I always liked the idea of beercations (you know, when you take a vacation centered on the local beer scene in some fashion). I’ve been on several myself, from brewery hopping across Colorado to the weekend-long celebration that is Dark Lord Day. This past weekend I spent four days in Atlanta, and while this wasn’t a beercation per se (was more of a long weekend trip with the Mrs. with a little SEC tourney action thrown in… Go Cats!), I did spend copious amounts of time researching the beer spots around the ATL that I needed to hit up and then hit up said spots. Below is a summary of what I found, what I liked, and what I would suggest others to check out when they are in the area.
Before we get started though, one thing I do want to point out is that Sweetwater is EVERYWHERE in Atlanta (as it should be). Their IPA is one of my favorites of the style (not to mention something we can now get in the Commonwealth) and that and/or 420 seemed to be on every draft list I saw. That’s a good thing as having a go-to IPA/APA no matter the location is a very comforting feeling when trying to figure out a place to stop for a pint. It’s one of those “can’t go wrong no matter what” realizations, if you know what I mean.
We stayed in Midtown and with numerous bars/restaurants within walking distance there were plenty to choose from. Of all the Midtown locales visited, it’s hard to look past Taco Mac as having the best tap list. I know they are a bit of a chain and that’s something I like to avoid, but when you have 130+ beers on draft, it’s hard to go wrong. This is also where I had my first Mosaic Red Rye IPA from Terrapin Brewing Company (another local brewery). Mosaic Red Rye IPA is, shockingly enough, 100% Mosaic hopped and features one of the stronger malt bodies and deeper red colors I’ve seen on a beer of this style (red IPA/hoppy red). Seriously, this thing is gorgeous. The rye is also prominent and adds a bit of spicy grain notes that work perfectly with the floral/fruity notes from the hops and the rest of the hefty malt bill. All-in-all this was one of my favorite beers I had on the trip.
Cypress Street Pint & Plate is another solid beer stop in the Midtown area, though beware that this seems to be a big college hangout (Georgia Tech is nearby). They also have two coed, single-shooter bathrooms for all those college kids, so be prepared to wait in line when breaking the seal. Terrapin’s Full of Balarney Nitro Irish Stout (a much better version of Guinness) and a few Sweetwater’s as well as several other local/regional breweries were available. On a slightly different note, the Philly Cheesesteak was outstanding. Highly recommended if you need something to soak up a bit of booze. Around the corner from Cypress is the Vortex, a nationally-known burger bar with a bit of a neo-punk vibe. Burgers are great and the beer selection was solid, with locals Red Brick, Red Hare, Monday Night, Terrapin, and Sweetwater all represented. Their house brew, Laughing Skull Amber (made by Red Brick), was surprisingly good.
Marlow’s Tavern offers a bit more of an adult/professional feel compared to the last two spots, but the draft list isn’t quite expansive. They do have several local taps, but don’t expect anything similar to Taco mac. Surprisingly, the Gordon Biersch in Midtown had a few fantastic beers. Both the Marzen and the Imperial Pilsner were beautifully crafted and a pleasant surprise after choosing GB simply because it was one of the few places that wasn’t packed to the gills at 10:30 on a Friday night. And if you are looking for a place to load up with beer before hitting the road, Mac’s Beer and Wine is the spot to go. You’ll be able to find most anything bottled/canned in the ATL area.
Saturday was spent wondering around the Decatur, GA area (about a 15 minute train ride from downtown). First stop, and likely the most well-known beer bar in the ATL area, was the Brick Store Pub. Brick walls, leather-bound beer menus, and a collection of hipsters that would make a local coffee-house in Portland jealous, this place looked exactly how you think it would. Speaking of the beer menu, the fact that its leather bound is cool (gives it that old-world vibe), but the most impressive thing was the 20+ pages of cellared bottles available for purchase. You can even drop $90 on a classic bottle of Cantillon if you choose. The main bar draft selection was a bit smaller than expected, though still boosted a hefty 21 taps, many of which had local beers pouring. There’s also a separate Belgian bar with an impressive list of dedicated Belgian taps. Normally I’d be all over that, but the thought of a quad at 11:30 AM was a bit much for me.
A visit to a second Taco Mac, equipped with another 130+ taps, followed suit but the third stop in Decatur is where my “wow” moment of the trip occurred. Being that it was the Saturday before St Patrick’s Day, many green-clad folks were out partaking in the numerous parties/street festivals going on in the small town. Between the never-ending sea of green and hearing the Irish music pouring from the bars, I did something I normally wouldn’t dream of an Amateur Day such as St Patrick’s (yes, I know Saturday wasn’t actually St Patrick’s Day, but many celebrated like it was since it was a Saturday), and that’s go into an Irish Pub.
The Marlay House is about as traditional a pub as you could expect to find in the southeastern US and with this in mind I was fully dedicated to drinking a pint or two of Guinness, but low and behold that needn’t be the case. The tap selection at Marlay wasn’t huge, but among the 15-20 taps was a mix of Irish staples (Guinness, Harp, etc), BMC (Miller, Bud), and some fantastic craft beers. St Bernardus Abt 12, Sweetwater Happy Ending Imperial Stout, Stone Stochasticity Grapefruit Slam IPA, and FREAKING GOOSE ISLAND BOURBON COUNTY BRAND BARLEYWINE were all available. Yes, I said BCBBW on draft. I would have been happy with Guinness or Sweetwater IPA, but those are some of the options I had to choose from. If you’re ever in Decatur and want to roll the dice on finding some great beer outside a Taco Mac or Brick Store, venture down to the Marlay House.
Seeing that I’m a big UK fan and seeing that the SEC tourney was going on, it was inevitable that some of the time was going to be spent downtown near the Georgia Dome. I’d love to say there are some great options in that area, but the only place of note I found was the Park Bar. Of the 12 or so taps, at least 7 were local. You simply can’t go wrong with Sweetwater IPA and some jalapeno cheese sticks. I think there was a Taco Mac in the CNN Center, but the Park Bar treated us well and that’s all that matters.
The last place I want to talk about is the 5 Seasons Brewpub (Westside location). I had no idea what to expect from Five Seasons as I had seen little mentioned about it in my research. I only chose it because it was a bit closer than the other brewpub I was really interested in (Wrecking Bar Brewpub). I can’t say anything about Wrecking Bar, but I really enjoyed Five Seasons. The food was more upscale than the decor would have you believe (and not to mention very tasty), but the beer is what really shocked me. The Freudian Slip Vienna Lager was a great take on a style you don’t see often enough in the states. The Iron Horse IPA was right there with Sweetwater IPA as something I’d buy regularly if available in Louisville. And the Jolly Goat Rye Bock was actually my favorite beer I had in the ATL. The big, bready malt character combined with the spicy rye combined perfectly. I wanted to bring home a few growlers of this, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option. Regardless, that beer left me incredibly impressed and will make Five Seasons a sure stop on my next trip to the area. One last thing about Five Seasons is that they had multiple 750ML bottles of wine and whiskey barrel-aged beers available for purchase. I didn’t try any, but the Scotch Ale aged in rye barrels really had me thinking.
I have to say, I was really liked what I found in the ATL, especially many of the local brews I tried. I knew Sweetwater IPA would keep me happy regardless (and it did), but Three Taverns, Terrapin, Red Brick, and Five Seasons all offered some damn tasty brews. The beer scene combined with the numerous bars/restaurants around town and the various other activities to enjoy makes Atlanta a destination I’d recommend for a future beercation of your own.