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Jim Vorel

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Why you can’t find a six-pack of Tropicália anywhere

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Tropicalia hard to findEvery 10 days or so, a few cases of Tropicália—a hoppy, citrusy IPA made by Creature Comforts out of Athens—arrive at Ale Yeah, a boutique beer shop in Decatur. From there, it’s moved promptly to the back of the store, out of reach and view of customers. Doesn’t matter, though; by day’s end, it’s sold out, bought by customers who know enough to ask for it.

“Even when we’re limiting it to one six-pack per person, and even when it’s not on the shelf, it still disappears immediately,” says shop owner Eddie Holley, who watched Tropicália become a sensation—a rare thing in the craft beer world. “Literally 15 people will come in every single day and ask for it. I still don’t think the demand has hit its peak, because if five cases come in, they still sell out that day.”

Jared Penso, an Athens-based craft beer rep for Savannah Distributing, has never seen a year-round beer inspire such fervor. “My Atlanta coworkers are never happy with me because I try to take the lion’s share of Tropicália for Athens,” he says. “We’ve never had a product that literally every gas station wanted to carry. Now we have these gas stations, the tiniest places 30 miles away calling us and saying they only want to carry Creature Comforts. They don’t know what an IPA is, but they know that Tropicália is popular. But there’s only so much, so our main focus is getting it to the retailers who care the most about quality.”

There are good problems and bad problems in business, and for Creature Comforts, which opened not even three years ago, the success of Tropicália, which debuted in 2014, has definitely been a good problem. Still, CEO Chris Herron and his brewmaster, Adam Beauchamp, are wrestling with the challenges posed by the beer’s popularity. Questions like “How do we make enough?” are obvious; less obvious but no less important is “What are the risks of being associated with just one particular beer?”

Tropicália is now responsible for 60 percent of Creature Comforts’ business. It has become the brewery’s flagship, even though, like most small brewers, Herron and Beauchamp had never intended to even have a flagship. Today the brewery is producing 300 barrels of Tropicália a week. (A barrel is equivalent to 31 gallons.) Gathering the right ingredients in larger quantities—like the Galaxy hops from Australia that help give Tropicália its distinctive citrusy notes—has been a challenge.

“Just because people want more doesn’t mean we can make more,” Herron says. “The reality is that the brand can only grow as fast as the raw materials will let it.”

As it is, the overwhelming demand for Tropicália ties up fermentation space, preventing the brewery from delivering on its other year-rounders, much less experimenting with new beers. (Creature Comforts’ year-round beers include Bibo Pilsner, Reclaimed Rye, and Athena, a Berliner weisse.) Herron would like to release Reclaimed Rye in cans, for example, but there’s currently no way to make it happen. Instead, he’s stuck in a tricky position: Customers want new releases, but those same customers would complain if it meant less Tropicália.

In Avondale Estates, meanwhile, Wild Heaven Craft Beers has experienced a similarly rapid ascent for its popular Emergency Drinking Beer.

After the beer hit shelves in its distinctive “caution yellow” cans, it took a mere two months for EDB to become precisely half of Wild Heaven’s overall annual output of 7,000 barrels.

“When the cans arrived, that’s when people lost their minds,” says owner Nick Purdy of the pilsner-gose hybrid. “The success of EDB changed everything about the business. Eschaton [a Belgian quad] and Invocation [a Belgian strong golden ale] are no longer year-round beers because of EDB; they’ll be around a few months at a time.”

The irony is that Wild Heaven earned its reputation by making higher-alcohol, Belgian-inspired ales. EDB is the opposite. But Purdy doesn’t see that as a problem. Not even close.

“We’re really proud of it, because even though it’s low-ABV, it’s a really creative, unique beer on multiple levels,” he says. “I think it’s crazy to complain about a hit, like when musicians and bands complain about performing a hit song. Creating a hit was your goal!”

Our picks for the next big thing

Eventide Brewing
Dry Irish Nitro Stout

Eventide’s dry, roasty stout is Atla­­nta’s most und­er­rated year-­round dark beer. Rich, flavorful and only 4.8% ABV, it gives Guin­ness a run for its money.

Scofflaw Brewing Co.
Basement IPA
Hugely juicy, with sweet citrus and tropical fruit notes exploding from the glass, Scof­­­flaw’s new IPA is already sought­-after. Watch out, Tropicália.

Abbey of the Holy Goats
Goats of the First Order
Complex, spicy and ultra-quaffable at only 4.2% ABV, this pater­sbier is the per­fect choice for Belgian beer lovers looking for moderation.

This article originally appeared in our December 2016 issue.

Commentary: This is how Terrapin quietly sold out to Big Beer and betrayed its fans

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[Editor’s Note: More than 50 hours after the news broke and after this story was published, Terrapin posted a note on its Facebook page announcing the buy-out].

Visiting the Facebook page of Terrapin Beer Co. on Thursday morning, nothing looks particularly out of place. You’d think from the company’s recent posts that it’s business as usual. But then you glance at the reader comments and start to skim over the recently arrived visitor posts. To grab just one: “Couldn’t be more disappointed in you. Four years ago you said it was just a minority interest and no big deal. How do you spin a majority interest, other than a sell out? Good thing I have other locally owned choices. Enjoy your money.”

And with that, the situation becomes perfectly clear: It’s yet another craft brewery buy-out by a macro beer conglomerate. This time it’s Athens’ beloved Terrapin Beer Co., which had been one of Georgia’s most prominent and influential craft brewers since 2002, selling out to the MillerCoors-operated “craft and import division,” Tenth and Blake, which previously owned a 25% stake in the company.

Of course, you wouldn’t have known any of that from Terrapin’s official social media or web postings. Although MillerCoors seems pretty psyched about the acquisition, Terrapin has been completely mum, even though it’s been 48 hours since the news broke. No official Facebook announcement, or copy-pasted boilerplate response to all of the angry and disappointed comments. No announcement tweet. No news post on their website, even. You’d call it strange, but in reality, what you’re seeing is a cynically calculated response that time and experience have now proven most effective for breweries in Terrapin’s position. Their PR team (and MillerCoors’ team) are following a set of informal best practices that have developed in the beer industry over the last five years, which might as well be titled “How to Sell Out and Move On.”

It’s not as if there’s been a shortage of examples for Terrapin to observe. Ever since Goose Island sold out to Anheuser in 2011, major regional breweries have been falling like dominoes. Blue Point, 10 Barrel, Breckenridge Brewery, Devil’s Backbone Brewing, Elysian Brewing, Four Peaks Brewing, Golden Road Brewing and Saint Archer Brewing are just some of the names that have been acquired since then by either AB-Inbev or MillerCoors, joining other regional breweries such as Lagunitas and Ballast Point that also sold stakes, albeit to companies that aren’t quite as reviled. Beer writers like myself have been reporting on these acquisitions and PR firestorms, and over time, the vitriol has somewhat softened. Indeed, breweries now know how to announce and frame their acquisitions to minimize the PR damage of their buyouts. Here’s how they do it:

Step 1: Obfuscate what “majority interest” means

“Partnership” is just a much nicer-sounding word than “ownership,” right? In some cases, it can be helpful if part of the company is still “independently operated,” as Goose Island’s brewpubs were during the initial sale—until they too were quietly acquired by AB-Inbev in February of this year. In the same way, Terrapin’s ownership was able to get part of the backlash out of the way back in 2012 when they sold off 25 percent of the company to MillerCoors, while implying that they had no intention of giving up the rest of the company within a few years’ time. And by the way, in case you’re thinking of drafting up an “AB-Inbev and SABMiller are different companies” comment below, you’ll at least want to read about the just-approved $107 billion merger between the two, which is admittedly more global than U.S. in terms of impact.

Step 2: Emphasize that “nothing will change”

Assuaging fans who are understandably afraid that all their favorite beers will be discontinued or changed in some way is critical. AB-Inbev demonstrated that this was the most effective strategy with Goose Island, as they didn’t drastically change the lineup of year-round beers. They just moved production of them from their Chicago home to New York, which pissed off fans for entirely different reasons.

Of course, it’s a complete fallacy for the brewery to act as if they can make this promise, given the literal definition of having ceded ownership. If Tenth and Blake wants MillerCoors to add a grapefruit version of Hi-5 IPA to their lineup, it’s not as if they can say no. Oh wait, Terrapin is already adding Grapefruit Hi-5 to the lineup, never mind.

It’s also become standard practice to ask/require that the former craft brewery ownership stay on in a “consulting” or advisory role (i.e. a figurehead) after the sale, presumably to aid in mitigating the PR fallout and put a familiar face on things. Just look at industry icon/Elysian Brewing founder Dick Cantwell, who had the company sold out from underneath him to AB-Inbev in 2015 by his business partners, and was more or less forced to stay on for several months until a loophole in his contract allowed him to leave and start speaking honestly about the company and the situation. At Terrapin, meanwhile, co-founder John Cochran is departing after 14 years despite both companies hoping to keep him on, and is “ready for a change,” according to Reid Ramsay over at Beer Street Journal. Co-founder “Spike” Buckowski will remain.

Step 3: Focus on market/beer lineup expansion

Every craft brewery buy-out press release somewhere contains a line like “…and these wonderful new resources and distribution channels will allow us to bring beer to markets that have never enjoyed our product before.” Never mind the fact that it will be the MillerCoors distribution network at work, putting pressure on grocery stores/liquor stores to stock the product favorably and push local beer off the shelves. Never mind also that a portion of both the macrobrewer and distributor profits will be parlayed into political lobbying, in the form of campaign contributions to those local legislators of yours who somehow seem to independently decide that craft beer-positive bills “are not in the public interest.” If you’re wondering how Georgia manages to be one of only four states in the Union (hello there, West Virginia) where you can’t buy a pint of beer at a brewery, this would be why.

Step 4: Assume that local fans can be replaced

It’s jaded, but it’s true. Every time a popular regional brewery sells out to AB-Inbev or MillerCoors, their social media platforms are flooded with long-time customers and fans who now swear to never purchase the product again. But if there’s one thing that breweries such as Elysian have taken away from this scenario, it’s this: Even if your Facebook wall is full of people denouncing you, it simply doesn’t translate to lost sales in a practical sense. It has become standard operating procedure to simply assume that any angry fan reaction will be negated by an influx of new customers, especially as the brand expands to new territory. Who cares if these people represent the company’s most ardent supporters, customers who have spent a decade or more drinking or filling growlers in the taproom? You can always replace those old faces with new, nameless customers three states away who have never tried your beer before.

Step 5: Only provide as much information as necessary, to as few people as possible

Terrapin might be executing this particular tenant more skillfully than any other major regional brewery that has sold out. By announcing the acquisition exclusively via MillerCoors, and none of their own social media accounts or website, they guaranteed a narrowed audience. Those 44,000 Facebook fans? Many of them will simply never realize that beers such as Hopsecutioner or RecreationAle are no longer locally owned. Terrapin now gets to cordon off its fan base into two separate groups: Assertive beer geeks to whom they can offer platitudes and reassurance, and a far larger group of “average drinkers” who they’re hoping will never know the difference. It’s a containment strategy built to retain as many of the older customers as possible while focusing on the new ones.

Conclusion

As the dominoes continue to topple, these actions and talking points have simply become rote, the boilerplate that should be expected every time a craft brewer sells out. With every one that falls, the lines continue to blur for rank-and-file drinkers who can’t be expected to spend hours researching which breweries are truly “craft.” A time may well be coming when even the beer geeks can’t keep these matters of ownership straight, and you can be certain that this is exactly what Big Beer wants.

Two Atlanta ciders worth sipping this summer

Urban Tree Cidery
Try Urban Tree’s lineup at its tasting room, which opened in March. Visit urbantreecidery.com for hours.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

Is hard cider the new “it” drink in local craft brewing? Westside’s Urban Tree Cidery opened in late March and is the city’s first hard cider producer within the Perimeter. Owners Maria and Tim Resuta, who source fruit from an orchard in North Georgia, currently make three varieties: the crisp and danger­ously drinkable original; the juicy, semisweet classic; and the barrel-aged, which spends a few weeks in Nicaraguan rum barrels that impart molasses-like richness and an impression of caramel­ized apples. In Marietta, Treehorn Cider, which opened last fall, has already found root in many of Atlanta’s better beer bars, like Brick Store Pub. Treehorn’s signature is a moderately tart, funky-tropical cider, but we’re really digging the new Ginger Reserve, with a spice that’s assertive but never overbearing.

This article originally appeared in our June 2016 issue as “Hard Core”.

Hate local craft beer law? Cideries are even more complicated

Before last September, not a single hard apple cidery operated in metro Atlanta. Now, there are two, Treehorn Cider and Urban Tree Cidery, both of which hope to sell everything from traditional English dry ciders to potions spiced with ginger or chiles or even aged in rum barrels. Their owners see each other as competitors. So does the federal government, which subjects them to the same laws. But in the eyes of the state, they’re as different as porters and pinot noir.

Treehorn, based out of Marietta, is considered under state law to be a craft brewery, an industry subject to one of the nation’s most restrictive distribution laws. Like other local breweries, Treehorn can’t directly sell a glass of cider to its customers. It also can’t produce any cider greater than 6% ABV, which would go beyond the state’s definition of cider as a ‘malt beverage’ (more on that bizarreness in a minute).

Twelve miles away on Howell Mill Road near Atlanta’s Westside, however, the recently-opened Urban Tree Cidery is subject to an entirely different set of state regulations. In their taproom, they can sell pints of hard cider to their visitors. They can sell 750 ml. bottles to go, priced at up to $15 each. If they wanted, they could even brew cider that has an ABV higher than 7 percent, known as “apple wine,” without restriction. They can also sell local craft beer and Georgian-produced whiskey, rum, vodka and gin. With a full liquor license, Urban Tree Cidery can essentially act like a full bar, mixing $11 cider cocktails for the Midtown after-work crowd.

In a state with such restrictive alcohol law, the differences are unusually stark. The legal groundwork behind those differences is even more surprising. Treehorn has the same license as a brewery, thanks to how the Georgia Department of Revenue defines cider: “‘Hard cider’ means an alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of the juice of apples, containing not more than 6 percent alcohol by volume, including, but not limited to flavored or carbonated cider. For purposes of this title, hard cider shall be deemed a malt beverage.” If the word “malt” seems odd or out of place, it’s because it is. Malt isn’t used to make cider.

Ciderists Mallory Law and Andrew Wheeler
Ciderists Mallory Law and Andrew Wheeler

Photograph courtesy of Treehorn Cider

On the other hand, Urban Tree operates under a “Georgia Farm Winery” license. Owners Tim and Maria Resuta qualified for the license because Tim manages a North Georgian orchard that could provide in-state apples. As a Farm Winery, the cidery can effectively bypass the restrictions Treehorn must face if it gets more than 40 percent of its juice from its orchard. In doing so, the cidery capitalizes on laws that have been in place for decades to support the state’s wine industry. “Hard cider is simply complicated all the way up to the federal level,” says attorney Kevin Leff of Sard & Leff LLC, who represents Urban Tree with a specialty in winery and cidery law. “That one sentence, that hard cider ‘shall be deemed a malt beverage,’ has a huge effect.”

Leff has long known that cideries could potentially exploit the Farm Winery loophole. Now that the cider business has ripened—cider market volume sales rose from 4.5 million cases sold in 2010 to 23.2 million in 2014—it seems Urban Tree simply picked the right time to get into business. By the end of the year, a new federal law, the CIDER Act, will raise the maximum ABV of “hard cider” to 8.5%. Combined with the ability to sell directly to consumers, Urban Tree has a built-in competitive advantage over its only local competitor. “The fact that most of the cideries are seen as breweries in the eyes of state law is just a fiction created by the regulation,” Leff said. “But if you can meet the higher-level test of being engaged in the agricultural produce of apples, you can fit into this Farm Winery definition that was perhaps never intended for a cidery, because Georgia never contemplated it that way.”

Treehorn could seek a Georgia Farm Winery license to level the playing field, but it’s not a financial reality. “We would love to do that, but at the moment it’s just beyond what we could do financially,” says Treehorn co-founder Andrew Wheeler. “There are a lot of limitations to how feasible it would be for us, because a certain percentage of juice has to come from that farm. And with our planned production expansion over the next couple of years, we would have to buy a pretty large orchard to be able to sustain that long-term.”

Wheeler doesn’t begrudge the Howell Mill Road cidery for playing by more beneficial rules. Rather, he calls for the same reforms to state law currently sought by the Georgia Craft Brewer’s Guild, the lobbying organization for the state’s small brewers. He believes that reforms for craft beer brewers will minimize the difference in how the law treats Urban Tree and Treehorn. “Good for them for finding a way around the difficult regulations on cider,” Wheeler says. “But at the same time, we’re really hamstrung by the state because we’re capped at 6% ABV and can’t even make high-gravity ciders. The restrictions on us are significantly more stringent, even compared to the local breweries.”

With other potential cideries looking to open—Atlanta Cider Co. applied for a trademark at the end of last year—the question now is whether the state intends on clarifying its position for an industry that’s just getting started.

In a crowded market, Atlanta growler stores feel the pinch

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When Lance Mendel opened TAPS Craft Beer and Growlers in Decatur in June of 2013, he viewed his new venture as a business with untold potential for expansion. Selling 1,500 growler fills per month right out of the gate, he imagined turning the business into a franchise and opening a handful more. What didn’t seem likely was the possibility that he’d be closing less than three years later. And yet, TAPS just filled its last growler over the weekend. “The market kind of just died out,” says a shrugging Mendel, in between filling a few final growlers for Super Bowl parties. “It was never meant to be a single store; I always thought there would be more. But our lease is running out, and it’s just time to move on.”

The store’s closure is part of a wider trend, as Atlanta growler shops have dwindled since an initial surge of openings in 2010-2011, when they were legalized. Mendel says he now realizes that he targeted too narrow a market. Unlike bigger liquor stores that also offer growler fills, the dedicated growler shop couldn’t keep up with its limited selection of packaged goods. “It’s just not enough diversity,” Mendel says. “This business would be great if you could sell pints and had 500 cases of beer and wine, plus meats and cheese. But DeKalb County doesn’t allow that.”

Mendel’s comments call to mind larger liquor stores such as the Hop City, which have integrated growler fills right alongside package sales to offer customers several ways to take home craft beer. It’s been the growler-only shops that have felt the pinch more, although others are still going strong. Denny Young, owner of the Beer Growler locations in Brookhaven and Avondale, has been there since the beginning and calls this period “the wash-out.” “There were just way too many growler stores that opened,” Young says. “When we first opened in 2010 we were lucky to be the first, and there was a line that would be waiting 30 minutes to get beer on Saturdays. And it felt like that big line of people, every one of them went and opened growler stores, because a year later there were dozens around Atlanta. Most of those are closed today.”

Young agrees with Mendel that package sales are important for a growler shop to diversify and is currently making plans to add bottle selections to both Beer Growler locations. These bottles will focus on local beer and rarities, in an ever-present quest to offer an experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere. “The difference is that when we first opened, you couldn’t get craft beer everywhere,” he says. “Now you can get it at the QT. So even though we’ve always tried to focus on one-offs and draft-only products, now it’s even more important.”

The Avondale location of the Beer Growler also saw another potential competitor open next door in 2015, in the form of craft beer bar My Parents’ Basement. Young, however, sees both the bar’s presence and the possibility of on-site beer sales at local breweries as more positive than negative in the long run. “I’m of the ‘rising tides’ mentality,” he says. “Maybe some growler shop owners worry that it might affect their business, but I think the more breweries we have in Georgia, the better it is for us. In North Carolina, many of the growler shops sell only North Carolina beer because there’s many more breweries. It also means more one-offs and more local specialty beers for us to sell, and that’s the most important thing.”

Camric Shultz, the owner of My Friend’s Growler Shop in Grant Park, echoes many of the same sentiments. His urban growler shop just celebrated its two-year anniversary. “I would say that the interest in what we sell has continued to grow, and we still get people in here pretty frequently who are just getting into craft beer for the first time,” he says. “We support breweries being able to fill growlers as well, because if anything there would be more people driving around with empty growlers ready to fill.”

Still, the other growler shop owners are keeping an eye on news like the TAPS closure. Lance Mendel spent the shop’s final weekend saying goodbye to regulars and preparing for his next venture. “We built a fantastic community of craft beer drinkers here,” he says. “It’s a shame to go, and we’ll miss the community, but it was just time.”

The most anticipated Atlanta craft brewery openings in 2016

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2015 was undeniably a year of growth, but also a frustrating one for the Atlanta craft beer community. When state legislature passed Beer Jobs Bill (SB 63), local brewers could finally sell (some of) their beer directly to consumers on site, a right they’d long been fighting for and one that almost every other state in the country enjoys (save for us, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Hawaii).

But subsequent and sudden regulations by the Department of Revenue effectively hamstrung the law before it had a chance to benefit anyone. Now stuck in an odd limbo, craft brewers are fighting for the right to operate as the law says they should be able to. “If the DOR regulations were to change, I know personally I could employee twice as many employees if not more,” says Kathy Davis of the soon-to-open Roswell brewery Abbey of the Holy Goats. “Allowing more beer commerce in Georgia should not only be a goal of the beer industry, but the local communities that breweries are located in. We’ve got roughly 30 production breweries in Georgia, if the laws change—what if all of them doubled their employees?”

Despite the bureaucratic tangle of red tape, 2016 is shaping up to be a banner year for beer. The rate of new projects in development is only speeding up, and in the immediate area around Atlanta, I’ve counted at least 11 new breweries that intend to pour their first official beers in 2016. Also on deck is Atlanta’s first-ever cider producer, Urban Tree Cidery. They hope to open in February, and when they do, they’ll enjoy the same privilege as Georgia’s wineries: selling their product on site directly to consumers. If that sounds inconsistent with regulation policies, it’s because it is.

January

Abbey of the Holy Goats (Roswell)
One of several opening in Roswell, this brewery aims to start production in January and will be one of the state’s few female-owned and operated breweries. Kathy Davis raised more than $32,000 on Kickstarter to put toward everything from the tasting room to plumbing. She’ll focus primarily on Belgian styles, with barrel-aged sours following in the next year. Says Davis of the initial lineup: “The four year-round ‘clean’ beers will be Belgian-style. A Belgian-style session ale (not yet named), a bold Belgian-style ale coming around 6.2% ABV (Lazy Goat), a floral saison at 7.2% ABV (Goats in the Garden) and a Belgian-influenced Double IPA (not yet named).”

Drinkers will be able to enjoy these brews in what sounds like a unique “Tasting Hall” with a projected March opening date, designed in the style of “a monk’s hall with a 26-foot table with benches, a fireplace, stained glass and candelabras, a working organ and no TV.” Sounds like quite the temple to beer.

Left Nut Brewing Co. (Gainesville)
This curiously named brewery will be located in the Chicopee Mill in Gainesville, which had previously been owned by Johnson & Johnson and is on the National Register of Historic Places. They’ve received local and federal permits and are in the final phase of seeking state permits, according to CEO Pap Datta, who says the brewery would open for production before seeking a public opening around the end of February. And the name? “It’s built on vernacular,” he says. “It symbolizes when you’re willing to give up something that you value to do something you really desire.”

Launch beers will include what Datta thinks of as the brewery’s core portfolio, including an English-style brown ale with Georgia pecans, a blonde ale, and a DIPA. Like many of the smaller-town breweries on this list, Left Nut hopes to integrate itself into the history and culture of the community. “Drinking beer is about dialog, and doing it with other people,” Datta says. “It’s about talking, laughing, and debating. So all of the beers will have a story associated with our name. They’ve all connected to us personally, or to the local folklore and legends.”

January-February

Gate City Brewing Co. (Roswell)
Roswell’s other new craft brewery, set to open in either January or February, will cover significantly different ground from the Belgian and sour-heavy portfolio of Abbey of the Holy Goats, which should be a boon for drinkers in the suburb who are exploring craft beer for the first time. Gate City Brewing, in fact, has already hit the market in limited quantity, contract-brewed at Reformation Brewing. Co-founder Garrett Nail says he’s just waiting on “the issuance of one permit from the Department of Agriculture,” and that their brewhouse is built, running smoothly, and ready to go. A full tasting room would follow at some point in the second quarter of 2016.

Says Nail of the two beers currently in the market: “Right now we have Copperhead, a slightly hoppy amber ale, and a beer called 1864, an American IPA. We haven’t finalized our production schedule yet, but we anticipate the next beer would be a porter, and all three would be year-rounders, with a host of additional seasonals and one-offs.”

Southern Sky Brewing Co. (Kennesaw)
Southern Sky is a remarkable one-man suburban operation, not far from fellow Kennesaw brewers Burnt Hickory. It’s the brainchild of Jon Near, a mechanical engineer for Lockheed Martin who left aerospace to pursue his passion in beer. The brewery’s motto, “A little bit out there,” is a fitting description of the experimental beers that Near finds interesting. They include a “pink ale,” described as a fusion of Belgian white and Irish red, along with multiple IPA variants, a Belgian dark strong ale, and a raspberry/black currant “lambic,” which presumably saw some spontaneous fermentation if it’s bearing that title.

Southern Sky also has a set date for its first public unveiling and will host a “tasting room launch party” Jan. 23. Regular hours for tours and tastings seem to be set every Friday night from that point on, from 5-8 p.m.

February

Torched Hop (Atlanta)
Opening only blocks from the Fox Theatre and across the street from Mary Mac’s Tea Room on Ponce in the former Old Spaghetti Factory building, Torched Hop aims to bring another brewpub to the heart of Atlanta. Build-out is currently underway and quite active, judging from photos regularly published to the brewery’s Facebook account. Co-owner Stephen Bivins, who will operate the brewpub with his brewmaster brother Chris, says that the brewery/restaurant will project a relaxed, casual feel. “We like the vibe of the brewpubs in Georgia,” Bivins says. “Our big focus is going to be on pizza and hamburgers. Nothing too upscale, just a place where anyone in the community can come hang out. Out in California they have Pizza Port, and we drew a lot of inspiration from them.” As for the beer, Bivins says Torched Hop will attempt to maintain 16 taps of their own beer, “with a wide variety from hop-forward to Belgians.”

Urban Tree Cidery (Atlanta)
Atlanta will finally embrace the national hard cider craze with the winter/spring opening of Urban Tree, its first local cidery, located in West Midtown at 1465 Howell Mill Rd. Owner Tim Resuta says construction is nearing completion on a space meant to accommodate 300 people for cider tastings, tours and special events.

Ciders will include three flagships, with a “substantial portion” of the apples being locally sourced. “Classic” will be a semi-sweet cider that is crisp and refreshing. “Original” is a European-style, semi-dry cider crafted “to be hearty, with subtle notes of apple sweetness.” “Barrel-Aged,” meanwhile, is “robust, with hints of oaky vanilla aromas developed after time in Nicaraguan rum barrels.” Additional special releases will also include ciders infused with hops, and everything from ginger to habanero peppers. We can’t help but be curious—these are going to be very different ciders from anything that most drinkers have experienced before.

March

Arches Brewing (Hapeville)
Arches Brewing could very well be your new pre- or post-airport stopover, as it will be located just northeast of Hartsfield-Jackson. Construction is currently underway, according to co-founder Ryan Fogelgren, who also confirmed that the brewery would be draft-only for “the first year at least.” They’ve already workshopped many recipes and will differentiate themselves with a bigger focus on lagers, including a series of four seasonal lagers in different styles that will be offered throughout the year. “That’s just how we’ve always done it—we like to drink seasonally, and you can’t always get these types of lager styles with the craze around ales,” Fogelgren says. “We’ll be using traditional, time-consuming methods of lager-brewing such as decoction. We think that will differentiate us from the breweries not just in Atlanta but nationwide.”

Fogelgren describes this as a marriage of modern and old-world brewing processes, overseen by biochemist and brewer Jamey Adams. We’ll be keeping an eye on this one with a particular curiosity for what styles will be represented in those seasonal lagers.

April

Scofflaw Brewing Co. (Atlanta)
Scofflaw Brewing Co. hopes to open a new production brewery on Atlanta’s northwest side, in the Bolton neighborhood, not far from Red Brick Brewing. A building was leased a year ago, located just behind Crest Lawn Cemetery, with a production brewery to open first and a full tasting room to follow, according to owner Matt Shirah. Expect a West Coast-inspired brewery with plenty of big, bold IPAs and sours. “Our brewmaster, Travis Herman, brewed on the West Coast at Russian River and Lost Abbey, and he brings a lot of that hop savvy with him, but he’s also done a lot of sours,” Shirah says. “We’ll have a sour side in our build-out, a funky cellar for those beers. We’ll do all the really crazy stuff we want to do and also meet some market demand.”

Summer 2016

Oak Brewpub (Decatur, Oakhurst)
A local brewpub in the heart of the Oakhurst neighborhood seems like a no-brainer, and it’s easy to imagine the locals flocking here just as they do for special tappings at Steinbeck’s Ale House. Owner Daniel McKinney has hired brewer Charles Duffney, whose resume includes Westbrook Brewing and Orpheus, is a graduate of the Siebel Institute in Chicago, widely recognized as the country’s premier program for learning professional brewing. Oak Brewpub will be self-sufficient, with all its product consumed on-premises. As for what they’ll be brewing, McKinney hasn’t quite decided: “It will depend on when we open. We’ll definitely have three to four beers that you can expect to see regularly, and seven to eight rotating beers depending on the season. If we were open right now, we’d be making some heavier beers, spiced beers.”

Lake Country Brewing (Greensboro)
A former mill built in 1917 will be the site for this Greensboro brewery, which is just beginning work on the building this month. Owner and head brewer Taylor Lamm is eyeing an optimistic late summer opening and will target “a broad range” of beer styles, while making an obvious concession to the summer crowds who spend time in the lake country around Greensboro with a lake-appropriate lager. “It won’t be just Belgian styles or German styles or any one thing,” he says. “I feel confident there will be an American IPA, but beyond that it will be eclectic.”

Lake Country Brewing will start out on draft accounts, but Lamm notes that they’ll “definitely be doing cans over bottles” once they make the jump to packaging.

To be determined

MAZURT
MAZURT continues to be something of an enigma when it comes to potential brewery projects opening in the Atlanta area. Operated by homebrewing partners Dan Rosen and Hamp Covington, their barrel-aged imperial stouts have been sampled by few, but have racked up awards at the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting and at Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Day. It sounds like a great pedigree, and unsurprisingly there has been talk of a physical MAZURT brewery for quite a while now (Creative Loafing wrote they were getting “very close” to a physical location all the way back in 2013).

It’s hard to know what one should expect. My direct inquiry to Rosen and Covington wasn’t returned, but Rosen did write online that the pair had been gypsy brewing in Georgia and North Carolina in 2015. He also wrote the following: “In 2016, expect a crowd funding campaign for MAZURT as we secure our own facility in the Atlanta metro area.”

Green Line Brewery (Canton)
There’s little information about this brewery available, and the project may be dead in the water at this point. The business has both a website and Facebook account, but neither has been updated since the summer of 2015, and both point toward a fall 2015 opening that came and went. Efforts to reach the owners were not successful, so we’ll see if these Canton brewers resurface at some point in 2016.

The 10 Georgia craft beers you’ll want at Thanksgiving

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Thai What
Second Self Thai Wheat

Courtesy of Second Self

Here’s the bottom line for food and beer pairings: No one can truly tell you that your choices are right or wrong. You can base your recommendations on flavor wheels, various philosophies, or a fiendishly complex grid of your own devising, but in the end, this is something that comes down to personal taste. A cicerone can no more tell you what beer to enjoy than a chef can tell you what tastes you prefer. But they can make an educated guess. And that’s what we’re doing today.

Thanksgiving dishes vary from region to region and household to household, but the one constant is that any good dinner has a variety of beverages for pairing at all points of the day—not just the dinner itself, but before and after as well. Craft beer is remarkably versatile in this regard. Here then, are 10 locally produced beers that are perfect to have on hand on turkey day.

Pre-Meal

Three Taverns Prince of Pilsen
As one of the most hop-forward lager styles, a great Czech pils hits many of the same notes as a great IPA, and this is especially true in the case of Prince of Pilsen, which uses an intensely citrusy blend of American hops instead of the traditionally spicy buzz of the Czech Saaz variety. The result is a refreshing, palate-cleansing, citrusy (but dry) pilsner. Ideal for: football game hors d’oeuvres

Creature Comforts Athena
Athena is a beautiful example of how the American craft beer market has put a claim on the style of Berliner weisse and the flavor profile this has come to evoke: Light, grainy wheat, a punch of lemony citrus, and mild-to-moderate tartness make for thirst-quenching drinkability in the same way that lemonade might. Ideal for: fatty snacks like potato chips or potato skins.

Blue Tarp BantamWeight
Decatur’s Blue Tarp Brewing Co. recently started canning their first run of beers, including the Funk Weisse (another Berliner) and IPA/DIPA hybrid Cascade Killa, but their “session ale,” BantamWeight, fits particularly well as a pre-dinner selection. Its ABV is low and approachable at 4.2%, but the beer is surprisingly assertive, driven by malts with mild roast and nutty notes. Ideal for: casual sipping or a handful of salty pretzels.

Orpheus Lyric Ale
A classic French saison is an outside-the-box appetizer pairing and brings a bit more complexity and body to the table. The combination of spice, funk, and fruity hops in the beer is well-suited to a variety of flavors and is indicative of why saison is usually good “food beer” in general. Lyric Ale tends to drink significantly lighter than its surprising 6.5% ABV, so watch out if you’re trying to stay sober before dinner. Ideal for: Cheeses, charcuterie, pitas and hummus or veggies

Thanksgiving Dinner

Wild Heaven White Blackbird
Unlike the Orpheus Lyric Ale, Wild Heaven’s White Blackbird takes a fruity, herbal, spicy route. Saisons and farmhouse ales have been my personal favorite pairing for Thanksgiving dinner for a while now. Ideal for: Herbal and peppery qualities complement traditional Thanksgiving dishes, from stuffing to an herbed turkey breast to a mountain of potatoes and gravy. 

SweetWater IPA
Has to be an IPA in there somewhere, right? Here, I’d argue you don’t want a punch of tropical fruit as much as you want balance and a more classical IPA profile that is citrusy, floral and piney. Ideal for: An outstanding value that you can probably find at your corner gas station.

Second Self Thai Wheat
Here’s a clever twist on the often uninspired American pale wheat style. Employing ginger and lemongrass as flavor agents, in the present-but-subtle manner that has become one of Second Self’s calling cards, Thai What quickly became Second Self’s most popular (and versatile) beer. Ideal for: Herbaceous and spicy qualities make it an obvious pairing for side dishes such as stuffing, green bean casserole, black eyed peas or even cranberry sauce. 

Dessert

Burnt Hickory Big Shanty
This decadent imperial stout from Burnt Hickory in Kennesaw is made with honey and “graham cracker crumbles,” making it a natural dessert pairing (it’s half pie already!). Falling somewhere between the autumnal/pumpkin beer style and a more traditional imperial stout, it brings cinnamon and nutmeg flavors into play in addition to the expected roastiness and brown sugar/molasses-like sweetness. Ideal for: Pecan pie. This is one to share, so maybe crack open a bomber and portion it out.

Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy Special Winter Ale
Special Winter is the seasonal winter version of Wild Heaven’s imperial coffee brown ale, Ode to Mercy. An already rich beer in its base form, the Ode is then aged on bourbon-soaked oak chips. I find that it smooths the imperial brown ale’s coffee and roast flavors somewhat, reducing their assertiveness but simultaneously introducing barrel notes of vanilla, oak, toffee and spice that make for a very memorable, frighteningly easy drinking 8.2% ABV beer. Ideal for: Just about any dessert, from pumpkin pie or peach cobbler to a slice of chocolate cake.

Post-Meal Tipples

Monday Night Brewing Laissez-Faire Wheatwine
If you’re still able to think about drinking an after-meal digestive (perhaps after waiting an hour or two), close out with a massive beer like this one. Laissez-Faire is a “wheatwine,” the little-seen spin on barleywine that essentially takes an American wheat ale and cranks the amount of malted wheat (and thus ABV) up to 11. Or in this case, 12. That, combined with its cabernet barrel-aging, create a massively rich, boozy, chewy beer redolent in dried fruit and toffee. It’s the beer equivalent of a well-aged brandy or perhaps a tawny port. Ideal for: You’ll want to share this with the entire family, portioned out in little cordial or liqueur glasses.

The (Pint) Glass Ceiling: Sarah Green is Georgia’s only female full-time professional brewer—for now

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Sarah Green SweetWater
Photograph by Tom Griscom

This August, a year after starting her beer-making career at Chicago’s Goose Island, Sarah Green joined SweetWater Brewing Company as the newest member of its nine-person brewing team. A staffing change at the largest craft brewery in the Southeast wouldn’t normally be newsworthy—except that of the estimated 100 full-time brewers at Georgia’s 47 craft breweries, Green is the only woman.

Green, 27, studied anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and worked as a paralegal for three years before becoming a tour guide at Goose Island to earn extra cash. She eventually joined their marketing department and soon became an intern brewer, where she fell in love with the technical side of beer making. “One 12-hour day in the 100-degree brewery, and I was hooked,” she says. “I’ve never had a job that mentally and physically challenged me the way brewing does. Every day you’ve got 20 to 30 tanks going at different stages of fermentation; you’re multitasking like crazy keeping track of when you’re going to dry hop, when you’re going to pull yeast.”

From PR to taproom management, women are well represented on the business end of beer making. And up until the late 18th century, when beer switched from a home-based to a commercial enterprise, it was mostly women who produced and sold ale. Yet it’s rare to find women brewing today.

Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild since 2014, blames a lingering perception of the beer world as “male”—a perception bolstered by bikini babe–soaked marketing campaigns. “Although the number of female beer drinkers has increased drastically over the past several years, the increase in female home brewers hasn’t been nearly as large,” she says. “Home brewing is still the main way [that people] learn how to make beer, so we’re not seeing as many women entering professional brewing from that angle.” The lack of diversity is to the industry’s detriment, says Palmer. “We’re relying on too small a group for inspiration on recipes and processes.”

Brewing is also—as Green describes—a physical, dirty job. “And you don’t have a ton of women signing up for dirty jobs in general,” says Palmer. Indeed, the rigors of professional brewing aren’t for everyone. Before Green, Brittany Orschel of Wild Heaven Craft Beers was the only female brewer in Georgia. Last May she transitioned to sales and events.

“I really enjoyed brewing, but it’s very challenging,” says Orschel, who entered the field after working in chemistry and molecular biology. “The super-long days were hard. On our 30-barrel system, we’d be starting at 5:30 a.m. and going until 8 or 9 p.m. It wears you out.”

Since cofounding the Porter, a gastro­pub in Little Five Points, in 2008, Molly Gunn has had a front-row seat for the steady increase in female craft beer enthusiasts. (Women ages 21 to 34 have become some of craft beer’s strongest supporters, accounting for 15 percent of total consumption.) She says female beer fans, though growing in number, are still recovering from America’s “puritan culture” around alcohol—the idea that booze is for men and fastidious temperance for women.

Brewing also aligns with other male-dominated areas of study: STEM fields. “Home brewing requires at least some technical or science expertise,” says Gunn. “So in addition to the association between beer and men, there’s the idea that the sciences are a ‘male field’ as well.”

In a hopeful sign, Green won’t be alone for much longer. Longtime home brewer Kathy Davis is preparing to go pro, with plans to open Abbey of the Holy Goats in late 2015 or early 2016. The production facility, which will focus on Belgian and sour beers, will be the first female-owned brewery in the state. And with that, the number of full-time professional female brewers in Georgia will double.

“I’m not afraid to lift kegs and run a forklift,” says Davis. “I hope the women who visit my brewery will be inspired to get involved not just in drinking craft beer but brewing it themselves.”

What craft beer will you drink on Thanksgiving?
We asked four leading women in Georgia’s brewing scene

Terrapin/Brittany Orschel
Orschel: Chris Rank/Rank Studios; Beer: Courtesy of Terrapin

Liquid Lunch Peanut Butter and Jelly Porter, Terrapin
“My family mostly drinks Bud Light and Coors Light, so this one will be fun for everyone to try. It should go well with dessert.” —Brittany Orschel, Wild Heaven Craft Beers

SweetWater/Kim Jones
Photographs courtesy of SweetWater Brewing Company

SweetWater 420
“I love it for the memories it conjures: college tailgates, backyard parties with friends, renovating the house with my husband.” —Kim Jones, CEO of SweetWater Brewing Company

Three Taverns/Kathy Davis
Davis: Kathy Davis; Three Taverns: LuAnne DeMeo

Theophan the Recluse, Three Taverns
“This imperial stout is a fantastic sipping beer, and I really enjoy drinking it with dessert.” —Kathy Davis, owner of Abbey of the Holy Goats

Sarah Green/Revolution Brewing
Green: Tom Griscom; Revolution: Courtesy of Revolution

Anti-Hero IPA, Revolution Brewing
“It’s an outstanding IPA that reminds me of my hometown, Chicago.” —Sarah Green, brewer at SweetWater Brewing Company

This article originally appeared in our November 2015 issue.

Second Self Beer Company to increase production by 150 percent, triple the size of its tasting room

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In a clear illustration of the Atlanta beer scene’s rapid and systemic growth, Second Self Beer Co. announced a major expansion and plans for the future this week. The brewery, which opened to the public in the fall of 2014, revealed that its production will increase by approximately 150 percent in 2016 alongside the opening of a much larger taproom, three times the size of their current space.

The Westside-based brewery has in fact been operating at capacity ever since March. “The expansion will give us a lot more finished product that we’ll be able to put in cans,” says Santamaria. “We’ve decided to can our Mole Porter, and we’ll want another beer in cans for the summer months. The problem of being at 100 percent capacity is that you’re just always working, and more tank space will free us up for a bit more experimentation. You’ll probably see those experimental beers released primarily through the taproom.”

Inspiration for that new taproom is still being considered. To accommodate significantly larger crowds, the tasting room will be removed from the brewhouse where it’s currently found in a very modest fashion. That current taproom will shut down in January to focus on construction of the new space, which is angling for a Spring 2016 re-opening.

Second Self’s presence in the market has been impressive, measuring up well alongside peers such as Orpheus and Eventide Brewing, with a philosophy that has fallen somewhere in between. Prototypical beers from Second Self are notable for their subtle twists on classic styles, often achieved with the aid of fresh spices. Where a typical brewery might produce an IPA, Second Self produces a “hybrid red rye IPA.” Where others might make an American pale wheat, Second Self makes a Thai Wheat with lemongrass and ginger that has become the brewery’s unexpected best seller. Their beers are both familiar and slightly exotic.

“We thought Red Hop Rye would be our big seller, but when the weather got warm it was left in the dust by Thai Wheat,” co-founder Jason Santamaria says. “But it’s a beer that speaks toward what we’re trying to achieve. It’s a truly fresh-tasting ginger beer, even compared to other beers with ginger in them.”

Even with optimistic projections, though, Santamaria and the rest of the Second Self team hardly expected to end up with every tank full and production maxed out so quickly. They held steady at first, wondering if their orders were simply being boosted by the novelty of being a new brewery in town, but when those orders failed to slow down, it became clear the growth was genuine. Much of that beer is sold via draft accounts, with the remaining 40 percent of sales from cans of Red Hop Rye and Thai Wheat. That disparity toward draft accounts is one thing that will change when production is ramped up in 2016.

Of course, a new taproom and expanded production only scratches the surface of everything Santamaria has planned for the future of his company. When asked what he has on his wish list after a first year of brewery operation, there’s no shortage of items and plans already in motion.

“Our barrel-aging program will expand, and we’ll have a dedicated area for barrels in the brewery,” he says. “And one thing we wanted to do in year one but never had the room to was collaborations with both brewers in Georgia and [ones] across the country.”

2015 welcomes a new generation of tart Atlanta beer

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WildHeavensSour
The latest sours from Wild Heaven Craft Beers

Photograph by Chris Rank/Rank Studios

When Atalanta, the popular tart plum saison created by Orpheus Brewing on the eastern edge of Midtown, first went into cans in early 2014, it earned itself a footnote in Georgian brewing history as the state’s first packaged, commercially available sour beer. Though it seems like a lifetime in the hyper-evolving landscape of local craft brewing, that milestone was just over a year ago. At the time, the only other Atlanta-area brewery producing tart beer of any kind was the Wrecking Bar Brewpub, and those releases were draft-only (not including sours from Creature Comforts Brewery in Athens). In a city where many of the small breweries were still taking shaky first steps, “tart” was a notably absent dimension of flavor. But in 2015, much has changed.

A new wave of Atlanta-produced sours have arrived. Produced by breweries with vastly differing aesthetics and brewing philosophies, the timing of the releases, coupled with the new Georgia beer laws that went into effect on July 1, have essentially made this “the summer of Atlanta sours.” The names speak for themselves: Orpheus, Wrecking Bar, Wild Heaven Craft Beers, Monday Night Brewing, Three Taverns, and Blue Tarp have all released new tart beers in the last month. Even the venerable SweetWater, which has never produced a true sour, is apparently planning an as-yet-unrevealed tart beer for the fall, according to “minister of propaganda” Steve Farace.

It’s a one-year transformation that reflects prevailing trends in both the beer industry and consumer tastes. Atlanta drinkers may have gotten a slower start in sour beer appreciation than say, those in Portland, but in the opinion of brewers like The Wrecking Bar’s Gavin McKenna, one can’t reasonably get by in 2015 without at least the roots of a sour program. “I think you have to be somewhat sour-focused now to be successful and stand out,” says McKenna, who led Wrecking Bar through its initial forays into sours and barrel-aging. “You have to have a strong saccharomyces [traditional beer yeast] program, hoppy to dark, and also incorporate sours. That’s what a full beer menu looks like these days.”

Differing methodology
It’s important to note that the term “sour” itself is ultimately just a blanket description for many styles of tart beer. The sours produced in the last month are a testament to how varied a descriptor this can be, incorporating a full range of completely different techniques, ingredients and final products. Some are light, zesty, refreshing summer quenchers. Others are rich, heady fruit beers filled with juicy fruit flavors and residual sugar. Still others are dry, complex and boast intense tartness.

Some of those beers are so-called “kettle sours,” a nontraditional method where souring bacteria is allowed to infect and sour the beer before it’s ever boiled and introduced to more common brewer’s yeast. Such a method can be very helpful to breweries with limited means hoping to produce certain sour styles, given that it can greatly reduce the time needed to make a tart beer. Other breweries have done things the long, slow way, as Three Taverns has done in the build-up to the limited release of their first-ever sour, Inceptus, a saison base aged in Georgian wine barrels for more than a year and inoculated with wild yeast culture from good o’le Decatur air.

“Inceptus was actually begun all the way back during the Snowpocalypse of 2013,” says Three Taverns CEO and founder Brian Purcell. “During the snowpocalypse, our Belgian brewmaster showed up at the brewery and was deeply breathing in the cold air outside. He said ‘this cold air is the best for doing open fermentation.’ And so that’s how our wild yeast culture got started.”

Atlanta’s menagerie of brewers have each followed with their own twist on this formula. At Blue Tarp, a collection of ultra-limited sours were released to celebrate the July 1 beer law reform, including an apricot sour, a “cucumber honeydew sour,” several sour stouts, and a beer enticingly called “Cherries Jubilee.” At Wild Heaven, on the other hand, three sours have likewise been released in the past few months—first the wild yeast-infused Swan Swan Hummingbird and then both a sour rauchbier (smoked beer) and Dionysus, a cuvee featuring a blend of six different sours, primarily a sour version of their Belgian quad, Eschaton.

“Dionysus was always conceived as a cuvee, basically modeled in the way that some of the better Belgian sours and Flanders cuvees that I love are built,” says Wild Heaven brewmaster Eric Johnson. “To get the right balance of the dark roasty and the Flanders lush fruits and the barrel notes and lighter tropical fruits, I don’t know if you can really accomplish it without blending beers of different ages and different strains.”

Monday Night Brewing, meanwhile, employed a truly unusual method in creating their first sour released last month, Spirit Animal. The beer was kettle soured not with an already-cultivated strain of bacteria intended for brewing but by literally dumping Indian yogurt into the kettle. According to Jonathan Baker, the brewery’s head of marketing, the dozen different strains of lactobacillus simply took over from there.

“Spirit Animal is a very light summer sour that we did in three batches and then blended before aging it on toasted oak and rose hips,” Baker says. “The rose hips are just a bit of a floral afterthought and the oak does more for the mouthfeel than the flavor. We wanted this to be a very refreshing offering that reflects the way the Atlanta market has warmed up on the broad concept of sours. We believe there’s a way to do them that pushes the boundaries of Atlanta palates but is also something people want to come back to regularly and pair with meals.”

Baker may be more right than he knows, according to Orpheus brewmaster Jason Pellett. Ultimately, the proof of sour beer’s ascendency is where those beers are being consumed, and in the case of Orpheus products, suburban restaurants, not beer geek-focused bars, are taking down a majority of the draft kegs.

“My number one priority, no matter what, is that it’s pleasant to drink,” he says. “That may sound simple, but you shouldn’t have to work to drink a beer. I hate the idea that a beer is ‘challenging.’ That’s some beer geek talk that I don’t want anything to do with.”

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