November is the first month in which I organize my tour routes to get me out of the cold, avoid the possibility of wintery road conditions, and ideally hit some beaches. Last November I did a brief run of shows in Florida, and then took an extended break through the holidays, as I had toured extensively throughout the rest of the year and needed a break.
This year COVID provided a longer than desired break in the Spring, so I was still raring to go come November. Additionally, one of my favorite runs of the year (the Gulf Coast/New Orleans route) was canceled by the pandemic, and I was really itchy to get back to New Orleans... which just happened to open back up in October... so the timing was perfect. The plan was to do a two week trip, starting in southern Georgia, heading west through beach towns of the Gulf coast, spend a few days (including Thanksgiving) in New Orleans, and then hit Memphis on the way home. Not only did this route get me out of the cold, it provided both beaches and New Orleans, outdoor venues, fantastic food the whole way, and then instead of a somewhat painful 15 hour drive home, we cut it in half and played a show in one of my other favorite towns, Memphis for a whole different spin on music and food to wrap things up. So expect rich tales of all of that in the blogs to come, which cover this leg of the tour.
Georgia Beer Company – Valdosta, GA
Tap pours, cans, growlers, and crowlers are available at the brewery's taproom. The brewery's product can be found throughout Georgia.
This trip was also rather different from the norm as I was traveling this time with company: my two sons Brad and Nathan (Nate). If you follow the tour you've probably heard of Brad, as he is also a professional musician and has played shows with me before. Brad's lifestyle gives him the luxury of checking out my tour itinerary and picking and choosing the routes he wants to join me on (usually beaches, and always New Orleans). Brad is a welcome addition not only for the company, but because he helps get a lot done on tour that I usually can't do by myself... at the gigs he helps setup and tweek the sound mix, takes photos, and keep track of the beers I've been sampling... along with helping with the driving. Nate isn't usually interested in touring with me, as he's not old enough to partake at the breweries and has an aversion to long drives. That said, he had just returned from an adventure staying with his other brother Drew in Austin, thought beaches and experiencing New Orleans sounded promising, and decided to come along... so it was good to have more company, and yet another roadie.
Django, my faithful boxer, stayed home where Brad's girlfriend Kailey had agreed to stay with him while we were away. Kailey is a dance instructor, nursing student, and was a college cheerleader, and Django was so happy with the arrangements that when we returned he didn't seem as excited to see us as he usually does... so tons of thanks to her for taking such good care of my boy!
Our first scheduled brewery show was at the Georgia Beer Company in Valdosta, Georgia. This was my first time in the town, and the visit to the brewery was a long time coming as we had tried to schedule dates on several other trips but just couldn't get the schedules to line up. Open since early 2019 (the taproom... the brewery was founded in 2014), Georgia Beer Co. is right off I-75 very close to the Florida border, about halfway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville. It kinda feels more like Florida, as there are cypress trees and the lots are sandy (as opposed to dirt or clay), and most of the billboards are for nearby beaches and resorts.
Georgia Beer Company stands in a cool looking, large brick building housing the brewery itself as well as the taproom... but I think the real attraction is their sizable beer garden, which consists of a covered area, plenty of tables shaded by big trees, and an outdoor stage. Food trucks have a sort of bay to serve right into the beer garden. The backdrop of the stage is a big brick wall, which ended up looking pretty cool as I had brought a new wash stage lighting unit, which kept the contour of the bricks moving in a rather trippy way with washes of color that changed with my music (nothing obnoxious... just enough to provide a little eye candy) and lit the wall behind me clear up to the roof a few stories above.
This being a Friday, the crowd started out as an age diverse happy hour crowd, and then gradually morphed into a more of a college crowd as the evening progressed. It seemed, at least on this night, to be more of a date destination, as there were a lot of couples, and not as many kids (if any) like at many other breweries. The crowd was interactive and appreciative of the music, and seemed especially interested in my own tunes, which is always nice for me.
The tap selection was ample, with 16 options that pretty much covered all the major categories, from sours and ales to imperial stouts and even ciders. The evening was a bit warm (temps were around 80 for the entire trip) so I initially kept my choices on the lighter and refreshing side.
The Raspberry Blonde (5.4%) was an interesting starter for me, as I was really thirsty and looking for something refreshing and quenching but generally don't care much for raspberries... but it was highly recommended by several folks and it did sound like what I needed, and I was not disappointed. The blonde ale that was the base was crisp (one of their flagship brews, the Field Party Blonde Ale), light but with a little breadiness, and the raspberry was enough to light it up with a little fruitiness but without the too sweet, perfume-like flavor that I dislike in raspberry when it's not done well. No complaints here, it hit the spot perfectly and I actually could have had a few more and not felt overwhelmed by the berries.
Cypress Knee Mosaic IPA (6.6%) was next. Ya know, it's funny when you start with a sour or fruited ale and then move to an IPA... there can be a bit of palate shock on that first sip or two, but that's my fault, not the beer's. After I adjusted I actually enjoyed this IPA quite a bit. As the name would indicate, it is a showcase for the Mosaic strain of hops, delivering a nicely balanced hoppy blend of citrus and piney overtones with a clean finish.
Southern Isles Tropical IPA (6.5%) was also a fine pale ale, this time dry-hopped Citra, Azacca and Lemon Drop hops providing (like the name says) a tropics-appropriate medium bodied super-refreshing citrus fruity IPA that is just a perfect sipper as the evening starts to cool and the stars start popping through the Cypress trees.
Now, I should take a moment to point something out... I went through a pretty good selection of beers on this night, more than you usually see from me at a single brewery. Why? First, because I was enjoying the beers and the brewery and the surroundings... but perhaps most importantly, because on this night Brad was driving after the show. Also, Brad played a little set between mine, so I had more time to drink while not playing. So my shackles were off...
The Loblolly Double IPA (9.3%) was another fine IPA in the lineup, but this one a pretty hard hitting high-alcohol model, not for the faint of heart in the hops department. A rich gold, almost bronze in color, aromatic and bold on the sip, this one is for the folks who really like their IPAs, and don't wince at hop-forward ones at that.
I don't remember exactly when throughout the evening I had it, but there was one drink I did not particularly enjoy, and that was the Pretty Woman Peach Shandy (4.4%). I was probably sweaty after my first set and wanted another quencher, and one of the extremely helpful ladies behind the bar suggested it to me (and outside of this one they were spot on with great suggestions). Normally I wouldn't do a Shandy, but it was peach, and I WAS in Georgia at the Georgia Beer Company... so why not, right? And it wasn't bad, just not my cup of tea, as they say. If you dig Shandies, and you like peach, you'd probably love it. Again, nothing wrong with it... just wasn't for me.
On the other hand, the Destress Express Coffee Milk Stout (5.6%) was right in my sweetspot. Technically they say it's a sweet stout, as it has milk sugar in there along with the locally roasted coffee and malts, but I found the coffee and malts really carried the day, and I didn't notice much sweetness at all (which is a good thing, IMO). I sipped this during my second set, and it was a nice sipper.... the coffee set it apart, but it was still enough of a stout to make it a good sipping beer to wet my whistle between songs.
The other beer that really left an impression was the Barrel Aged Imperial Smoked Stout (10%). An appropriate beer to close out the night, this was a powerhouse of dark beer goodness for real men (and women) who like strong dark beers that make you go “whoa!”. Dark with a tannish thick head, dark malty/somewhat boozy aroma... this is Georgia Beer Company's Imperial Smoked Stout, but aged for a year in Rye barrels. I think the adjectives used just in the name pretty much tell you all you need to know about the different levels this one delivers on. This would be a perfect night cap (or dessert beer) after a hearty meal on a chilly night.... but hey, it wasn't bad on a warm Autumn night after a half dozen or so other great beers, either!
Georgia Beer Company was a fun stay all the way around, As you've picked up on, I really enjoyed their beers not only for the quality and variety, but for how good the various styles were (whereas some breweries have their specialty and maybe aren't as good at other styles, etc.). The staff was extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful in selections, and the crowd was enthusiastic and friendly as well. On this night the weather was perfect, so the beer garden was ideal, especially for playing live music while drinking! I definitely hope to play here again, and hopefully will sometime soon, as they are right on the way to my Florida and Gulf Coast runs, as well as my usual Georgia/South Carolina trips.
If you're heading to Florida from up north, they are literally minutes off I-75, so consider them a must-stop on way to or from Florida!
After the show we decided to head towards Gulf Shores, Alabama so we could get some beach time in before Saturday's gig, and drove through some swampy back roads WAY off the beaten path in the middle of the night, and it was darker than dark and a little creepy out there! Headed for our next stop at Gulf Shores' Big Beach Brewery...
Dennis O'Hagan's Great Brewery Tour is completely grass-roots. Your support is appreciated, and can be shown by coming to the shows, frequenting the featured breweries, wearing our t-shirts, and via tips at: http://venmo.com/DennisOHagan