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Georgia's Brewed Awakening

Atlanta leads the charge in Georgia's craft-brewery boom

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HOUSE OF BREWS: Three Taverns is taking over Push Push Theater’s old space off College Avenue.
  • Joeff Davis
  • HOUSE OF BREWS: Three Taverns is taking over Push Push Theater’s old space off College Avenue.

One new establishment on the smaller end of the spectrum will be Alpharetta's Jekyll Brewing, which could be brewing as soon as April. Brewmaster Josh Rachel says his company will start with a lighter, German-style Kolsch ale and an IPA. He says Jekyll's goal is "to appreciate the love of beer" and to keep its focus community-oriented. "Jekyll Brewing will be one of the smallest microbreweries in Georgia," he says. "This is something that I'm actually very proud to say."

Others are starting small by necessity, with hopes of expanding over time. Jason Pellett intends to set up his operation, Orpheus, near the Atlanta Beltline's eastside trail. While he's only about half-funded and plans to order his brewing equipment in March, his thoughtful, boundary-pushing beers include a King of Pops-inspired plum saison called Siren, and a winter IPA brewed with coniferous tree branches. "I love sours," Pellett says. "I want there to be an easily accessible, year-round, not-very-expensive sour."

The three men and one woman behind Atlanta's Eventide, opening in late summer or early fall, plan to roll out a Kolsch, an American pale ale, and a stout. Brewer Geoffrey Williams is excited to be a part of Georgia's craft-beer boom. "A rising tide raises all the ships," he says. "As more and more [craft beer] becomes available, more and more people are learning about it. Every single article that's written, every billboard you see, every bottle that's turned up, it's a movement toward that craft direction."

The movement extends outside the metro area to Athens and beyond. Reformation Brewing plans on making its Belgian dubbel and Belgian pale, among other styles, in Cherokee County. The folks at Second Self have helped loosen laws in Chamblee in case they end up brewing there. "You couldn't brew in Chamblee, so we had the law changed," Second Self's Jason Santamaria says. "We went to them and said, 'We might go here; what do we have to do?' They voted, and now it's in there."

Amid this burgeoning group of beer purveyors, Athens' Creature Comforts and Decatur's Three Taverns will likely define the Georgia brewing conversation over the next decade. Stein's Creature Comforts will initially produce an IPA, pilsner, and a Berliner Weisse (a gently tart, low-alcohol, German wheat beer). For Brian Purcell's Three Taverns, the focus is on a Belgian IPA and a Belgian-style single to start.

Stein apprenticed at Scotland's renowned BrewDog, known for its extreme beers, some of which hit ABV marks of 18 to 55 percent, and most recently revamped the beer lineup at Twain's. He's pushing his carefully recruited team to innovate. "We're going to have our pilot system at the brewery forever, where employees will be encouraged to brew beer all the time," he says. "If their beer is good, it'll be a taproom-only release, and if it's really good, there's the potential for larger-scale release. I want at least one of my brewers focusing on pilot batches, being creative, experimenting. If it's terrible, you pour it down the drain and move on."

Purcell, 50, a former marketing professional who's worked for Coca-Cola, has been carefully crafting his homebrew recipes for a decade. His exacting Belgians have found an underground following in Atlanta beer circles, helping him secure 135 percent of the necessary funding to launch Three Taverns. He's taken his time building his brewing empire, and it shows in everything from the brewery's elegant web presence and classic packaging design to the beers themselves. "I believe people long for permanent things, for things they know will last, that won't let them down," he says of his slow-and-steady evolution and attention to quality. "We live in a world where we are constantly disappointed. All of us long for something we know is real, [and] that takes work. That takes commitment."

Georgia's craft-beer boom has been a long time coming, but it also has a long way to go before it can keep up with juggernauts like Oregon and Colorado. "I'm not sure Atlanta is pushing the envelope, so much as catching up to the kind of beer culture other cities have enjoyed for a long time," says Southern Brew News editor and Atlanta Journal-Constitution beer columnist Bob Townsend.

Annual craft-beer sales in the United States doubled between 2007-2012 from $5.7 billion to $12 billion, and experts anticipate it will triple to $18 billion by 2017. Like the rest of the country's, Georgia's sales are trending upward, but the bulk of that revenue stems from sales of beer brewed outside the state.

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