By John Ashbaugh

Atlanta is quickly becoming recognized as a city that appreciates and supports beer from breweries around the world. This can be easily exemplified by the increased number of restaurants sporting a greater variety of beers and the unusually named beers at grocery and package stores throughout the city.

What inspired this beer revolution? It began in 2004, when Georgia House Bill 645 updated a law that restricted all beer sold to be less than six percent alcohol. Since then, the floodgates have been opened for distributors, restaurants and local breweries to provide products formerly only found in other parts of the country.

“It’s similar to consumers’ taste in coffee,” said Jason Ingram of Left Hand Brewing Company, the Colorado-based brewery that is now distributing its ales and stouts in Atlanta. “Twenty years ago, a cup of coffee was basically a cup of coffee. Then coffee was introduced that expanded the consumer’s palette and their tastes became more discerning. That’s what we’re seeing with craft beer today.”

Ingram said this palette revolution explained the double-digit sales growth in the craft beer sector that accounts for over $6 billion in sales, whereas commercial beer sales have stagnated.

Hometown Breweries & Brewpubs

The three craft breweries in Georgia are also benefiting from increased demand: Atlanta Brewing Company, Terrapin Brewing and Sweetwater Brewing. Each has been able to gain notoriety and distribute more beer with each passing year by letting drinkers across the country know that quality craft beer doesn’t just come from California, Colorado, Pennsylvania or the Carolinas.

Within five years of opening in 1997, Sweetwater (www.sweetwaterbrew.com) was voted Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, the Super Bowl for breweries. It’s still the only brewery east of the Mississippi to receive this award in the event’s 27-year history. Steve Farace, Sweetwater’s “minister of propaganda,” points to a passion for using and supporting locally grown ingredients and focus on the Southeast as a loyal customer base as reasons the company has been successful.  Not to mention critics repeatedly pointed to Brewmaster Mark Medlin for creating what is arguably the best Indian Pale Ale (IPA) in the United States.

Dave McClure at Atlanta Brewing Company (www.atlantabrewing.com) recently received a gold medal for his Peachtree Pale Ale at the Carolina Championships of Beer for the second straight year.  The company also won Best of Show for its Bogart Ale, which is exclusive to Mellow Mushroom. it recently released a limited one-run beer called Solstice Rodenbach to help celebrate Taco Mac’s 30th anniversary.

Athens-based Terrapin (www.terrapinbeer.com) is making headlines nationally because of exceptional beers – with names like Big Hoppy Monster – brewed by Brian “Spike” Buckowski. Buckowski is co-founder of Terrapin and continues to push the limits in terms of style in attempts to create unique beers that surprise their already loyal following. Look for the summer seasonal – Gammy Ray Wheatwine, a beer originally distributed through Terrapin’s Side Project series.

Brewpubs, where many of the beers served are from the on-site brewery, are also making inroad into Atlanta. 5 Seasons Brewing (www.5seasonsbrewing.com) just opened a 13,000-square-foot location in West Midtown, making it the largest brewpub on the East Coast. Additionally, Gordon Biersch (www.gordonbiersch.com) remodeled what used to be Rock Bottom Brewery in Buckhead with plans to unveil it this month.

Twain’s Billiards & Tap (www.twains.net) in Decatur brews Madhappy Pale Ale, Heaven for Climate Golden Ale, and XL Double IP on a regular basis, while also enlightening patrons with seasonals throughout the year.

Pubs, Bars & Festivals

Brewpubs aren’t the only destinations for beer lovers that are finding themselves growing, expanding, and highly regarded for their beer. There are a number of bars in Atlanta that have earned national reputations for their selection, and Intown is home to five annual beer festivals.

Taco Mac (www.taco-mac.com) has 26 Atlanta area locations. Their philosophy is not only to offer a beer menu that a beer geek would love, but also to cater to those who like cold commercial beer.

Decatur’s Brick Store Pub  (www.brickstorepub.com) – founded by Dave Blanchard and Mike Gallagher – is well respected for the craft beers on its menu and it has earned kudos from publications that have ranked it among the top five beer bars in the world.

The Porter Beer Bar (www.theporterbeerbar.com) was opened in Little Five Points last year by Molly Gunn and Nick Rutherford and is offering 27 beers on draft and over 130 selections in bottles.

Each year, thousands attend beer festivals around Atlanta and most sell out weeks before the actual event. The festivals are:

  • Decatur Beer Festival: Set for Oct. 19 from noon to 5 p.m. on the courthouse square. Only 4,000 tickets are available and must be purchased in advance. www.decaturbeerfestival.com.
  • East Atlanta Beer Festival: Held every May in the village. www.eabfonline.com.
  • Dunwoody Beer Festival: Held in May at Perimeter Mall. www.dunwoodybeerfest.com
  • German Bierfest: The annual event will be held in Woodruff Park Downtown on Aug. 29 starting at 2 p.m. www.germanbierfest.com.
  • Hotoberfest: The date for this year’s event is Oct. 3 at Glenwood Park with beer, music and more. www.hotoberfest.com

Package Stores

The last 12 months have been a banner year for consumers looking for beer to enjoy at home, parties and other functions. Newly opened package stores from Downtown to Alpharetta have been boasting 1,000 or more different brews on their shelves.

Kraig Torres just opened Hop City (www.hopcitybeer.com) in West Midtown (next to 5 Seasons Brewing) and has struck a chord with those passionate about craft beer. It’s obvious when he walks a customer down an isle on the hunt for that special beer.

“I’m especially inspired when someone purchases a craft beer that wouldn’t do so normally but has found out how much a beer other than a big brand can offer them in terms of taste,” Torres said.

Green’s (www.greensbeverages.com) has been on the forefront of bringing specialty beers to Atlanta and is highly regarded in the beer community for its efforts to create a great shopping experience for those who visit, which includes a walk-in cooler just made especially for Belgian beer.

Two other retailers that have a wide variety of beers to choose from and offer convenient locations are Tower (www.towerwinespirits.com) and Total Wine (www.totalwine.com). Tower has locations in Buckhead and Doraville and Total Wine has opened three locations in the last 12 months in Kennesaw, Perimeter and, most recently, Alpharetta.

Beer geek John Ashbaugh updates local beer lovers via Twitter at www.twitter.com/AtlantaBeer.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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