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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…