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First Draft with Tom Stahl of BlueTarp Brewing

On the brewery's one-year anniversary, Georgia's exciting beer scene, and more

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"I think we should put together a shuttle," Tom Stahl says with a laugh while discussing Decatur's burgeoning beer scene. Four brewing establishments — Twain's Billiards & Tap, Three Taverns Brewery, Stahl's BlueTarp Brewing Co., and the forthcoming Wild Heaven Craft Beers in Avondale Estates — exist within a mile and a half of one another in Atlanta's increasingly delicious suburb to the east.

"There's beer everywhere!" Stahl raves of his location. "It's amazing."

Before setting up shop along College Avenue one year ago, Stahl's biochemistry background found him "kinda falling into" a plant genetics research technician gig at the University of Georgia. It was during that time that the Georgia native started getting into craft beer, tried out homebrewing, and then quickly found himself making his own stuff up to six times a week. Encouraged by a supportive boss, he took a couple months off to study beermaking at the American Brewers Guild in Vermont, followed by an internship at Colorado's Left Hand Brewing Company in 2006.

After putting his dreams on hold for a couple years to raise his daughter, BlueTarp's first batch was brewed on Dec. 7, 2012, and released at nearby Brick Store Pub two days after Christmas last year.

With five beers — BantamWeight Ale, Mother Hoppin' Double India Pale Ale, Hopsided India Pale Ale, Fünk Weisse Berliner Weisse, and Last Place Imperial Stout — currently in the core lineup's rotation, he has no immediate plans to launch a new brew. But he does hope to get his canning line — BlueTarp also has no bottling plans — up and running next spring or summer, and to flesh out his FunkieTarp sour series. It'll be one of the first Georgia breweries to experiment in the interesting, trendy world of the latter.

Creative Loafing caught up with Stahl at Brick Store's upstairs Belgian bar, where he talked about his reluctant beer past and Georgia's exciting beer future.

Describe your first beer.

It might've been Milwaukee's Best. I'm pretty sure that's what it was. I was probably 14, 15, 16, somewhere around there. It was about the only beer there was, and it was there. I don't think I drank the whole thing. Just hanging out with friends, their dad's fridge. That was back when we didn't want to drink any beer.

Tell me about the FunkieTarp program. When can we expect more beers from that?

We've got a massive amount of space that we're going to dedicate to barrels — 1,500 square feet adjacent to the tasting room. It's going to be all barrels, eventually. Nothing aging yet. There's going to be a lot of different styles when it comes to the funky stuff. I'm a big fan of sours and funky beers. I like some that are real nasty-smelling but good-tasting, like cheese. Sometimes, the worse it smells, the better it tastes.

What has it been like to watch breweries pop up all over Atlanta in the last year?

I think it's cool. It's a totally different atmosphere than it was when I was planning this. At one point, we were looking at being the fourth brewery, and then we became the 10th brewery in a span of no time at all. And now, there could be 20 breweries in a year or two.

How can Georgia keep that momentum going?

We'd really like to see House Bill 314 pass. I don't think there's any way it's going to happen this year. I think we're making progress, but it's not going anywhere. My distributor, Georgia Craft, they don't have a problem with it. I think distributors as a whole have a different aspect on this.

The most disappointing thing is that you see changes all around us ... South Carolina's making changes, North Carolina's making changes. Bills keep coming along, and they keep pushing them. They change fast. We keep pushing for the same thing. That's the frustrating thing. It's a strange situation.

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