Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rebekha Jennings: A Lady Who Loves Beer

After living in Japan for a few years, she returned to Atlanta and saw the city anew appreciating both the arts and craft beer scenes alike. When she combined her interests by creating an "Art of Beer" event, where she met brewer Greg Niznik, the idea for the Ponce De Leon Festival was born.

With plans to put her love for community and creation to use by opening a farm to table resort and a brewery in Asheville sometime in the near future, this month's Lady Who Loves Beer is one to watch as she continues to make her dreams take flight.

Meet Rebekha Jennings: a lady who loves beer.

Where are you from? How did you end up in Atlanta? Do you think this is your forever home?
Originally I was born in Richmond Virginia. I think my parents chose that location because as I hear it "Richmond is for Lovers."Not that I remember anything about the area because my parents moved me to Atlanta when I was two, but I try to keep the "Lover" inside my heart. 
Over the years I dance back and forth on my feelings about the Atlanta area. I see it being an overall violent town but also look upon how it has blossomed over the years. I love seeing the art scene developing and really contribute it to SCAD opening its doors a few years back. 
Also, I enjoy the inner whispers of the film industry coming into fruition. I know this will do great thing for the city's growth. I was able to step away from the city and moved to Japan for a few years. Being on the other side of the world can give you enough space to see Atlanta from a far and when I returned I could enjoy the city as a whole. I will always keep Atlanta as my base but I do have my eye set on Asheville and feel its only a matter of time before I make my move.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dare all, and prevail.

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It's going to be beautiful. It already is.

It's noon on a Friday and the sun is brilliant and warm. We mill about waiting for everyone to arrive for a group photo.

Today, I am just a stranger bewitched by the vacant spaces and dreamy light. I am just doing my job, watching for natural frames and dramatic shadow. Trying to capture the thousand tales being told in every unlit corner, in these worn floorboards, in these old brick walls. Waiting for an honest and unexpected laugh.

Inside, sunlight spills across the empty floors mixing with soft, deep shadows. Before we get to the posed pictures, Jen Hidinger and Ryan Smith take us on a tour of the building, helping us envision the future barkeep, tabletops, and outdoor patio seating that will transform the space from dream to reality.


I'd heard of the Hidingers through Sweetwater's fundraising initiative, but until last week when I was invited to photograph recipients of a giant check for over $36,000 in proceeds from sales of Sweetwater's Second Helping IPA, I didn't really know their story.

Ryan Hidinger was 36 when he passed away this January after battling late-stage gall bladder cancer. Forbes called it a tragedy, but there's nothing tragic about Ryan's life or the legacy he leaves for the rest of us.

Soon now, Staplehouse will open its doors, a restaurant whose post-tax funds will go in their entirety to the non-profit The Giving Kitchen, which seeks to support hospitality workers faced with unanticipated hardship.

From The Giving Kitchen website: 
"Combined with funds raised by TGK from charitable contributions, the profits of Staplehouse will help TGK fund grants to help pay excessive medical and other expenses for the people who anonymously and graciously nourish so many of us during our dining experiences and who may find themselves in a time of need."
In the moment Jen and Ryan Smith are handed the check, everyone is visibly moved. I feel suddenly privy to a moment I did not earn. Humbled to bear witness to this unflinching love. I don't hesitate to call it that--love. You'd have to blind not to see it. This quiet, even, bottomless love.

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It's rare to encounter someone with both extraordinary talent and extraordinary selflessness, but if you ask anyone who knew him, Ryan Hidinger embodied both. Though the almost $300,000 raised by the community for his treatment did not ultimately stop Ryan's cancer, he chose to live a life that inspired an unstoppable dream. A life that dares the rest of us to dream big, be kind, and take care of one another.

I look forward to the day I can pay my respects at a Staplehouse table. Join me.

541 Edgewood Ave.

Monday, March 24, 2014

#EarnYourBrew: A Fitness Challenge for Beer Lovers

A fitness challenge for beer lovers. Any goal you like. Attainable, realistic, and workable for your life. My goal is 6 miles of walking a week, any way I can get it. What's yours?

As most beer enthusiasts will likely admit, taking up drinking as a hobby can really add some inches to the waistline. I'm not overwhelmingly vain, but I do like to feel good, and moving my body (to the beat or otherwise) just feels good. My mind is clearer, my stress levels lower, and my motivation on the rise. What's not to like (seriously, can my enthusiasm be any more annoying at 9am?). Plus, there are only so many days until summer left, and I'd like to feel a little more free in the skin I'm in (bathing suit season--need I say more?).

I'll be spreading out my miles between two days each week. Bonus points for hula hooping on brew days. Pick a day (or every day) and get er done.

Inside, outside, upside down. Ok, maybe not the last one. Personally being in a gym kinda drives me batty, so I'll be walking it up through the many beautiful parks and trails we's got's here in Georgia. Post your fitness goals to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with #EarnYourBrew. Let's do this.

Eat well, fill that pint glass with water (in between the beer of course), and use the hashtag #EarnYourBrew to keep track of meeting your weekly fitness goals. I'll be looking through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for media to share of others throughout the week.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Beer, baseball, and ice cream in single serving fix

This summer Atlantans can get their beer, baseball, and ice cream fix in a single serving as they take to the stands at Turner Field.

Frozen Pints, co-founded by business partners Aly Moler and Ari Fleischer, will be available in a branded cart on the main concourse of Turner Stadium "near a booth that sells craft beer."

In addition to exploring new corners of the ice cream market, Aly and Ari have been hard at work on a new flavor combination of Frozen Pints which marries Goose Island's Sofie (a twice-fermented Farmhouse Saison with a delicate, champagne-like flavor profile) with strawberries and cream. The limited-release flavor Strawberry Sofie is officially set to hit shelves this week.

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I had a chance to preview the flavor myself during Goose Island's Migration Week this month at Ormsby's in Atlanta which hosted a ladies-only evening of ice cream and beer pairings.

A rep. from the brewery did his best to elucidate the finer points of the Goose Island beers as we tasted each one along with a different flavor of Frozen Pints ice cream (though I'm not sure how dialed in he was to the existing expertise of his audience. "Next ladies, we have our IPA, which means India Pale Ale...," maybe the incredibly knowledgeable and nearby standing female rep. I'd met earlier in the week would have been a more appropriate choice? But I digress).

While strawberry ice cream has never been my favorite (I still prefer the more hop-forward and beer-centric styles of ice cream like the Frozen Pints Peach Lambic and Frozen Pints Honey IPA) I did think the sweet, fruity, and mildly beer-flavored Frozen Pints Strawberry Sofie paired beautifully with the tart and boozy Goose Island Lolita (not a menu-approved pairing, I might add).

If you don't want to wait until opening day, you can go ahead and get yourself a scoop at local Georgia retailers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sweet Cans Coming to a Pool Near You

Sweetwater Brewing celebrated their 17th anniversary this past February, and with a new canning line already up and running (and rumors of some other exciting plans in the works) they have a lot to be happy about.

I was invited to take a closer look at the canning line, and made a short film to let you in on the magic.

Because they're can conditioned, the samples they gave me to take home will have to wait a couple weeks in the fridge before I can pop the tops. But as the saying goes: patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

The brewery is rolling out 12-packs of 12-oz 420 cans throughout Georgia to start, but will follow up with IPA 12-packs and 16-oz tallboy singles of both 420 and IPA throughout the rest of its Southeastern footprint early this summer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

There's No Place Like Home: A Visit With {Omaha Brewing Company}

Set to make their debut at the upcoming Georgia Craft Beer Fest in a few weeks, Omaha Brewing Company might be the only Georgia brewery you have to drive through Alabama to get to.

About 20 miles south of Columbus on the Alabama-Georgia line and a stone's throw from the Chattahoochee, Omaha emerges almost out of nowhere amid a stretch of undisturbed pines and swampland scrub. Unlike other places I've visited, the location almost begs the question of place. Why here? Why Omaha for a brewery? With a deep and personal family history tying the owners to the town, it's not a question that goes unanswered for long.

I recently got a chance to spend a weekend in Omaha with my family to preview the brewery and try their beers. As with other small, locally-owned Georgia breweries I've visited, there's a sense that the beer is more than just a business. Even in its unfinished newness, Omaha Brewing Company seems to gleam with promise, offering potential commerce to an area that's long gone without.

Robert E. Lee and his wife Stephanie Lee, the brewery's owners, warmed their hands while we talked fireside. Beneath the old oaks on the plot where his grandmother's house once stood, Robert told tales of growing up in this small Georgia town. He attended school in Omaha's one-room schoolhouse where students from first through fifth grade would complete their lessons under the direction of a single teacher. He still retains ownership of much of his family's land.

The Lees approach outsiders and each other with such familiarity and deep Southern regard that it's easy to feel at home in their presence. They've informally adopted their brewer, Nick Fowler, as one of their own. "He's like one of our sons now."

Formerly employed by Red Brick Brewing in Atlanta, Nick says he's lucky to be living on the property his boss's late aunt once called home. A working electric organ (a Wurlitzer) that once belonged to her still stands in the dining room and provided hours of entertainment for our four-year-old son. With only minutes to commute to work, Nick says he enjoys having time to hunt and fish here, and the space it allows his dog Simcoe (who is often by his side) to be a "free-range puppy." 


In a way, looking at Omaha is like looking at the stars. It's hard to know which fires are still burning and which have gone out. At night, amid the hums and howls of humans and animals alike, the town seems alive with ghosts.

A town that flourished during the cotton boom has since been left to vouch for its own, seemingly skipped over by the census bureau in 2010. Robert says he's watched the population fall from about 350 to just over 100 residents in recent years, many of whom are still blood relatives.

The people, perhaps here more than other places, seem to live by an unwritten code. They take care of each other. They make do, and in some instances, they make their own rules. Neighbors offer up the gutted boar laying on the back of their pickup. In the lazy and unexpected warmth of a February afternoon, an old toilet becomes target practice on a derelict and blocked off bridge. Along isolated backwoods roads, open container laws might be more of a suggestion than a rule.

But isolation also comes at a cost. A recent fire destroyed a large pavilion on part of the Lee property. Nick says the fire department in Lumpkin, fifteen miles away, didn't even know where Omaha was. 

Introducing herself as "Blue Jeans," Stephanie shook visibly as they assessed the damage, reclaiming a "welcome home" sign from what remained of the pavilion. "It's hard--this is the first time we've seen it," Stephanie said, squeezing my shoulder. Offering her apologies, she expressed gratitude for the safety of their son (who'd been sleeping there up until the night before the fire). "It was home to us. It will be again. We are so blessed." 

It's taken me far too long to distill the experience of visiting Omaha. That Wurlitzer shook loose too many long put away memories, maybe. Or it might have just been the overlap of days drinking good beer that made it hard to untangle some perspective from the poetry that's wrangled my brain the last few weeks.

It's easy to fall into the sky when it looks the way it does in Omaha. To want more of the stillness, slowness, and quiet that I got in those few days there. To want more time amid the vastness of the world above we can only see when the lights are turned out.

Late at night, Nick takes us out to the family's hunting field to get a look at the sky. Beneath brilliant starlight, he tells me it took a while to be convinced, but he knows that "even in places like this people can understand the story of craft beer."

And with approachable, well-crafted beers already in the works (I got to sample more than my fair share of the Hoppy Wheat and Hefeweisen) it's a story that's easy to believe. A recent graduate of Siebel's World Brewing Academy, Nick is in a unique position to make his mark and seems set on doing just that. 

The beer...

Oma-Hop: A hoppy wheat session ale with a light body, low IBUs, and huge citrus hop aroma and flavor (coming entirely from Citra hops), it's an easy-drinking, hop-forward delight that could very well be a gateway glass to another world for many novice craft beer drinkers (in my humble opinion).

Nada-Banana: The Weiss beer is a German style, done in a slightly modified method Nick came up with that uses low alpha bittering hops, and a large addition of cascade at flame out, fermented at higher temp (76f) to promote the banana esters from the Weihenstephan yeast.

Confirmed brews on deck include an oak-aged Imperial IPA, and a Jack Daniel's barrel-aged Imperial Stout (the last of which I can say firsthand is surely going to send some beer-geek hearts aflutter).

Stay tuned....

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Haley Cowan: A Lady Who Loves Beer

Haley Cowan is one busy lady. Juggling both her Doctorate of Pharmacy degree and her role as Brand Manager for the local and newly launched Eventide Brewing, this South Georgia native grew up among the cotton blossoms and the peanut crops. 

When she's not talking, tasting, and toeing the beer line, she's got her nose in the books studying for exams. Despite her Georgia roots, she'd gladly relocate to Spain (tomorrow, if you asked) and travel back in time to meet Amelia Earhart for a flight of another kind. Find out more about Haley in this month's focus on Atlanta Ladies Who Love Beer.

Tell us about you. Where are you from? How did you end up in Atlanta? Do you think this is your forever home?
I grew up in a small town in South Georgia, in a place where the smell of freshly dug up peanuts permeates the air in late summer, giving way to cotton blossoms in the fall. I spent my college years in Statesboro at Georgia Southern where I met Nathan and Geoffrey. After graduating, Nathan and I spent a few years living up and down the East Coast. We settled on Atlanta in 2009 so that I could pursue a Doctorate of Pharmacy degree at Mercer while he pursued a career in engineering. While we have a lot of roots and family in Atlanta, we have high hopes of living abroad. I would happily move to Spain tomorrow given the opportunity.
When you're not drinking beer, you're...
Not drinking beer…ha, that’s a rare occurrence, though a truer statement would be when you aren’t sampling beer. It’s rare that I get to sit and enjoy a full glass. When I am not focusing on my family or Eventide I am buried in the books, studying for my next exam, or working on my research project.


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