By Ethan Harmon
Monday afternoon does not exactly seem like a good time to grab a beer, but I felt like having a good time, and after what I went through over the weekend, I had a newfound respect for beer, the bar scene, and the local micro-breweries. So I decided to take a trip to lower Greenville and hop on the patio at Glass Boot Biergarten.
The venue looked like a typical bar/pub/restaurant, with a bar, tables, large television screens showing sports, friends and co-workers sitting around and chatting about their lives, you know, the usual. But Glass Boot had a relaxed atmosphere, and the bartenders and waitresses were very knowledgeable.
I’m not exactly an expert on beer, particularly craft beers, so I usually ask for the opinion of the waitress or bartender. After taking my seat, I enjoyed the wonderful view and enjoyed the cooling sensation of a nearby fan. I asked the waitress for a recommendation, not knowing what to get (Glass Boot has a large selection of beer).
“I really like the Community Lager,” she said. “It has a nice smooth taste to it and it goes well with our large pretzel.”
So I ordered just that and, well, come on, the huge pretzel as well. And you know what? She was right. The beer was smooth, had a rich flavor, and a subtle, lingering aftertaste that perfectly complemented the tasty, monstrous pretzel. It truly was a great way to cap off my weekend of beer, partying, and ultimately, a surprising education of the micro-brew scene.
But let’s rewind a bit. I was having a rather rough week and I needed a way to unwind. Usually I gravitate toward writing, but I felt like I needed a night, or hell, a few nights out, to get past the troubles of the workweek. So I called up a friend and dragged my roommate out of the apartment to journey out into the night.
There are a few bars around my area, but nothing special and really nothing offering something we have not already done 100 times over. This weekend needed something special and unique, so we decided to hop to two different bars that we had never before entered. Our first stop was The Ginger Man on Boll Street.
This bar had a high rating on Yelp, was within driving distance, and seemed different from the usual bar experience. So my roommate parked his car and the three of us (me, the roomie, and another friend) opened the doors and looked for a place to sit. It being the end of the week, we did not expect to find anything, but to our surprise, there were free stools right at the bar.
Immediately after snagging the stools, we felt as if we entered a completely different world. The taps behind the bar had names of beers we had never heard of, i.e. Revolver, Franconia, Paulaner.
We each ordered a different beer. I opted for the Breckenridge Vanilla Porter and took a look at our surroundings. The Ginger Man was loud, but not in an obnoxious or annoying way. It was full of laughter and excitement, with college students and local workers enjoying themselves, sitting on couches, and playing darts. The music rotated through classic and 90s alternative-rock, which wasn’t too bad (I’m just glad it was not country).
We loved the bar, and sipped our beers, which immediately blew our minds. This was our awakening to a new world of beer, and we wanted to taste more. These beers were delicious, unique, and blended so many different flavors. The Vanilla Porter in particular was dark, strong, somewhat bitter at first, but ended with a small hint of sweet vanilla at the end. Magical.
The night was young, so the three of us decided to try another bar.
“No more of the bars around our place, not after going there!” my roommate said ecstatically as we all were, so we looked up another bar which would carry special beers. The Flying Saucer popped up on my phone, and away we went.
We parked and ran inside, snagging an empty table toward the back of the pub. The walls and ceilings were decorated with plates (saucers) that had names of members and silly quotes they wrote when intoxicated. I quickly asked a waitress about the plates and if they meant something.
“Oh, those?” she said. “We have a club. Sign up and you get a card that will keep track of what beers you drink. Drink 200 different beers and you get a plate with your name on the wall!”
Two hundred different beers? How is that possible?
I knew my answer after looking at the menu. It was the largest beer menu I had ever laid my eyes upon. There were hundreds of different beers from around the world, and a majority of them were on tap. We could not even decide what to pick, so we just pointed at a name on the menu and went with that choice. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what beers we had or how many. It was all lost in a whirlwind of laughter and fun.
Waking the next day felt like a blur. These new beers were amazing, but they definitely packed a punch. I debated on going out again, and after some coercion from my roommate, and a little push from a photographer friend of mine, we were off again. The first suggestion was to head downtown and check out Angry Dog, a local bar/restaurant known for its comfortable atmosphere and location. Off we were, with the roommate taking the wheel.
We arrived to meet with Jonah Gilmore, a talented photographer and all-around fun guy. Jonah knew the place pretty well and brought some company with him. We walked in and grabbed a spot at the bar. I noticed Angry Dog was smaller than the bars we stopped in the previous night. But that was why the bar was special. It was warm, welcoming, small and quaint, but with a fun and friendly atmosphere. The bartender recommended a beer for me, Deep Ellum IPA, and we engaged in small talk. Every moment at the bar was filled with laughter, and I loved the feeling I was given by sitting there with friends.
Curiosity eventually got the better of me, however, and I wanted to know more about these special beers. Upon asking the bartender, he told me they were craft beers prepared and created in microbreweries, and pointed me in the direction of Todd, Angry Dog’s owner, to ask any questions. I approached Todd, and he welcomed me to his establishment with a smile and a firm handshake. I quickly asked him question after question about microbreweries, craft beers, and bar ownership.
“Microbreweries around here make their own beer,” he said. “You’ve got to be rich, or stealing money (laughs) in order to run one.”
Starting a business always is challenging, but I didn’t realize it was so financially draining.
“These guys have to order everything: ingredients, bottles, bottle caps, equipment, machines,” Todd said. “And since they are local, they have to take care of their own distribution.”
Todd even told me that microbreweries are named as such because they don’t pump out a certain amount of beer. It’s an incredible amount, but they don’t create as much as, say, Coors.
“If a bar needs their beer, they will pick up a keg, day or night, toss it in a van, and take it to them,” he said.
I thanked Todd for his time and was on my way, because Jonah said he had a surprise in store. He told us to meet him at Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill and order whatever we wanted. After a bit of a drive, we ended up at what looked like a biker bar.
I’m not one to judge, but this had me a little worried. My roommate and I ordered a Revolver Blood and Honey (Todd’s suggestion) and waited for the surprise. The expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” came into play at this moment. The bar actually was very nice, offering a wide selection of food. Country music (ugh!) and hard rock blasted through the speakers and everyone looked as if they were having a good time.
Then it happened. Jonah walked in with a bevy of beautiful women along with some of his friends, ordered drinks, and started the party of a lifetime. Surprise, indeed. I only remember bits and pieces of that day (never had a Hangover moment before), but I know it was a blast. Craft beers were consumed, dancing commenced, laughs and stories were shared, and the event became a blur. My roommate and I walked, or more like stumbled, out of Gas Monkey with smiles on our faces, beers in our stomachs (and heads), and thanked Jonah for the once-in-a-lifetime surprise. Luckily, Jonah took pictures of the night for us to check out and attempt to piece together what happened.
And back to the afternoon at Glass Boot. Sipping my Community Lager and eating my big pretzel, I reflected on the weekend. I had wonderful times, some of which I remember, and I tasted craft beers created by microbreweries, something I previously didn’t know existed. I received a brief education about these delicious beers and enjoyed every second of it with friends.
At one point, I asked Todd, in his opinion, what makes a beer special. He responded with, “it comes down to personal preference.”
There is truth in that. But I think what makes a beer special, outside of the taste, is who made it, how you enjoy it, and who you enjoy it with. Microbreweries create these wonderful beers so they can be shared with friends, and I think that’s what makes a special beer, and ultimately, a special night. Or, in my case, a number of special nights.