The Atlanta Brewing Company brought home another gold medal, this one from the 2008 World Beer Cup in the wood- or barrel-aged category. Brewer Dave McClure's Red Brick Barrel Select, a batch of the flagship Red Brick Ale aged in Jack Daniels barrels, won the prize. A cask version of the same beer won honorable mention at this year's Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting in January. Atlanta Brewing Company won a gold medal for its Red Brick Blonde Ale at last year's Great American Beer Festival. According to the brewery's president, Robert Budd, the company plans to release the Barrel Select in May 2009 in celebration of the company's 15th anniversary, and hopes to continue to release yearly anniversary brews after that.
Atlanta Brewing Company also won a bronze for its Numbers Ale, an American-style special bitter that's available on tap at Concentrics Restaurants locations around Atlanta, which include One Midtown Kitchen, Two Urban Licks, Tap, Stats and Murphy's (it also won Best Local Brew in Creative Loafing's 2006 Best of Atlanta issue). It can also be found in limited quantities in bottles at metro area liquor stores.
This has been a good year for Atlanta Brewing Company, which moved into its new building on Defoor Hills Road on the Westside less than a year ago. Since that time it has brought home awards from regional, national and now international competitions. The new brewery doubled the capacity of the old building, but it's already pushing its limit in the new facility. The company plans to double capacity yet again by purchasing more fermenters. Atlanta Brewing Company beers are currently distributed in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia.
The brewery was "basically defunct" when Budd was brought in as an investor and president of the board in 2005. He saw that the potential was there but that it "didn't have all the pieces in place." Budd says, "We concentrated on all the mundane stuff that no one wants to talk about: [quality control] systems, sanitation, ingredient specifications. We saw that this was not going to work unless we could make the best quality beer, make it consistent and available all of the time. It was tough at the old location because the equipment was old and it was a poor environment to make beer. But now we are in a new facility, we have new equipment and Dave can really strut his stuff. He's showing the world how good he is."
The investment seems to have paid off. Almost 650 breweries and nearly 3,000 beers were represented at the World Beer Cup. Red Brick Barrel select beat out 21 entries, and Numbers Ale bested 20 other entries. "I want to say that I am really proud that Sweetwater won a silver, too," Budd says. "We really showed that Southern beer is world class beer. We are very proud of our partners in Southern brewing, as well as us. This is a great thing for the South."
Budd is referring to Atlanta's only other craft brewery, Sweetwater Brewing Company, which received a silver medal in the American-style imperial stout category for its Happy Ending Stout. Sweetwater has also expanded its capacity to keep up with increasing demand. Its production increased by 37 percent in 2007 to 45,000 barrels, near capacity for its facility on Ottley Drive in Midtown. Last month it added eight new fermentation tanks that will double the brewery's capacity to more than 100,000 barrels. It's currently the second largest craft brewery in the Southeast (behind Abita), and ranks 30th in production among all craft brewers in the United States.
Hopefully all this attention will attune people to the fact that the South is not only the fastest growing market for craft beer, but also has an increasingly strong tradition for brewing great beer. Drinking local means fewer trucks on the road bringing beer from outside the state, and it doubles tax revenue, since the brewers pay an alcohol tax in addition to the sales tax paid by consumers. Georgia has a long history of importing most of its beer. In 1738, James Oglethorpe wrote to the Georgia Trustees in England:
"We want beer here extremely. I brought over twenty tons of beer, which I issued to the soldiers and inhabitants at prime cost, which I believe will be gone before I can receive a supply. There are six barrels a day drawn and paid for in ready money. It would be very proper, therefore, if the Trustees' affairs would allow it, to send over a cargo of at least 50 or 60 tons strong beer ..."
Oglethorpe was a brewer himself, but the barley and hops necessary for producing beer were not available locally. Perhaps now, 270 years later, we're approaching a time when local beer will be the preferred choice and there will be enough of it to go around.
Beer Event News
The Brick Store Pub features its monthly beer and cheese pairing Monday, May 5. Five beers are paired with five cheeses for $25. It makes for a nice, decadent supper. Call 404-687-0990 for more information.
5 Seasons North in Alpharetta plans to add a cask tapping on Sundays in addition to its regular Thursday cask, easily making it the center for real ale in Georgia. The first Sunday cask should be toward the end of May and will feature the Cloud 9 Barleywine aged on Calvados (apple brandy) and oak chips, so keep an eye out here and at www.5seasonsbrewing.com. Be sure to stop into the original Sandy Springs location frequently, too, since it's reportedly hurting from the impact of construction going on around it. It is indeed still open, so show them some love.