After bouncing around Scottsdale, Ariz., Cincinnati, and Chicago, Kelly and Constantine Mihalis landed in Atlanta two years ago. And after more than 20 years in the packaged-good industry, Kelly had had enough. Luckily, Constantine, a stay-at-home dad of 13 years, needed a change as well. Together, they opened Beer Growler Nation in Decatur's Oak Grove Shopping Center last September, offering up more than 25 growler options, as well as local meats and cheeses, and Frozen Pints craft-beer ice cream. "Our shop allows us to greet our customers, find out what they're eating or what they're doing and then help them figure out a great beer to make it even better," Kelly tells Creative Loafing. "We're serving our neighbors and friends the same way we would in our home."
Serving their neighbors, indeed. Inspired after donating proceeds from a day's worth of sales to the victims of a nearby house fire, Kelly and Constantine decided to expand their philanthropic endeavors in 2013. "We want to give back and give our customers a way to give back that fits into their busy lives," Kelly says. By donating funds, food, awareness, and more to causes that are meaningful to them (Atlanta Food Bank, PAWS, Toys for Tots, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, etc.), the couple is determined to make a difference.
Describe your first beer experience.
Kelly Mihalis: My first taste of beer was a sip of my dad's ice-cold Black Label. I distinctly remember the crash of flavor, the tingling in my mouth and throat as I swallowed. Every time I open my first beer of the evening and take a swig, it brings me back to that very first beer-taste experience and what a happy time it was.
Constantine Mihalis: I was around 9 years old and my father was a Lowenbrau drinker. I remember the silver foil around the neck vividly. I was allowed to get it out of the fridge and open it up one time for him. I was disappointed by how easy the cap came off. I handed it to him and he let me have the first sip. I was so excited! The taste was odd, almost bitter. I was surprised how "chewy" my first mouthful experience started.
Where's your favorite place to have a beer?
KM: I have several favorite places, but the one place I can get to almost any time is the shower. In high school, I started taking a bottle of beer into the shower when I was getting ready to go out for the evening, and I still do this today. There is nothing like a cold, tasty beer in a nice, hot shower.
CM: We love to entertain, so a party at our house with good food and great beer works for me. Since moving to Atlanta two years ago, upstairs at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur is the place I could hang out all night. Our store tends to lean towards higher-gravity beers, and they have a great selection on tap.
How did the "year of giving" concept come about?
KM: We've always wanted to give back to our community, and for years never felt like we were doing enough. One of our challenges was finding a way to get involved that fit into our busy schedules. I think everyone wants to do some good, but might not know how to get started. In December, a home a few blocks from our shop burned down. Although we've never experienced a fire, we know what it's like to have to move a family, live in temporary housing, build and remodel, and we really felt for this family, though we had never met them. We decided to donate 10 percent of sales from Dec. 23 to this family. This gave us a chance to support them, but also gave others a chance to support them in way that was convenient and easy. This experience put us on the track for the "year of giving."
What do you hope for the future of Atlanta's beer scene?
KM: I hope Atlanta's beer scene continues to develop and expand with the terrific beers being brewed here and also coming in from around the world. I think the growler shops provide a great distribution channel for those beers that won't make it onto the wall at a restaurant with six taps. I also hope that we can play a part in expanding people's beer repertoires. So many people are loyal to one beer or style, and they might not realize that they are missing some great flavor opportunities.