This past Saturday, Jeff & I woke up late, missing an engagement that we had scheduled. (Actually, I got up and then went back for a nap; Jeff slept straight through). At some point, I suggested that we hop in the car and check out some brew pubs that we haven’t yet been to. Jeff replied, “Smashing idea!” And so we were off.

Our first stop was the Big Rock Chophouse in Birmingham. Here is where I tell you that I’m kinda intimidated by Birmingham…I never quite fit in and always feel way out of place. So as soon as we got into the restaurant, we ran to the bar (I almost ran over another patron who was, of course, little and blonde and made me feel about 3 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier) and plopped ourselves down. We were immediately comfortable and felt welcomed. Ahhh…we had found our place in Birmingham!

The place is gorgeous–lots of shiny wood and bottles and just the right lighting. We ordered the beer sampler, which looked like this:

See? It’s pretty!

Starting on the left is the lager. Folks, when the basic lager is good, you know you are in for a treat! This lager was perfectly “to style” (as best I can tell…I’m not a certified judge). It had a pure “lager” nose and was crisp and dry.

Next was the IPA, which had a strong hop presence and was not terribly bitter. It also wasn’t terribly floral or citrusy like American IPAs can sometimes be. Next was my personal favorite, the bock. You can see it’s pretty copper color. This was a smooth, biscuity beer that was not at all heavy and extremely easy drinking. I didn’t want it to end so I drank it kinda slowly, which meant it warmed up some…still very good! Next was Jeff’s favorite, the saison. Jeff said this beer was “just about perfect”…wheaty and just the most lightest subtle hint of banana. I’ve sometimes found saisons to be a little “off” but this one was dead on and delicious. Next was the black beer, called a Schwarzbier (which I think is German for, go figure, “black beer”). This beer reminded us of a dunkel…very malty, no taste of hops. It was a filling beer, but not heavy, if that makes any sense. Next was the double red, also fantastic. Nice hop aroma, caramely & roasty body. Finally you will see the most excellent royal imperial stout. This beer was amazing–coffee taste, perhaps a hint of chocolate, perfect example of a stout style and finished with a nice, clean alcohol burn.

At some point, our bartender Jeff (who was super duper fantastic) said, “You two seem like aficionados…when would be a good time to tell you that we have some bourbon barrel aged imperial stout in bottles?” You don’t gotta ask me twice–“Now!” I said. I guess my mad note taking clued him in to our beer geekiness 🙂

This beer was amazing. The nose was all bourbon. The body was creamy and rich with a hint of vanilla. The best way to describe is to say it was like a beershake. Bartender Jeff said it was the royal imperial stout that we had enjoyed in our sampler, aged for about 6 to 8 months in the barrels. Luckily for us, it was bottled and so we took one home to save for later. I trust that no one will break into our house to get this beer, although I suppose I couldn’t blame you if you did!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding food that we had. We hadn’t had lunch yet and it was after 3 (remember, we slept in super late), so we got the slider sampler. Yowza–they were pretty keen jelly bean. One was a salmon-crab cake with some sort of awesome sauce on it, another was buffalo chicken and spicy as hell and one was sirloin which made want to cry. The sliders were served with thick, yummy onion rings. It’s like what I imagine White Castle is like when you die and go to Heaven (although with no calories…no calories in Heaven, I hear).

As we went along our journey, I was commenting on Facebook and Twitter. To a one, everyone in the beer community praised head brewer Dan Rogers–and with good reason. Someone called him the “professor” and I have to agree…he is amazing!

So the next time you oversleep and miss the brew session you are supposed to go to…hop in the car and head east to Birmingham. Sit at the bar, chat up Jeff the bartender, and you’ll fit right in!

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