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Georgia's Brewed Awakening

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



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SMART MOVES: Jason Pellett intends to set up his operation, Orpheus, near the Atlanta Beltline’s eastside trail.
  • Joeff Davis
  • SMART MOVES: Jason Pellett intends to set up his operation, Orpheus, near the Atlanta Beltline‚Äôs eastside trail.

What Atlanta's craft-beer scene may currently lack in weirdness or abundance, it makes up for with ambition and confidence. Plus, the bigger the hole in a market, the bigger the potential. As Terrapin co-founder and brewmaster Brian 'Spike' Buckowski advised prospective brewers in a recent CL interview, "Have a unique product. If your flagship beer is an IPA or pale ale, find another hobby." A bitter, bracing India Pale Ale is a wonderful thing, and it's a style that's generated serious buzz over the last decade. Celebrated Michigan brewery Bell's recently released the much-hyped 2013 edition of its winter seasonal, Hopslam double IPA. It's dangerously smooth, thanks to "a solid dollop of honey" added during brewing, and a dizzying 10 percent ABV. Atlanta stores like Hop City and Ale Yeah! sold through their morning-delivery allotments within hours. The bottom line: If you're going to introduce an IPA into a saturated market, you'd best come out swinging.

One painstakingly crafted selection that may lead Georgia's craft-brewing direction by example is Three Taverns' Quasimodo. This Belgian-style quadruple ale, which Purcell has been tweaking for six years, will be the brewery's dark, boozy winter seasonal. While Purcell has relished the opportunity to craft a rendition of his favorite beer style, the road to a Quasimodo he feels confident selling has been arduous, slow, and sometimes painful, "with inferior batches unceremoniously dumped only to start over again." Purcell's careful attention to detail and restless, perfectionist spirit should be a model for Georgia's craft-beer community going forward.

Purcell thinks the complex ale he named after Victor Hugo's hunchback is getting close to just right, and he's not alone. In an effort to get some unbiased feedback, Purcell set up a blind taste test in the Brick Store's Belgian bar. Brick Store's Dave Blanchard and Bryan Rackley were there, as were Savannah Distributing's David Little and Henry Monsees. Purcell "brown-bagged" three Belgian quad exemplars — Westvleteren 12, Rochefort 10, and St. Bernardus Abt 12 — each made by monks at Trappist breweries in Belgium, as well as his own Quasimodo. "We all put his first or second," Blanchard remembers. "His was first or second on everyone's list, which is pretty amazing."

Keeping to his mantra of transcendo mediocris (Latin for "surpassing the ordinary"), Purcell is in no hurry to release Quasimodo. His Belgian baby won't hit the market until it's perfect. After all, when you go around plastering classy-sounding Latin phrases on your smartly designed brand, you can't skimp on quality.

"I want to be judged by that," Purcell says of the Three Taverns modus operandi. "I want people to expect that, and to judge us by whether we hit that. I don't want to be ordinary. I have always had a vision of making a Belgian quad that makes you wanna write poetry. That's where I wanna go with it."

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