FIRST DRAFT WITH MARY FIORELLO
The Atlanta beer enthusiast, aka the “hops diva,” talks beer
BY: AUSTIN L. RAY
Mary Fiorello has been migrating south her whole life. The Inman Park beer enthusiast grew up in New Jersey, went to school in Virginia, and when the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996, she bought her tickets and moved here with them.
"Atlanta's up and coming," she remembers telling her friends at the time. "I'm gonna up and come with it! It seemed like there was a lot going on here and there were a lot of opportunities."
She's worked all sorts of jobs since: Barnes and Noble, the House of Blues, Larry King Live, WSB, the Punchline. Somewhere along the way she started working with beer on the side, for fun. Creative Loafingchatted with Fiorello at Wrecking Bar about how Georgia's beer culture has changed and how she's loved watching it evolve.
Describe your first beer.
I used to steal sips of my grandfather's beer, Schlitz. And when I was 16, my high school went to Paris. I went thinking I was gonna come back fluent in French, but instead all we learned was, "Un autre Kronenbourg, s'il vous plaît!" As you know, there's no drinking age there, and as young Americans we took full advantage of that. Kronenbourg and Heineken were the two. Everybody else was drinking wine, but I liked beer better. When I was in college, when we had money, we drank Killian's Red. And when I first moved to Atlanta in 1996, I went to Taco Mac and started the passport program, and kinda got to know beers that way.
How did you start getting involved with beer more officially?
It just kind of happened by accident. I was trying to figure out how to do something with beer, and I was atSummits [Wayside Tavern] in Snellville, and I made a comment to the general manager that someone had asked about trivia on the restaurant's Facebook page, but nobody responded. He gave me a call a couple days later and said, "We had a meeting and we want you to do our social media." This was 2011. Then Bob [Sandage] opened Wrecking Bar. He and his wife, Kristine, were good on Facebook, but they didn't know much about Twitter. So I saved their Twitter name because I didn't want somebody else to take it, and then I started tweeting for them. Then they decided I should do their email newsletter, too.
You've been here almost 20 years. What's your standout Georgia beer moment?
As much as we haven't come as far as we'd like to, we have come a long way. I remember when I first moved here [before the ABV cap was raised from 6 to 14 percent], it was a lot more imports. There used to be beer dinners only once in a blue moon, now you can go to one like every night. It's almost too much. You couldn't used to have brewpubs. And just the quality of the places that open. I was worried when the Porter opened that I was going to be the only person that goes there. Craft beer wasn't as big of a deal in 2008. I can't even get a seat there on Friday and Saturday nights now! Even smaller places now know they have to have a good beer list.
What are your three desert island Georgia beers?
I'm a hophead. I like [Creature Comforts Brewing Co.'s] Tropicália. I think [they] are doing a great job. For dark beers, I like Burnt Hickory's Big Shanty. I really like Jekyll [Brewing's] Hop Dang Diggity. Shoot, I'm already at three! It's tough. There weren't as many Georgia breweries [a few years ago], and the breweries that were out weren't making as many beers. Some only had three beers in their portfolio, and now I could probably pick three Terrapin beers! [Orpheus'] Transmigration of Souls — this batch is awesome. They did a really good job.