it’s a style that I’m a beginner in sampling too, we can learn about the different beers on offer at the same time.

All in all, not bad for a discovery made on a Sunny afternoon in Williamsburg.

The best and worst of Atlanta, GA

Ahh, Atlanta. A city that is so rarely at a temperature combined with a humidity level that is in any way comfortable. I’ve spent around 6 weeks in the Peach State’s largest city over the last 5 years, and each time I’m slightly underwhelmed by the beer selection. After all, the deep south and periphery is something of a craft beer wasteland. The Pacific Coast, Southwest, Midwest and East Coast come to mind when I think of the states my favorite US brews come from.

The first pint I ever drank in Atlanta was in Alpharetta at Hop Alley brew pub. It had a cosy neighborhood bar vibe, perfect bar food (I went for a burger cooked to medium juicy perfection, served with gigantic onion rings), and good solid in-house brews. I sampled the Patriot IPA and the Scaly Mountain Wit. Good solid brews, without being super memorable.

Overall, good first impressions of the town’s beer credentials – I was pleasantly surprised. In coming days, I would be a little disappointed by the bland and character-wanting brews from Sweetwater, the largest brewery in the area, who seemed overly represented in my hotel. On my next visit a few months later, I’d be more disappointed still by a local beer known as Hopsecutioner, from Terrapin Beer Company. A monster of a beer to be sure, but clearly created by someone who values shock value over subtlety. That whole ‘my hops are bigger and better than yours’ thing really doesn’t do it for me.

During my last trip to Atlanta, I was determined to seek out a positive experience. I went for a brewery tour at Orpheus Brewery, which specializes in both IPAs and sours, serving up samples in their tap room overlooking the Piedmont Park. I’ve never been the greatest fan of sour beers, but I arrived with an open mind. The first beer I tried was a sour made in a white wine cask. Unfortunately, it tasted a little like white wine that had been left in the sun too long, and brought back some unpleasant memories of picnic drinking gone awry. Next I tried a blueberry sour, which drank incredibly light. The barman explained that it would pair well with blue cheese, and I could certainly see that. Then onto the IPAs. I tasted them in ascending strength order, finishing with the 10% brew. I fear that by this time my palate was a little too whacked to note discernible differences, but I did have a nice chat with the head brewer to learn more about his hop combinations before departing.

Final verdict: good beer in Atlanta can be found by those who wish to persevere. But why not make life a little easier on your itinerary planning (and just as easy on the wallet) by hitting up a Southwest city instead?