70. I Get So Emotional, Baby, Every Time I Think of Beercations
What about a beercation really *matters*?; plus, chat with me!; NEW Hugging the Bar merch!; and tarot for meditating with beer.
Getting to Know Atlanta, Getting to Know All About Atlanta
Welp, another “beercation” in the books and another step further from the very concept of a beercation for me. This has been an ongoing evolution since my trip to Asheville last year, a trip intended to include as many breweries as possible as I felt sure that was the only way to actually get to know the local beer scene, but instead a trip on which I ended up not pressuring myself to dart from taproom to taproom in favor of lingering, savoring, enjoying each place I did get to for longer. On this trip I just took to Atlanta, I visited just five breweries in three days. While that’s arguably more than, say, someone who’s not much of a craft beer enthusiast would probably visit on a standard vacation, it also feels less than whatever the threshold is to make it a beercation.
I arrived in Atlanta with a healthy list of breweries I wanted to visit, and even more on reserve in case I somehow hit all of them. I figured we could aim to hit three or four a day—that felt doable, like it would achieve this notion of immersing myself in Atlanta’s beer scene without being too much of a push or a rush. But almost as soon as the first day began to unfurl, even that modest goal felt suffocating. And then as I started talking to locals, they began delivering great, long lists of places I just had to get to. In terms of their recommendations, I appreciated them so much—it’s a kind thing for people to do and a sign they love their city and their beer scene, literally good things all around. They couldn’t have known I was already feeling more pressure than one would ever associate with “being on vacation,” and that each new spot deemed “the best” and “most essential” was just piling on. They also couldn’t have known that a huge contributor to this pressure is that we didn’t rent a car, because I figured if we were going to be doing so much brewery-hopping, we’d just Uber. But we experienced a problem similar to what we did during our last LA visit, which is that things are so spread out.
I’ll take a beat here to zero in on this. It absolutely could just be me, coming from New York and being used to walking everywhere, or at least getting to a certain neighborhood and being able to walk to a bunch of spots there before having to get in a car or on a train to get to another neighborhood. But I’ve been to plenty of other cities where this is also possible—Richmond, Chicago, Boston, Philly, Asheville, Nashville, Austin, San Diego, Charleston, off the top of my head—and then there are the places where it’s hard to find two breweries not at least a 10-minute drive apart, which means over half an hour’s walk, and a walk that’s, well, not walkable. I’d be happy to walk 25 or 30 minutes between breweries but obviously not alongside highways and such. I just don’t understand how anyone actually brewery-hops in cities like this, safely and affordably? Because, gosh, do those Ubers add up. So then you’ve got to recruit a designated driver or…I don’t know what.
On top of the car thing, a few other factors weighed in that slowed the pace we would have needed to maintain to properly and effectively “beercation.” I had the joy and honor of being a panelist for a conversation about beer media for this year’s Beer Culture Summit, along with Jeff Alworth and Tristan Chan and moderated by Beth Demmon. It was so fun and I was so happy to do it, and it meant taking a couple hours to stay at the AirBnB instead of doing another taproom visit. It also rained for the first two days, which meant having to leave Darby in the AirBnB, so then when it finally stopped raining on the third day, we took her with us only to find it too cold (and still off-and-on rainy) to sit outside for too long—we definitely did not find as many dog-friendly taprooms as we’re used to at home or in some other cities. By the time our last few hours of being out rolled around on Saturday night, I decided to hit up a Pour Taproom location before our dinner reservation to get to sample some beers from other local breweries we didn’t get to. I’m glad we did—I got to try Refomation Brewery and Orpheus Brewing this way—but it reminded me of how many places I didn’t get to and I kind of felt like I’d really flopped on this trip. Could I even say I’d checked out Atlanta’s beer scene?
On the plane ride home, I tore through most of Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart, a book I’d been wanting to read and that my friend just lent me along with a warning that it was a tough one, emotionally speaking, and possibly more so for me as it is so much about Zauner losing her mom to illness and so would hit home pretty hard. I foolishly thought that after almost five years, I would be able to handle it, and as it turns out, I, uh…should not have read this book in a public place! I have even listened to the This American Life episode about how even dumb movies are more likely to make you cry on airplanes because all that altitude and weird air and everything messes with your head! And I still read an incredibly emotional, vulnerable, raw, honest, gorgeously written book detailing a loss and grief experience very close to my own!
What the hell does this have to do with my Atlanta beercation or lack thereof? It put things in a whole new and crystal clear perspective. Laced through every chapter are beautiful descriptions of food, mainly Korean dishes, things Zauner ate with her mother and that connected her to her heritage and culture and mother’s side of the family. It took my breath away how something as simple as a snack could represent so much, how the flavor or aroma of it could capture an entire memory or experience or relationship. I mean, we know this, but do we know this? We talk about it when we talk about the sensory experience around beer, for example, how humans associate aromas with memories and such, but how often do we stop to think of our own associations and how powerful they are? I mean, it’s probably because I am still under the spell of this book, but just yesterday I realized that with the holidays coming up, I want to make my mom’s noodle pudding, but that I can’t remember where I stashed the index card on which she scrawled the recipe and that was another round of good, hearty sobs.
Crying in H Mart also reminds you of another thing you know but do you know?, which is not only how short life is, but how fragile it is. How a diagnosis or any other kind of phone call or letter or email or text or conversation can change everything you know in an instant. Sorry to be heavy and dramatic on a little old Thursday afternoon, but these two themes, I think, have forever altered the way I feel about beercations, vacations, life in general.
Hitting some arbitrarily set number of breweries on this trip or any trip would really mean absolutely nothing to me. I will never look back in 10 or 20 years and feel a lovely warmth rush over me remembering the time I made it to 15 breweries in four days in one city, or feel the harsh pangs of regret over the time I only made it to five breweries in three days in another. None of that matters, not for the experience I’m looking to have when I travel. That experience is to, well, experience the beer and the food and drink in general and the people and the places and the vibes and the street art and the music and the culture and the neighborhoods and the history.
Someone who lives in Atlanta and works in the beer scene might tell me this is absurd and in a way maybe they’re right, but in another way, in a way that I think feeds the soul of someone who’s passionate about beer and people and that creates memories, I’m starting to feel like I did indeed get to know the city’s beer scene, and food and drink scene.
I got to know it through the straightforward craft beer geekery of savoring a smoked helles at Halfway Crooks, a West Coast IPA at Monday Night Brewing, and a hop-stuffed imperial IPA at Three Taverns Imaginarium, sure, but also through chatting with Sarah, a bartender at Elsewhere Brewing, who took advantage of the quiet taproom near closing to write us an entire list of bars and restaurants to check out (somehow, in list form and so carefully thought out, these recommendations did not add to the pressure—I kept it for future visits, so, helpful!), who walked us through the versatile range of the brewery with samples ranging from a dark lager to a red velvet stout, who sent us home with surprise cans, who—plot twist—turned out to be related to a woman in our neighborhood in Brooklyn we know because she once had a black pug like Darby, whose picture she had printed out on buttons she hands out to neighbors.
I got to know it through spending a whole adventurous day with the incredible Caroline King of the Bitch Beer Podcast and her lovely boyfriend, as we brewery- and bar-hopped, enjoying one of those outings where you just met but feel like you’ve been friends forever, and you don’t want to stop talking and you don’t have to. Caroline is so warm and welcoming, just getting to hang with her in an Atlanta taproom makes you feel like a happy local. I got to know it by sitting at the bar at Fire Maker Brewing, having my mind blown by a tea IPA and meeting a couple who is getting married at the taproom in December, and then demanding to hear every single detail about said wedding (they sweetly obliged)—congratulations to them!
And, while no beer was consumed, I’m throwing in the dinner we had at Ticonderoga Club, because it was such an unforgettable meal with incredible cocktails and service that it simply feels like necessary to mention when talking about exploring food and drink in Atlanta, plus it was one of those nights where you remember why you love these things, why they matter, and why they add to your life to experience. (Think I’m being dramatic? Make a reservation when you’re in town and get back to me.) So, yes, I failed fantastically at ticking off breweries and excelling at the science of a beercation, but boy, did I have a good, memorable time doing it and getting to know and love Atlanta and its beer.
hUgGiNg ThE bAr Has Entered the Chat
I did what all the cool kids are doing, way after they did it, as is my way. I started a Substack chat for subscribers. Idk, maybe I am really feeling the panic of possibly losing Twitter. I want to talk with y’all about beers, breweries we love, breweries up to no good, initiatives doing tons of good, fests you’re going on, beercations you’re planning—whether hitting a certain number of breweries is a priority or not!, and really anything else, like what TV show you’re watching, what song you’ve got on repeat—ooh, let’s talk about dogs! And this is also a great place for you to ask me tarot questions. An email will shortly follow the newsletter with more info, and yah, you do have to download the Substack app. But you might already have it, and either way, it’s a great app for keeping track of and enjoying all your newsletter subscriptions. I started a thread to kick things off, about your weekend beer plans, so come hang!
New Fun Beer (and Pug )Merch!
Well, well, well, if it isn’t your trusty newsletter writer channeling her inner shameless shill to drop a whole buncha new merch right in time for your holiday shopping needs. Listen, I’ve been forced to write enough gift guides in my time, k? I’ve paid my dues—now I want to make stuff that hopefully you might consider giving as a gift, even and especially to yourself, and I do wholeheartedly believe this merch makes cooler gifts than whiskey stones or the Spiegelau glass that, sure, is nice, but maybe doesn’t need to be on every single “beer lover” gift guide every single year.
These new tees and totes are simple but state their beer messages loud and clear, and I think y’all will appreciate that as well as the styles they celebrate. I also have some merch with Darby on it. Now, this might be a real unhinged move. Some true “who do you think you are” bullshit. Who am I that I think strangers might want to wear a photo of my dog? But I can’t help it, I’m blinded by my adoration of her. She’s become a sort of mascot for this newsletter and my…life, really, and I just can’t fight the feeling that some folks might want to rock a little beer appreciation and a little pug love. (I’m also planning on making stickers with just the photo of Darby you’ll see below, and those will be free, so just hit me up if you want some!) Here’s a preview of just a few of the new adds; the whole kit and caboodle is on my merch page here.
This week, I pulled The Star.
The Star is, unsurprisingly, a card with extra mystical vibes, speaking to hope, faith, spirituality, and a sort of springtime-esque rebirth and renewal. You can see a lot of balance here: she’s got one foot in the water, one on the ground; she pours one jug into the water, one onto the ground. This means you’re finding your own balance between being grounded and in touch with your spiritual side and dreams. It’s a time of embracing stability, security, and practicality, sure, for the sake of your own comfort and to actually enable you to follow some of those dreams—maintaining stability doesn’t mean forsaking passion projects, wild ambitions, or new ideas.
The Star often comes up after a period of turmoil, an especially difficult time, or a spike of stress. You’ve gotten through something and come out on the other side, and you feel a little badass now, because you know you can weather a pretty big storm. Now that there is calm, seize that time to get in touch with yourself, what you want for yourself, what you need, what would fulfill you. Maybe take up a practice that you feel might enable this best, like meditation or yoga or, idk, archery. During this time, you may even learn new things about yourself and discover whole new paths you want to follow—and you should do just that, with confidence and balance.
When I was poking around to find a beer that made sense with The Star, I stumbled upon the fact that lifestyle site PopSugar had one of its writers try a meditation-with-beer exercise back in 2018. This came by way of an app from Stella Artois. I could go off on a whole tangent about how this app—no shock it was quickly forgotten—is an example of wild swing-and-miss tries from beer brands to clumsily barge into other lifestyle segments and make strange marketing decisions, and how the article is an example of the assembly line of internet media outlets and the bottomless pit for nonsense content this creates. But, you know what? Underneath all that, it’s kind of a cool idea. Taking a moment to center yourself and be mindful with whatever your favorite beer is is never a bad idea. Breathe, de-stress, and do it with a beverage that brings you joy. This will also help you really savor that beer and tune into its flavor and aroma intricacies. Not a bad deal after all.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
Oh no, she’s still being a shameless shill! Yes, I’m about to recommend something I participated in, but truly because of how much I admire and respect the other folks involved, and how honored I am I got to be a part of it, and how excited I am I got to talk about these beers. So, if you haven’t yet, go take a listen to the Craft Beer & Brewing podcast episode on the best beers of 2022, hosted by co-founder and editorial director Jamie Bogner and featuring managing editor Joe Stange, contributing editor and writer Kate Bernot, author, contributor, and journalist Stan Hieronymus, and contributor and Don’t Drink Beer founder Alex Kidd (me being on this episode = oh, hi, impostor syndrome! but we’re working through it).
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
It’s hard to pick out an ex-beer-ience in an issue where I already wrote about nothing but, so instead, I’ll just really brighten the spotlight on this smoked helles from Halfway Crooks and let it linger. Something about this perfectly restrained smoke show tasted extra good because this brewery has been so high on my list for so long.
Until next week, here’s Darb boarding the plane to head back home.