Most days, the Dunwoody conference room in the Loews Atlanta Hotel hosts twentysomething trainees watching a PowerPoint job orientation or businessmen who point to charts and say things like, "Gentlemen, I believe the numbers speak for themselves."
But today, it's a classroom. The subject:
"Beer: It's What's For Breakfast."
Surprising no one, this Atlanta Food & Wine Festival class is completely sold out. There are doughnuts from Sublime, Atlanta's most popular pastry place, tasting glasses full of Southern brews and some very sad, very lonely glasses of water sweating onto tablecloths. The class is hosted by Bob Townsend, longtime "Beer Town" columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, plus a panel of five semi-shaggy Southern brewers who've had it up to here with the stigma of drinking beer before noon.
"As much as beer for breakfast is a Homer Simpson thing, I've always felt that beer is food," Townsend says. "It's a personal, artisan craft and it belongs at the breakfast table."
This theory is not unique to the South. In fact, Georgia's a tad behind the curve — it was illegal to sell alcohol on Sunday until six years ago. Still, the malty tides are turning all over the country.
"I suppose it's just habit," says Aaron Carroll, creative and marketing manager at Beachwood BBQ, Brewing and Blendery in Long Beach, CA. "Perhaps beer isn't thought of as a breakfast drink because it's the most common alcoholic beverage in America — people just avoid it in the morning because it's their go-to drink the rest of the day."
Carroll says he's seeing a shift in Southern California as diners are ordering more micheladas than Bloody Marys. "I think it's just being exposed to different options or cuisines or cultures," he says. "For example, a lot of non-Asian people find it strange to eat noodles for breakfast. But if, like me, you live in a neighborhood where a bunch of pho restaurants open at 7 or 8 a.m., you become curious, check it out and realize that noodles are a fantastic way to start the day. I think that's what it will take for beer to become more accepted as a breakfast beverage: more people just stepping outside their comfort zones and trying something different."
Like a beermosa. At East End Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, founder Scott Smith mixes orange juice with his Moonstomp Berliner Weisse sour ale, which at 3.5%, has a low alcohol by volume (ABV).
"In reality, a typical Bloody Mary has more alcohol than a typical pint of beer," he says. "As we say to people trying to choose a beer: What's your intent? If you're looking for a happy way to start the day, we can send you in one direction. If you're looking to take a nap by noon, we can steer you in a different direction."
Coffee beers easily skirt the loser/boozer stereotype. "Coffee plus beer: The two best liquids ever made," says Omar Ansari, founder and president of Surly Brewing Co. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "We add Guatemalan coffee from a Minneapolis roaster to Bender, Surly's oatmeal brown ale, to make Coffee Bender. You get the cold press coffee aromas and flavors balanced by the oats in the malt bill, so there's a creaminess like you'd get from a cappuccino."
Ansari says Coffee Bender would be fast friends with a plate of French toast. "The sweet, spice-soaked, eggy bread mix topped with maple syrup is the perfect complement to the notes of caramel, vanilla bean and espresso in the beer." At Good People Brewing Company in Birmingham, Alabama, co-owner Michael Sellers calls his Coffee Oatmeal Stout "a very good start-your-day beer and a very good end-your-day beer." Like Ansari, he says the lack of acidity works well with pancakes, waffles and breakfast pastries.
Ready to crack one open after you crack an eyeball? Here are some of the best breakfast beers in all the land, along with a few suggestions on what type of breakfast to pair them with:
Beachwood Mocha Machine
Long Beach, CA
Notes: Big, robust coffee bomb
Pair with: Beer-braised pork belly with an over-easy egg and grilled chilis on the side
Creature Comforts Brewing Co. Condor Chocolate Stout
Notes: Dry chocolate stout with hints of pistachio and mascarpone cheese
Pair with: Doughnuts
East End Brewing Company Joe Melts
Notes: A combination of their chocolate-y Snow Melt Ale with Papua New Guinea coffee from upstairs neighbors Commonplace Coffee.
Pair with: Eggs over easy, well-done greasy potatoes and bread
Orpheus Brewing Atalanta
Notes: Nice and light with raspberry and stone fruit
Pair with: Sausage
Surly Brewing Co. Hell
Notes: German for "light," Hell is a pale-gold lager that splits the difference between bready malt and floral hop aromas and flavors
Pair with: Chilaquiles. Ansari recommends easing the pain of this spicy Mexican dish with the soft, malty flavor of this lager.
SweetWater The Pit and The Pendulum
Notes: High-alcohol peach brett beer with a champagne-like character
Pair with: Cheese Danish or goat cheese omelet