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Near Wild Heaven (Beer That Is)

Near Wild Heaven (Beer That Is)

From a rooftop facing the heavens (and downtown Atlanta), Decatur’s own Wild Heaven Craft Beer celebrated the launch of their Invocation Belgian-style Golden Ale and Ode To Mercy Imperial Brown Ale in bottles. These two fine beers have been available on tap around Georgia and select spots in Alabama for many months now, and have gained quite a fan base, so seeing them in bottles is another good sign of support for our local beers. (Caveat: Wild Heaven is currently brewed – and bottled – at Thomas Creek Brewing in Greenville, South Carolina, but has plans to move production to their own brewery in Avondale Estates next year)

If you haven’t yet tried these beers, do yourself a favor and give them a shot (we especially dig the Invocation – delicious).

In other beer related news… next week is CRAFT BEER WEEK! (May 16-22)

Look for intersting specials at all your favorite beer bars around town (here’s a list of our favorites by the way, including The Porter, seen below). Cheers!

Get Your Growl On: The Beer Growler, Athens, Georgia

Get Your Growl On: The Beer Growler, Athens, Georgia

If you’re a beer lover in Georgia, you’ve probably heard about The Beer Growler in Athens – currently the only place in the state to buy beer by the growler, a 64oz. bottle that is filled from the keg at the store and sealed for freshness (and because the police say so). We paid a visit to the six-week-old shop to pick up some beer (of course) and to get the lowdown on all things “growler.” Growlers are a popular form of beer distribution in many states, and are picking up steam – the New York Times recently covered the growler takeover of the New York beer scene. The key benefits are getting access to fresh (and sometimes rare) beers from the keg in a re-usable (AKA environmentally friendly) jug, which often means better pricing AND better quality. Good deal for everyone, right? Well, regulatory issues have prevented widespread adoption of growlers. And in Georgia’s notoriously unfriendly beer environment, it wasn’t until very recently that the folks behind The Beer Growler – Denny, Paul and Sean – were able to clear the regulatory hurdles in Athens (though those hurdles still remain in Atlanta).

The Beer Growler has a constantly evolving lineup of 20 beers on tap, ready to be filled into their empty growler jugs. The selection varies from week to week as kegs sell out, but it includes a heavy rotation of Athens’ own Terrapin beers (5 of the 20 current beers are from Terrapin) and a diverse mix of world-class craft beers from such stalwarts as Lost Abbey, Bell’s, Southern Tier, Stone, and Ommegang. Another frequent inhabitant of the lineup is Georgia-based Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy. The shop also offers a small but excellent selection of beers by the bottle.

First-time customers need to purchase a growler jug for $4, which they can then bring back any time they’re ready for something new. The investment is well worth it. The folks behind the bar actually trade out your empty growlers for sanitized ones, to make sure contamination is not an issue when refilling. Another step to make sure quality is top notch is that the staff uses the “cap on foam” technique to fill your growler – basically, by filling the jug up and capping directly on the foam that forms, there’s no room for oxygen to interact with the beer and a nice clean headspace of carbon dioxide sits on top of the beer once the foam collapses. This maintains the quality of the beer, preventing oxidation and the potential for the beer to go flat. The growler can maintain quality for weeks while sealed, but why wait? And, once opened, the growler should be consumed within a couple days.

If the amazing beer lineup isn’t reason enough to check out The Beer Growler, they will also be holding their official Grand Opening celebration this Saturday, February 5, complete with giveaways, brewers and beer reps on site, and (maybe) the appearance of some Sierra Nevada Hoptimum and Lost Abbey Angel’s Share on tap. Growl on!

UPDATE (Aug 8, 2011): The Beer Growler will open their Atlanta area location in Avondale Estates on Aug 12!

The Beer Growler
1059 Baxter St
Athens, Ga 30606
706-850-6565

A Tour of SweetWater Brewery, Atlanta

A Tour of SweetWater Brewery, Atlanta

building

If you happen to find your way down the industrial dead-end of Armour Drive in Atlanta, keep your eyes open for a set of large tanks and some bright tie-dyed trucks. Sitting in this somewhat desolate stretch of warehouses, machine shops and random businesses is SweetWater Brewery, home to some of the South’s best selling craft brews and a bevy of beer awards (like a recent World Beer Cup gold for their Dank Tank series “the Creeper”), not to mention some pretty outrageously outfitted vehicles. SweetWater has grown its way into being a major regional player in the craft beer movement, trailing only Abita among Southeastern breweries by volume. The best way to experience SweetWater and their combination of great beer and a distinctly laid-back attitude is at one of their tours, which include your chance to belly up to the bar and sample the brew. The crowd, up to 2000 beer lovers on a nice week, is a happy mix of SweetWater regulars, beer tourists, and locals out to experience what is becoming an Atlanta institution (of beer).

Thirsty South recently met with SweetWater’s “Minister of Propaganda” Steve Farace, who filled us in on all the great stuff brewing at SweetWater. Most prominently on the horizon is their “Brew Your Cask Off” cask ale festival in March, which will be even bigger (and better!) in 2011 than it was for last year’s inaugural event. For this event, SweetWater partners with an array of special guests (from bars and restaurants, to retailers and local charities) to create unique individual casks.

cooler

Also on the horizon for SweetWater is continued growth – SweetWater moved into their current brewery location back in 2004 and now has more than 25,000 square feet of tanks and beer necessities. If they were to run non-stop, their capacity would be roughly 100,000 barrels per year, but watch for some serious expansion to help manage the growth at the brewery in 2011. To date, they’ve kept distribution focused on a select group of cities in the six state area around Atlanta, both to keep a good handle on delivering fresh beer frequently (their beer is unpasteurized and freshness is a mantra for them) and due to the fact that adding new markets would quickly lead to demand outrunning supply. SweetWater has done a great job of balancing growth with a strong focus on their craft beer, with a core of year-round mainstays like 420 and Georgia Brown, a small group of seasonal specials like Festive Ale and Happy Ending, and the decidedly more adventurous, limited release “Dank Tank” series.

The SweetWater tour is a great way to taste all that’s currently brewing – Exodus Porter and Festive Ale are among the harder-to-find releases that are currently on tap. So, get on over to the SweetWater brewery to experience one of the South’s leading craft brewers firsthand. In the meantime, here’s a photo tour (best accompanied by a SweetWater 420, dressed in tie-dye):

Entering the brewery, the mood is quickly set…
sign

The parking lot, filled with SweetWater-esque tie-dyed vehicles, further infuses the feel…

Outside, the big tanks, some colorful pallets, and a truck bearing taps let you know this is serious beer territory…
tanks
Pallets
truck

Inside the brewery, malt, barrels, and the infamous Dank Tank…



dank

Kegs in the cooler, a small (12,400 gallon) tank in the brewery, and the inner workings…
Kegs

The SweetWater lineup on tap…
menu
taps

The crowd at the bar…

Finally, departing the brewery at dusk…into the night…

The Georgia Beer Scene Is Hopping

The Georgia Beer Scene Is Hopping

Some interesting beer developments going on these days in Atlanta (and Georgia more broadly):

First, the legality of selling growlers (a large bottle that may be filled from the tap on site) in Georgia may come to be. From AtlantaBeerMaster.com, a letter from the Georgia Department of Revenue was quoted: “The Department [Of Revenue] has determined that, persuant to the Georgia Alcoholic Beverage Code, “growlers” or similar containers may be appropriately used so long as it is at a licensed retail off premise location that does not deal in distilled spirits by the package.“ At a state level, things look good, but local laws also come into play. A store called “The Beer Growler” is set to open in Athens in roughly a week according to the owners (UPDATE, 12/11/2010: They opened today!), and as AtlantaBeerMaster.com reported, Kraig Torres, owner of Hop City Craft Beer & Wine here in Atlanta, has said that they are staying on top of developments as well: “Atlanta, and surrounding jurisdictions have not allowed the sale of growlers specifically, despite the revised opinion of the State of Georgia. I am looking into the matter deeply. The DAY growlers are green lighted by the City of Atlanta is the day Hop City will sell it’s first growler.” It’s worth pointing out that you can buy (or sell) pre-filled growler size bottles anywhere – the interesting development is the potential to buy a growler filled fresh from a keg at your local store. Frankly, it’s a bit of a novelty for consumers since it won’t significantly improve the selection of beer available, though some will argue that the freshness of taking it from the keg to the bottle to your home the same day is a strong enough reason to choose a growler over a traditional beer bottled at the brewery.

Second, a new shop dedicated to craft brews will be opening soon on College Avenue in Decatur, Georgia: Ale Yeah! “We will showcase an abundance of American craft beer as well as varieties from around the world that exemplify liquid perfection.  We will carry bombers and also give people the opportunity to “build-your-own” 6-pack.  We will also offer fine cheeses, cured meats and chocolates that compliment the experience of a perfect pint.  Ale Yeah! will also carry a selection of fine brewing supplies in case you’re looking to create your own perfect pint.” Sounds good, yes? (UPDATE, 12/1/2010: Ale Yeah! opened this past week!)

Third, the Brick Store Pub has opened their upstairs “cellar” featuring a tremendous collection of vintage bottled beers. This is a gold mine for beer lovers, with selections spanning the globe and dating back as much as a decade in some cases, with each bottle labeled by vintage. Like wine, some beers (especially the ones you will find in the Brick Store cellar) benefit from time in the bottle, as opposed to the dominant theme of “drinking beer fresh.” This is your chance to try multiple vintages side by side and experience for yourself the impact of bottle aging, not to mention the ability to find some beers that you won’t find anywhere else. We stopped by for a quick tour from Dave Blanchard, one of the owners of the Brick Store:

Fourth!, 5 Seasons Prado, the original location of 5 Seasons, is now Lucky Devil Brewing. Kevin McNerney remains the brewmaster for Lucky Devil – no change to the beer, or menu for that matter. This should actually help differentiate Lucky Devil from the other 5 Seasons locations, as they had been on divergent paths due to different ownership and management over the past several years.

For extensive coverage of the Atlanta beer scene, check out www.AtlantaBeerMaster.com.