First Impressions: Getting to Know Georgia's Beer Scene
By Jim Vorel
October 21, 2014
Being someone who writes a good deal about craft beer, one of the most exciting aspects of recently moving from Illinois to Georgia was the knowledge that it would mean exposure to a vastly different beer scene. In terms of distributorships alone, it means access to a variety of breweries along the East Coast and Southern corridors that I’ve largely never sampled before. And that’s not even including all the local Georgia and Atlanta brews.
In some sense, it’s also a somewhat intimidating prospect to start all over in terms of building one’s knowledge and “cred,” as it were. After all, I’d already spent an unfathomable number of hours during the last seven years getting to know all the breweries (and brewers, and beer bars, and beer stores) of cities such as St. Louis and Chicago. That familiarity has now been wiped away.
So, how does one start fresh? Aside from visiting every brewery in person (which I am currently carrying out by traveling East/West across the entirety of Atlanta), one of the most effective ways to get an initial impression is to attend as many tap takeovers and larger beer festivals as one can. Last weekend’s Decatur Craft Beer Festival and the upcoming Georgia Craft Beer Festival are perfect opportunities to eschew some of the larger national breweries and focus exclusively on brewers from Georgia.
Here are some takeaways from both the Decatur festival and my first month of experiencing Georgia beer:
— The immediate Atlanta/Athens area is filled with great brewers of Belgian beer in particular. Between brews such as Wild Heaven Brewing Co.’s Eschaton Quadrupel and Three Taverns Brewing Co.’s Theophane The Recluse (a Belgian imperial stout), the American-Belgian products are as strong as any I’ve had elsewhere.
— On the other hand, I find myself still searching for hop-forward beers that can measure up to some of the best IPAs I had access to in Chicago in particular, from breweries such as Half Acre, Revolution Brewing Co. and Pipeworks Brewing Co. The one truly stand-out Georgian IPA I’ve had so far has been from the Athens-based Creature Comforts, which will begin canning that beer, Tropicalia, in November. To which I say: Thank you.
— Creature Comforts actually deserves its own note—I have sampled a lot of breweries, and you tend to get a feel for which ones have an immediate X-factor. Creature comforts has that quality. At the Decatur Craft Beer Fest, their “Southerly Love” wild ale was a bit like a tart and fruit-forward IPA, one of the most intriguing beers of the fest. Their cucumber-lime gose is refreshingly inventive. Their Berliner weisse is fascinating as well. So far, it seems like these guys haven’t made a bad beer, so keep your eyes peeled for any stray kegs that make it to your local beer bar.
— Other breweries that stood out for one reason or another at the festival: Yes Face Beer Co. for their surprisingly good take on a traditional ESB. Eagle Creek Brewing Co’s lemon-lime hefeweizen. The simple pleasure of Jailhouse Brewing Co.’s Breakout Stout. The odd collection of beers from Reformation Brewery, including a toasted coconut porter, a “session Belgian dubbel” that the brewer called “like a singel and three quarters,” and a malt-heavy IPA. Terrapin Brewing Co.’s surprisingly good fresh-hop beer, So Fresh, So Green, Green.
— Georgian beer law is oppressive to say the least. Brewers in the state aren’t allowed to self-distribute at any size. Nor can they sell the public a pint of beer at their taproom. Rather, every single brewery in Atlanta instead opens for only a few hours a week to sell “tasting glasses,” which just so happen to come with tours and tokens redeemable for beer samples. It’s an absolutely ludicrous system that makes things needlessly complex, and it needs to change if Georgian brewers are going to be afforded even close to the legal rights and protection that breweries enjoy in most other states. Leading this fight is the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, which now has a petition circulating, calling for reform. If you’re a craft beer supporter, you should sign the petition immediately.
At this point, a month or so into my exploration of Southern beer culture, I’ve only scratched the surface. In the coming months, I’ll continue making in-person visits to breweries throughout Atlanta. Once those are complete, I’ll start road-tripping to cities such as Athens and beyond. Call it obsessive—I’ll call it passionate.