At­lanta: The Cul­tural Cap­i­tal of the South

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Beercation: Atlanta, Georgia - By Jor­danne Bryant

Do you think of Ge­or­gia when you think of craft beer? Moon­shine, prob­a­bly. Kudzu, maybe. Old Vic­to­rian homes and lazy ac­cents, sure. But craft beer? De­spite laws on the books that make it tough to get into and stay in the craft-beer busi­ness, a new gen­er­a­tion of ded­i­cated brewers is de­stroy­ing old stereo­types and re­defin­ing Ge­or­gia from beer back­wa­ter to craft trend­set­ter. TO­DAY, AT­LANTA IS THE DEF­I­NI­TION of con­tem­po­rary, and no kudzu was harmed in the process to get there. What is beer if not art? And in At­lanta, there isn’t a sin­gle neigh­bor­hood with­out real, home­grown, heart­felt art that stretches for miles across the city. Ar­chi­tects love it be­cause it’s hip, busi­ness own­ers wel­come it be­cause it’s gen­uine, and some­times, the city even com­mis­sions it be­cause it sells. The new At­lanta is pur­pose­fully col­ored with his­toric mem­o­ries of old.

Find­ing a way to ap­pre­ci­ate old styles in a new way is the goal of the state’s main city, and more than any­thing, it’s clear in its take on beer.

De­spite the grow­ing num­ber of craft­beer drinkers across the coun­try, the plight of the Ge­or­gia brewer has been dif­fi­cult, if not bor­der­line com­i­cal. But still, like kudzu, brew­eries keep pop­ping up no mat­ter how hard law­mak­ers try to fever­ishly cut them down. A leg­isla­tive break­through in 2015 fi­nally al­lowed brewers to sell bot­tles di­rectly to con­sumers, al­low­ing many brew­eries to in­vest in their busi­nesses and hire more peo­ple. Be­fore they could even count the rev­enue, the law was re­versed due to dis­trib­u­tor lob­by­ing. Now, as it stands, on-premise con­sump­tion is al­lowed, but only off-premise sales are per­mit­ted. Growlers are al­lowed only as “free sou­venirs.”

In 2015, craft-beer tourism was a $22 bil­lion mar­ket, and At­lanta has been ready to get a piece of that mar­ket for years. To­day, de­spite that leg­isla­tive mess, the Ge­or­gia craft-beer busi­ness is boom­ing. While the state has just fewer than fifty brew­eries and ranks forty-eighth (out of fifty) in the coun­try, that num­ber has grown from about twenty in 2011, and ac­cord­ing to the Craft Brewers’ Guild, the state ranks six­teenth in eco­nomic im­pact for its craft-beer pro­duc­tion. What­ever they’re sell­ing, and de­spite how hard it has been to sell it in the past, peo­ple are buy­ing it (or try­ing to).

We vis­ited At­lanta on the oc­ca­sion of Ge­or­gia Beer Day 2017 to soak up ev­ery­thing the city has to of­fer. Coin­ci­den­tally, civic, state, and South­ern pride were at a fever pitch as the city was in full pep rally mode right be­fore the Big Game. Ge­or­gia at its best is some­thing to be­hold, so go ahead and call the Über now; it’s 68°F (20°C) on a Saturday in Jan­uary, and we’re drink­ing our way from Buck­head to De­catur all through the city.

But first, a ge­og­ra­phy les­son for the non-lo­cals—itp and OTP are pop­u­lar terms in At­lanta to de­scribe where you live in re­la­tion to down­town. The en­tire

city is sur­rounded by High­way 285, a cir­cu­lar high­way with At­lanta right in the mid­dle. When you meet some­one new in or around At­lanta, usu­ally the first ques­tion they ask is, “Are you ITP or OTP?” Mean­ing, do you live In the Perime­ter or Out­side the Perime­ter? ITP has all the best restau­rants and bars, and OTP is con­sid­ered the sub­urbs. Now that we’ve got­ten that out of the way, let’s get go­ing (ITP and OTP dwellers all wel­come)!

North At­lanta/buck­head/ North­ern ITP

If we’re go­ing to dis­cuss brew­eries in At­lanta, we have to start the con­ver­sa­tion with Sweet­wa­ter Brewing Com­pany. It’s the big­gest brew­ery by far in sheer size, and af­ter of­fi­cially hit­ting twenty-plus states in dis­tri­bu­tion this year (more than any other Ge­or­gia craft brew­ery), you can un­der­stand how they have the re­sources to do so. The 25,000-square-foot ren­o­vated in­dus­trial space is gor­geous and a pop­u­lar five o’clock happy hour draw with lo­cals. When we say “pop­u­lar,” we mean “get ready to swim through a sea of thirsty of­fice work­ers for their flag­ship beers, 420 Ex­tra Pale Ale and Sweet­wa­ter IPA.”

The real beer geek draw at the brew­ery is their tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled bar­relag­ing fa­cil­ity next door called The Wood­lands. It’s so sep­a­rate from the rowdy happy-hour crowd, you’ll think you’ve left the brew­ery com­pletely. Rows and rows of bar­rels (along with a few large foed­ers) fill the gor­geously ap­pointed space. Noth­ing else like it ex­ists any­where near the city, and it’s no sur­prise that this bar­rel-aged sour-beer heaven is a hot ticket for pri­vate event rentals.

Next, stop by Grind House Killer Burg­ers, less than a mile away. The owner is a for­mer real es­tate at­tor­ney and is re­spon­si­ble for turn­ing some of At­lanta’s ugli­est run-down build­ings into tourist at­trac­tions. The vibe is unique, they keep a small-but-fan­tas­tic draft list, their veg­gie burger won best in the city by Cre­ative Loaf­ing Mag­a­zine, and their Hill­billy burger with pi­mento cheese and brisket chili is to die for.

Vir­ginia High­lands/lit­tle Five Points

Ev­ery neigh­bor­hood has its own iden­tity in At­lanta, but that unique streak is par­tic­u­larly strong in Vir­ginia High­lands

and Lit­tle Five Points. The preppy, wealthy feel of Buck­head is only five miles away, but it feels like a hun­dred when you’re en­sconced in these two small neigh­bor­ing towns with the dens­est pop­u­la­tion of fan­tas­tic beer bars in the city. You might be tempted to use terms like hip­pie and hip­ster to de­scribe it, but that wouldn’t do jus­tice to the di­verse pop­u­la­tion that in­cludes ev­ery­one from young artists to cre­ative en­trepreneurs. It’s where At­lanta’s avant garde ei­ther lives, works, drinks af­ter work, or all of the above.

Nearby Or­pheus Brewing Com­pany sits di­rectly on iconic Pied­mont Park, and in their short three years has es­tab­lished it­self as one of the most suc­cess­ful and pop­u­lar sour beer−fo­cused brew­eries in the main city. Their flag­ship Ata­lanta, a tart plum sai­son, is a sta­ple in most beer stores around town, and they’ve be­gun brewing beer with iso­lated wild-caught yeast to cap­ture the true South­ern ter­roir. Their em­pha­sis on sup­port­ing the arts com­mu­nity is ever-present, as Head Brewer Ja­son Pel­lett taps a new lo­cal artist to draw la­bel art for ev­ery re­lease. If you hap­pen to go on a Sunday af­ter­noon, you can watch artists paint on the pa­tio. Warm week­end af­ter­noons and art pair per­fectly with Ser­pent Bite, their dry-hopped sour.

While you’re near the High­lands, the beer bars on the down­town strip are a must. Most are open un­til about 3:00 a.m. and draw solid crowds of mid-twenty-some­things on the week­ends. The go-to spot in Vahi for lo­cal beer is Hand in Hand, a pet-friendly cor­ner bar with a huge pa­tio and an Ir­ish pub feel (if Ir­ish pubs had DJS at night). Across the street is Atkins Park Restau­rant and Bar, a smaller bar where you’ll find board games such as Sorry!, darts, a juke­box, and lo­cal beer gems no one else in the city has (Nitro Nerd Alert from Monday Night Brewing was worth the trip alone). Atkins stays open the lat­est of all the bars in the High­lands, though, so be ready for a big­ger crowd the later it gets. If you pre­fer a tamer scene with the same game op­tions, head a few blocks down 10th Street and you’ll ar­rive at The High­lander, which was re­cently fea­tured on Din­ers, Drive-ins, and Dives for their in­ven­tive menu.

Three miles away from the High­lands is Lit­tle Five Points, an old town with a his­tory as col­or­ful as the peo­ple who live there. Lit­tle Five Points is where lo­cals bring out-of-town­ers who like hand­made trin­kets sold by street ven­dors, sec­ond­hand se­quined pants from stores such as Junkman’s Daugh­ter, and rare or hard-tofind vinyl records from shops such as Wax n’ Facts.

An­chor­ing the mid­dle of the strip is The Porter Beer Bar, an old Ja­maican restau­rant­turned-pub that was bought by L5P lo­cals Molly and Nick Gunn, that is now one of the most well-re­spected and highly rated beer bars in the city. It’s the place At­lanta’s brewers go to drink beer with each other and with friends. Their beer list is mind-blow­ing, with more than 400 hard-to-find and vin­tage bot­tles (from 2003 Brook­lyn Mon­ster bar­ley­wine to a dozen Tilquin lam­bics) as well as thirty ex­pertly-se­lected drafts.

Af­ter just a five-minute walk down the street, you’ll find The Wreck­ing Bar Brew­pub, where the bar­tenders of the city drink af­ter their shifts. The old Vic­to­rian home turned Methodist church is now a base­ment bar owned by two home­brew­ers who have re­peat­edly won Cre­ative Loaf­ing Mag­a­zine’s Best Brew­pub in the City award year af­ter year.

Down­town De­catur/ Avon­dale

Just east of down­town, De­catur is tech­ni­cally a sub­urb but avoids the clichés with a for­ward-think­ing, ev­ery­one-is-ac­cepted at­ti­tude. Be­cause of that pro­gres­sive men­tal­ity, it’s one of the fastest-grow­ing parts of the metro area and a pop­u­lar han­gout for all ages with some of the high­est-rated restau­rants in the city.

Three Tav­erns Brew­ery is here, a lo­cal fa­vorite for those who love Bel­gian-in­spired beers. Brew­mas­ter Jo­ran Van Gin­der­achter is one of a few Bel­gian brewers in the United States fol­low­ing his un­cle Peter Bouck­aert’s ca­reer foot­steps very closely (Bouck­aert works for New Bel­gium Brewing Com­pany in Fort Collins, Colorado). Grab a pint of Quasi­modo, one of their most beloved Bel­gian quads, and play ping pong in the back.

Wild Heaven Beer is prac­ti­cally next door, founded by life­long Ge­or­gia res­i­dents Eric John­son (founder of the fa­mous Trappeze Pub in nearby Athens) and Nick Purdy (found­ing pub­lisher of Paste Mag­a­zine). The brew­ery de­sign is a

mon­u­ment to cre­ative re­use, with ev­ery el­e­ment com­pletely re­pur­posed—the light fix­tures are old cop­per fit­tings from an­other brew­ery, and even the bar tops and floors come from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als. The beer’s not bad ei­ther.

Nearby in down­town De­catur, Brick­store Pub has been a fix­ture for twenty years and their beer cel­lar is a beer nerd’s dream. The ten-page-long beer list is big on va­ri­ety and small on type size with 900 vin­tages, ages two to twenty. The whiskey and gin lists are equally im­pres­sive, but with so many in­cred­i­ble vin­tage beers on of­fer, you’ll be hard pressed to find the time to even look. The bar­tenders are some of the most knowl­edge­able in the city and can point you in any di­rec­tion you de­sire. Sit at the bar, have a Nøgne Ø bar­ley­wine, and try the home­made cast-iron pot pie.

Athens/otp

Be­cause it’s home to the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia, Athens has al­ways been a fun des­ti­na­tion for both Ge­or­gia res­i­dents and out-of-town­ers. It was an old trad­ing post in the 1800s, so the town is filled with rich his­tory and old Vic­to­rian build­ings, but you’d never know that if you were on Clay­ton Street or Washington Street on a Fri­day night. The amaz­ing food, modern pubs, and packed-out cor­ner bars could ri­val any At­lanta neigh­bor­hood, es­pe­cially dur­ing foot­ball sea­son.

The hour and a half drive to Athens from At­lanta is a com­mit­ment, but Crea­ture Com­forts Brewing Com­pany makes the drive worth it. They’re one of the most family-friendly brew­eries you’ll find, with face paint­ing and chalk for kids as well as some of the best beer the state has to of­fer (for adults only, of course). Their cre­ative ap­proach to brewing has won them re­peat rat­ings as the top brew­ery in Ge­or­gia, and de­mand is so high that it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for any Ge­or­gia store own­ers to keep their beer on shelves. The brew­ery is housed in a build­ing that was once a well­known tire shop and now—as CCBC’S growth con­tin­ues with sold-out re­leases and beers such as Trop­i­calia and Athena gain­ing no­to­ri­ety (and great re­views from Craft Beer & Brewing Mag­a­zine®)—they’re ex­pand­ing with a sec­ond build­ing in his­toric Athens. No Ge­or­gia beer­ca­tion would truly be com­plete with­out a vist.

If you can pull your­self away from Crea­ture Com­forts, take a short walk through down­town Athens to Trappeze Pub, the best restau­rant and bar in town. Here you’ll find lo­cal fa­vorites such as Ter­rapin’s Water­melon Gose and flights of The Bruery’s best beers. On your way out of Athens, stop by Five Points Bot­tle Shop, one of the best bot­tle shops in the state, and pick up some “proper” glass­ware from their ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion.

Since win­ter weather in Ge­or­gia is rel­a­tively mild, there’s never a bad time to visit, but the best time to take ad­van­tage of the lively and green brew­ery pa­tios is in the spring. En­joy warm South­ern hos­pi­tal­ity, ex­cel­lent beer, and com­fort­able cui­sine in this cre­ative and cul­tural cap­i­tal of the South.

Above » Lit­tle Five Points is where At­lanta’s avant garde ei­ther lives, works, drinks af­ter work, or all of the above.

Top » Three Tav­erns is known for its Bel­gian­in­spired beers and a tap­room with enough rus­tic charm that you’ll for­get you’re in an in­dus­trial ware­house dis­trict. Above » Or­pheus Brewing Founder and Brew­mas­ter Ja­son Pel­lett has a pen­chant for funky and fla­vor­ful farm­house-style beers like their year-round sai­son “Lyric Ale.”

Above » Crea­ture Com­forts in Athens, Ge­or­gia, is grow­ing so fast they’ve re­cently ac­quired and are ren­o­vat­ing a sec­ond his­tor­i­cal build­ing to serve as an ad­di­tional brewing fa­cil­ity. Left » The Brick­store Pub fea­tures a vin­tage beer list with 900 dif­fer­ent bot­tles.

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