SweetWater Brewery Kicks Casks in Atlanta
Ninety casks brewed for the first annual Sweetwater Brewery “Brew Your Cask Off” competition made the beautiful afternoon of Saturday, March 20th that much more… well, beautiful.
It was an honor to put my palate’s two decades of beer-sipping experience to use and join the distinguished list of judges who began knocking down 3-ounce samples under a large tent based on Sweetwater Brewery’s lot at noon. It was quite an experience tasting the innovative interpretations of what IPAs, saisons, Belgians, ESBs, porters, pale ales and stouts should taste like in the eyes of restaurants, charity reps, retailers and even media.
Thanks to Hop City, a brew lover’s paradise that happily boasts 1,500 beers on stock and homebrewing supplies in the west Atlanta bottle shop, participants snatched up the essential ingredients (hops, yeast and grains) and combined them with some off-the-wall additives like figs, star anise, cinnamon, tequila-soaked oak chips, Sichuan peppercorns, chipotle, marshmallows and even carrots by yours truly, The Beer Connoisseur. All of the beers were brewed on the Sweetwater Brewery grounds.
I purposely avoided the names of the brewmasters behind each entry to practice total objectivity and went solely by numbers during the judging; this helped me remain guiltless when I hurled failed concoctions in the spittoon from time to time.
However, no matter how dreadful a few were, the respect for each attempt remained equal because it all boiled down to a communal love for beer and Atlanta’s got a whole lot of it! Truthfully, there were some really good ones that, with a little extra love, could even be packaged and sold.
Possessing fragrant aromas, well-balanced hops, decent head retention and a true understanding of what particular styles incorporated, a respectable number of brewers knew what they were doing despite the kooky ingredients added for shock value.
Once unveiled, I got a kick out of the names that further pushed the boundaries of creativity; I would’ve loved to design logos for “The Full Retard,” “Knobzilla Vanilla Oatmeal Stout,” “Monkey Knuckles Saison” and the aforementioned “Buzzed Bunny” by BC, to name a few.
Leading up to the event, five charities competed for the most online votes to gain $1 from every ticket sold, courtesy of SweetWater Brewing Company: The Atlanta Humane Society, Bert’s Big Adventure, March of Dimes, Park Pride and Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. In the end, cats and dogs reigned as Atlanta Humane Society scooped up $1,876 from Brew Your Cask Off, so every swallow of homemade brew was for a good cause.
To support the theme of equal opportunity, attendees not only picked the Top 5 best entries (four winners and the People’s Choice), but even showed the most revolting beer in the contest some light. According to a judges’ consensus, Fontaine’s Rick McCoy proved to all aspiring brewmasters who’s boss by pimpin’ some cayenne, ginger, and some hip Cascade and Simcoe Hops in his blonde “Hop n’ Spicy,” while Raging Burrito had the spit buckets overflowing with their Raging Xocolate.
Here is the final list of the winners (and loser):
2010 Top Picks from the Judges Panel
1ST Place: #32 Fontaine’s tops the ballots with their “Hop n’ Spicy”
2ND Place: #49 Gibney’s “ELT Ale”
3RD Place: #11 Taco Mac’s “PNS Reserve”
4TH Place: #79 Loco’s “Moose Brew”
People’s Choice Award: #50 Cypress Street’s “Knobzilla Vanilla Oatmeal Stout”
Biggest Stinker: # 37 Raging Burrito’s “Raging Xocolate”
Charity Winner: Atlanta Humane Society
To keep the party going into mid April, the coolest thing about winning the “Cask Off” is that the top quartet of winning ales will be recreated for the annual SweetWater 420 Fest on April 17 and 18 in the always serene and green Candler Park. Log on to www.sweetwater420fest.com for more information on this highly anticipated fun in the sun.
-- by Ale Sharpton
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