The Rise of Georgia Beer: Everything you need to know about our craft brew scene

What does the future hold for craft beer in Georgia?

Hop to it.

Photograph courtesy of Geo-grafika/Getty

It’s small.
Of the 6,266 independent breweries operating in the United States last year, 75 percent of them—4,700—were responsible for just 1 percent of all craft beer volume. Thanks to SB85 and the ability to sell directly from a brewery, Georgia’s growth in craft beer will likely come through small production.

That’s the model Halfway Crooks Blending and Brewing is pursuing. Cofounded by electrical engineer Shawn Bainbridge and former Three Taverns brewmaster Joran Van Ginderachter, Halfway Crooks will occupy a two-floor storefront on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill, just steps from Georgia State Stadium (the former Turner Field) and a $200 million mixed-use project being developed by Carter. Van Ginderachter will focus on pilsners and mixed-fermentation beers, made on a 10-barrel system.

“We know how we want our beer to be served and what kind of experience we want our customers to have,” Bainbridge says. “Not only is this their neighborhood, they’ll get to see the people making it.”

When it opens (scheduled for fall), Halfway Crooks will effectively be a neighborhood brewery—a concept not unusual to anyone who’s tipped back a few in Portland, Oregon. Relying heavily on foot traffic, Halfway Crooks will also be the first Atlanta brewery to open in a commercial area. Before the city changed its alcohol code, a brewery could open only in an area zoned industrial.

Illustration by Claire McCracken
Illustration by Claire McCracken

It’s rural.
On 212 acres outside Albany, fields of barley and wheat are creeping just past knee-high. For years, these crops ended up being sold to local breadmakers. Today, their destination is a 30-barrel brewhouse in downtown Albany. The farm and the brewery together comprise the Pretoria Fields Collective, an operation begun by Dr. Tripp Morgan, an Albany surgeon.

The idea is simple—organically grow the ingredients required by their brewer, Eric Kirchner, who was recruited from Russian River Brewing Co. in California. “We’re making beer in the longest, slowest, and most expensive way you can,” Jennifer Harris, Pretoria’s marketing director, says with a chuckle. Right now, just over half of the raw ingredients for Pretoria’s Gose, for example, come from the farm. Beyond wheat and barley, the farm also boasts blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Pretoria is even growing hops—especially challenging in the heat and humidity of south Georgia.

Pretoria Fields represents a next step in the maturation of Georgia’s craft beer industry. Right now, “Georgia’s breweries are concentrated in metro Atlanta,” says Bart Watson, economist with the Brewers Association. “When it really takes off, it starts to move into more rural areas.” Currently, the closest to Atlanta you can buy Pretoria Fields is Newnan, but the brewery expects distribution to widen once it starts canning this month.

It’s specialized.
IPAs—hazy, double, or otherwise—aren’t enough anymore. To ensure repeat business, brewers need to churn out innovative styles. None are more specialized than SweetWater’s Woodlands Project, a barrel-aging operation that’s the artisanal counterpoint to the brewery’s industrial side. Brainchilds of brewer Nick Burgoyne, the beers are offered as part of a beer club, and bottles are released when they’re ready. The first batch included an imperial stout aged in bourbon and cognac barrels with tangerine, vanilla, and lactose. The brewhouse itself is often reserved for event space, but public tours are available on Sundays.