BY: CHRIS GUEST
On a beautifully clear spring day with a cool, steady breeze blowing towards me, I head for the entrance of Creature Comforts Brewing Company in Athens, Georgia.
Located on the outskirts of the famed downtown area in an unassuming white brick building that says “Snow Tire Co.” on the side and has a large Michelin sign above it, Creature Comforts beckons passersby in with a half-open garage-door main entrance.
“This was originally a car dealership, then the Snow Tire Company; that’s why it’s still on the building,” says Chris Willis, Creature Comforts Business Analyst and my host for the day.
As I enter the brewery the first thing that strikes me is the incredibly open floorplan, which is both inviting and engaging. The bar area, festooned with freshly cut local flowers, is almost side-by-side with the towering fermentation tanks.
The building is large but not massive, showing that Creature Comforts is still a young brewery, only celebrating its one-year anniversary this past April.
Despite its youth, and only releasing cans beyond Athens for the first time in early April, Creature Comforts is growing rapidly and can barely meet demand for its transcendent flagship, Tropicália IPA.
Chris leads me first past the fermentation tanks. The 30-barrel capacity of the brewhouse is mostly taken up by massive fermenters that are used for the brewery’s two canned offerings – the aforementioned Tropicália IPA and Athena Berliner Weisse.
“We’re just canning as much as possible,” Chris says. The demand for Tropicália in the local markets is feverish, and since the brewery’s expansion to Atlanta markets in April, the brewery’s supply has dwindled rapidly.
Chris shows me the cooler. It would normally be completely full of kegs of beer, but with demand being what it is, the cupboards are almost completely bare. Despite the hard work that is required of everyone due to the popularity of the beers, Chris tells me they wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s a good problem to have,” he says.
Brewer Blake Tyers, who has joined us for this part of the tour, tells me that people were surprised they were going to brew a sour beer (Athena) year-round. “It gets hot here, and you really need to enjoy Athena in the heat,” Blake tells me.
We stroll past the fermentation tanks, where a few employees are draining tanks of CO2 in order to refill them with fresh beer. Despite the brewery’s explosive growth, it prides itself on only having a few employees in the brewhouse. It allows them to put a more personal, human touch on the beer. Blake puts it beautifully: “Brewing here is different. It’s not some robot pushing a button.”
Chris dubs Blake “the barrel-aging wizard,” as they lead me to the barrel room, which Blake is in charge of. Upon entering, a fragrant blast of wood greets my nostrils – delectable. He shows me some barrels that once contained maple syrup and currently hold See the Stars Imperial Stout, a future bottle potential. Chris shows me some Sauvignon Blanc barrels and a few whiskey barrels, both full of beer.
We leave the barrel room and I see one of the most striking sights in the entire brewery, pallets upon pallets of Tropicália and Athena cans stacked all the way to the ceiling, scraping the rafters of the building.
Chris ends the tour at a small tasting bar and presents me with a tall, elegant tulip glass emblazoned for the brewery’s first anniversary. “To really know what a brewery’s about you have to drink a lot of beer,” Chris tells me. Really, I wouldn’t have been doing my job if I didn’t sample the brewery’s wares. So I did.
I start off with Bibo, the brewery’s pilsner offering. Chris calls this a “typical Czech pilsner,” but I disagree, noting the sharper-than-normal hop surges and the overall hoppiness diverge from other pilsners. A quenching brew, Bibo clears my palate for the wildly different flavors that will follow.
Next up for tasting is Reclaimed Rye, a complex and filling Amber Ale aged in French oak barrels. Blake recommends letting this one warm for a while to let the interesting fruit, nougat and toffee flavors come to the forefront. I follow his lead, and while I wait he tells me a little bit about the philosophy that makes Creature Comforts such a hot commodity in Georgia’s craft beer scene.
“We care about the feeling you get when you drink the beer; the experience of drinking is what it’s all about,” Blake says. “Most breweries just think of what kind of beers they want to do. We think of what tastes we want to create and what flavors we want people to enjoy.”
Chris chimes in: “We’re pushing the boundaries, trying to do what we want to do.”
It’s a novel concept, and one that Creature Comforts' brewers take to heart. On their website, they actually list their inspirations and no craft beer pioneers are present. Rather, Sir Edmund Hillary, Oscar Wilde and Atlanta hip-hop duo Outkast are listed. The brewers distill these highly disparate influences into their work by making unusual decisions in the brewing process. The results speak for themselves.
Also representative of the brewery’s eclectic influences is the music blasting from speakers lining the walls. While there, I catch snippets of tunes – a Gorillaz remix, bluesy modern rock, bass-heavy hip-hop – and Chris tells me that music is an integral part of Creature Comforts’ personality.
“We’re all artists here,” he says. “The beer is like music in your mouth, like a symphony of flavors.”
After finishing the Reclaimed Rye, I try a trio of rare Creature Comforts brews – the brand new Cosmik Debris Double IPA, Dayspring Grisette with locally grown wheat, and Southerly Love, the brewery’s collaboration with 7venth Sun Brewing Co. in Tampa. All three are exquisite creations, though I must admit the Southerly Love, a funky hoppy Brett Beer and the brewery’s first bottled offering, was my favorite of the day (other than Tropicália).
I am treated to numerous pleasant smiles from various employees at the brewery as I inspect every nook and cranny of the operation.
On Creature Comfort’s website, employees are listed as “The Family.” Chris seconds this: “We’re all honest and straightforward, good-feeling kind of people. We really are just like family.”
Brewery tours are held weekdays at 5-8 P.M. and on Saturdays from 1-4 P.M. All servers that work at Creature Comforts are also certified cicerones, so they know their beer.
That attention to detail and the loose, creative, fun-loving atmosphere make Creature Comforts a must-visit if you’re in the downtown Athens area.