Photo courtesy of Chris Rank/ Rank Studios
After almost four years of contract brewing, Wild Heaven Brewery opens its doors to the public next Friday, June 13, offering three days of tastings and tours at its new Avondale Estates home. Planting down roots gives the brewery an opportunity to expand its lineup and distribution. Where there used to be a concrete company, Wild Heaven now sits on 9,000 square feet (including a newly added 1,000 square feet for refrigeration purposes).
Brewmaster Eric Johnson will use a 30-barrel brew system that was the original brewing system owned by SweetWater in 1997. President Nick Purdy calls it a system with “an auspicious Georgia brewing history”—the same one also spent a decade over at Terrapin in Athens. The mojo is definitely good. Not that Wild Heaven needs much luck. The brewery has solidified its own base, where even casual drinkers hail flagship beers Invocation (a frothy Belgian-style golden ale) and Ode to Mercy (their oaky, roasted imperial brown).
The brewery has a fermentation capacity of about 5,000-6,000 barrels per year, which Purdy says they will grow into as quickly as possible. Visitors will be welcome next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, where they can hang out in the twelve-tap tasting room with painted gold rafters and get into the spirit. My chat with Purdy below.
Will you launch new brews next weekend? Two brand new beers. One is called White Blackbird. It’s a 6.2% Belgian-style saison. It’s got pink peppercorns, Korean pears, and Chardonnay. And then there’s Civilization, our barley wine. It’s about 12% and that’s going to have more flavor notes than I could list for you—it’s going to be deep, complex, and we’re pretty excited about it. Down the road, we’ll have a few extra tanks outside in the patio area for sours and sodas. We’re working on a ginger beer for Pallookaville.
Overall, keeping with European styles that have an American point of view. Yes, I’d say that’s accurate. We do have a deep respect for American brewing traditions. We love the fact that we’re Americans, and Americans sort of break all the rules and innovate. At the end of the day though, it’s always about flavor. Can we create something really great and deeply flavorful? If not, if it’s just our version of some other classic style, then it’s not good enough to be a Wild Heaven beer.
Now that you’ve got a home base, what are your distribution plans? We’re only in Georgia now. We used to be in Alabama a little bit, but we couldn’t keep them supplied, so we pulled back. Contract brewing is great but it doesn’t allow you to grow very well. We’ve been waiting for this moment to really put the pedal to the metal, so we’re going to see how long it takes to get Georgia really satisfied. Then we’ll start to look at neighboring states. There’s a lot of demand. We obviously believe our beer is special, and we’re working to make it the best beer in the Southeast, if not the country. Our ambitions are pretty high.
Keeping up with demand can be such a challenge for brewers. One advantage we have is that we’ve put in enough capacity across the board to skip over what for many brewers is that first choke point. We’re in Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods Market, and all the package stores. Tons of great restaurants and bars. We’re hitting the ground running.
South Carolina made some exciting news this week, allowing brewers to sell direct to customers with some provisions. South Carolina just laid down the gauntlet to Georgia. Will Georgia respond, is the question. It wasn’t a direct challenge to Georgia but I take it as one.
You mean in terms of attracting new business? What they did wasn’t to compete or not compete with Georgia. What they did was to compete with North Carolina. Now the question is, will Georgia get left behind? Based on the current environment, the answer to that is yes. We’re an American manufacturing business making American product out of American raw ingredients, almost exclusively. But I’m not allowed to sell my product [direct] to anyone. Think about that.
It doesn’t make any sense. The other fact is this bizarre double standard in Georgia. If you go to a Georgia winery, you can buy wine. But you can’t buy beer at a Georgia brewery. There are monied interests that have a vested interest in keeping this the way it is. But it’s not that way in 42 out of 50 states. So in addition to having I think, the third highest excise tax rate on beer, we’re one of only eight states that don’t allow any direct sales of beer. Put those two factors together and there may not be a worse state to be a brewery than in Georgia. And even under those circumstances, we have a boom! But a boom is relative. The per capita number of breweries in Georgia is still approximately the same as Utah. And that’s not exactly a drinking state.
What else can people expect to see at the brewery? Eric has been a homebrewer for more than 20 years, and his homebrew system will be at the brewery. It’s a miniature production quality system—with steam and jacketed kettles, which allow for consistency and reproductivity. We’re redubbing it the Pearly Gates. Eric will make beers on that, exclusively for the tasting room. The Pearly Gates is going to be how people get an early look at what’s coming. We hope it gives them a reason to come back over and over.
Wild Heaven Craft Beers, 135 Maple Street, Decatur.
Grand opening Friday, June 13, 5:30- 8 p.m. Additional tours Saturday 2-5 p.m. and Sunday 2-4 p.m. All tours $12. Tickets available now at wildheaven.xorbia.com.