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First Draft with Kevin Ward, Midtown Art Cinema's general manager

Movie theater GM talks about pairing brews with films

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Before he was Midtown Art Cinema's general manager, packing its concessions with excellent craft beers from breweries such as Oskar Blues, 21st Amendment, and Founders, Kevin Ward grew up in Columbus, Ohio. It was there he'd first start managing a theater bar, eventually transferring to San Francisco and then Atlanta. Movie-inclined craft-beer lovers have it especially good at Midtown Art, and Ward plans to continue to revamp the theater's liquor program in the months to come as well, promising a thoughtful menu of single-malt scotches, signature cocktails, and more. Creative Loafing caught up with him to chat beer and find out why more theaters aren't following suit.

Describe your first beer experience.

My first beer experience had me sick all over the place. My pops was hosting a cookout when I was 12 and I snuck a can of Bud out of a cooler, shook it up really hard, and then flung it spinning high into the air. When it landed, it exploded all over me and the smell of the beer made me sick for the rest of the night.

What is your favorite beer style, and why? An ideal pairing for that style?

I tend toward heavier, darker beers; stouts are my favorite, porters a close second. Barley's Brewing in Columbus makes a ridiculous Imperial Stout that still gives me chills. I think I tend toward these types due to the flavor profiles that, for me, come across more intense — chocolate and coffee, smokiness and great, smooth finishes. I also enjoy the mouthfeel of heavier beers. I do not drink copious amounts of beer, so what I do taste I want to know it's good beer. You can keep your light beers and Shock Top to yourself.

With such a vast selection of quality craft beers, how did you narrow down the list for Midtown Art Cinema?

Each Landmark has control over its beer, wine, and liquor selection. At some there are true lead bartenders who decide what to bring in. Here at the Midtown, though, I decided to make the selections, as I did not care for anything we carried when I arrived in Atlanta. I chose many beers based on what I had enjoyed myself, like Lagunitas Maximus, for example. When I was living in San Francisco, I took a trip with my girlfriend to the Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma and we sampled many tasty treats, but the Maximus struck a chord with me. But others, like Delirium Tremens, I picked so true aficionados would take us seriously and check out what else we have to offer. And then we have PBR and Red Stripe because they are what a lot of our customers want.

Why don't more movie theaters offer a creative beer menu?

I think it is all based around cost and profit. Everyone knows movie theater concessions are expensive and beer is no exception to that rule; some theaters shrink from charging as much as they would for popcorn. Maybe that is why you see so many serving Bud and the like: It's cheap. Landmark, on the other hand, is known nationally for its unique and gourmet concessions offerings. Adding beers to the list just makes sense for us. Budweiser and the like are the equivalent to a Walmart or a Target — big stores concerned with volume. Craft beers are made by individuals, craftsmen who are passionate and want to blow your mind! Who wouldn't want to have that option when seeing compelling art and independent film?

Next: Atlanta's best beer events in April

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