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Steelhead & Jamaica

Next week kids, I have a lovely, juicy, value-driven Cabernet Sauvignon for you. But this week, please indulge one more week of beer.

The story of craft beer pioneer Ken Grossman going from home brewer, to home brew supply dealer to founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is legendary among beer geeks. Grossman blazed the trail and set the bar for every little brewery that followed.

Today's story is about one of those brewers.

Bob Smith bought home brewing supplies from Grossman's Chico, Calif, shop. There, the two regaled one another with stories of their hops-fueled dreams - to open craft breweries in their home towns - Grossman in Chico and Smith in Humboldt County.

Grossman launched Sierra Nevada to immediate critical and commercial acclaim. In no time, he had outgrown his equipment - and remembered an old friend who just might be in the market.

Smith leaped at the chance, bought the equipment and, in December 1990, delivered his first keg of Mad River Brewing Co. Steelhead Extra Pale Ale.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Mad River has two labels in Georgia - Steelhead and Jamaica Brand. Production that began with 1,500 barrels per year has climbed to an impressive 10,000 barrels a year.

I sampled three of the beers and give 'em a solid B+. It's good beer, nicely crafted beer but lacks the subtle character of its more exquisite competitors. Ultimately, your palate is the final judge - and I do recommend you give Mad River beers a try.

Steelhead Extra Pale Ale pours a nice golden color and then stands and delivers classic pale ale characteristics - medium body, mild bitterness and lightly hopped refreshment.

Steelhead Double India Pale Ale delivers with a nice citrus nose and flavor and at 8.6 ABV wears its DIPA badge with honor. Still as doubles go, it's meek.

Of the three, I think my favorite was Jamaica Red Ale. This bitter red ale is a perfect choice for chicken, crepes - think island food when you're making the menu. Beautiful in the glass and with nice body, I grooved on its hoppy bitterness and clean finish.

Savannah Craft Brew Fest

Man, tickets are going fast! You can get the details online at And, here's an insider tip. If you really taste something you like, rush out Monday early to buy more. What I've experienced the past two years is, in the case of smaller package stores, a complete sell out of their craft beer choices.

Terrapin Side Project

No mate, THIS is a DIPA!

Athens-based Terrapin Beer will pour four brews at the festival, but on your next beer expedition, check out Side Project Volume 12, Hopzilla. This limited release, bold-ass double IPA packs 110 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and 10.7 percent ABV. It's probably best to share this 22-ouncer with a friend - and don't operate heavy machinery.

Resinous, citrusy and alarmingly refreshing, Hopzilla's powerhouse grapefruit characteristics makes it a winner to sip alone - or pair Hopzilla with spicy foods, a shrimp boil or an oyster roast.