An evolving craft beer community with Southern charm.
By Amy Strauss
Before you consider taking a Southern craft beer getaway to Atlanta, Georgia, it’s important to get a handle on the dichotomy of the city. While it’s a skyscraper-laden capital home to Fortune 500 companies and Coca-Cola, it also packs enough quirk to shape The Office’s oddball Ed Helms and serve as the backdrop for AMC’s The Walking Dead.
But, Atlanta isn’t just a big city backed by business success and entertainment wunderkinds. It’s an urban destination aided by individuals with country-like sensibilities, which has enabled it to become a breeding ground for small-batch dreamers, especially those itching to “make it” in the beer industry.
Home to Southern craft beer rebels, SweetWater Brewing Company, who have succeeded since 1997 with a mission to not “float the mainstream,” the city’s young and ever-evolving beer culture has entered into a renaissance over the last few years. In 2011 alone, five new breweries debuted (Monday Night Brewing, Red Hare Brewing Company and Wild Heaven Craft Beers included), with over a dozen to emerge through 2013 that’ll bump Georgia into craft kingdom status. Up-and-comers include Orpheus, rolling out in July with a signature plum saison; Three Taverns, slated to host a thirty barrel brewing system and a focus on Belgian-style beers; and Creature Comforts come August, debuting just outside of Atlanta in Athens with a sour beer program.
But, this down South getaway isn’t just about crawling through breweries—which, you can easily do by booking a
spot with reputable companies like Atlanta Beer Tours and Brews Cruise Atlanta. The restaurant and bar scene is as ambitious as the craft beer culture, which is why I’ve lined up top pint-swigging destinations you’d be foolish to skip when venturing below the Mason-Dixon line—all of which are broken down by the city’s happening neighborhoods.
Little Five Points
Swing by Atlanta’s alternative district to explore one of the best beer selections in the country. Porter Beer Bar has received acclaim for being named one of the top ten beer bars in America, and after scoping the well-cultivated 430+ beer list, the title is deserved. Owned by husband and wife Molly Gunn and Nick Rutherford, the hip German beer cellar-themed haunt comes lined with exposed brick and handmade wooden booths and pairs their beer list with a just as innovative food menu—salt & vinegar popcorn and Georgia wild shrimp & grits included. Better yet, you know the owners have good taste since they have traveled to Philadelphia for beer-themed getaways.
Just a stone’s throw away from Little Five Points, you’ll spy walkable Inman Park, which hosts the iconic 20th-century Victorian-style Victor H. Kriegshaber House. Homebrewers-turned-pros Bob and Kristine Sandage have breathed fresh life into the historic space, introducing the Wrecking Bar Brewpub and The Marianna. Running a seven-barrel system aside a two-barrel, one-off experimental setup in the basement, the brewery features an ever-changing, diverse twelve tap roster served up aside stellar pub grub. (Ale fondue and locally-sourced Bavarian pretzels, anyone?) Latest releases include a silky Russian imperial stout and a refreshing kölsch. No beers brewed off-site are poured here, to ensure only the freshest offerings are available.
At Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Alex Brounstein brings his obsession with perfecting the ultimate burger experience to life—beer on the side, of course. His “killer” burgers are served up on Martin’s Pennsylvania Dutch potato buns and sculpted out of a “secret” blend of chuck and brisket. Cozy up to the bar at the kitschy Piedmont Avenue location, housed in a former gas station, order up a craft can (what these hipsters are stocking) and take in the cult B movies airing via a projector. Nosh on the Dixie Burger—a fine combo of fried green tomato, pimento cheese and tangy slaw, as you’re in the South after all.
The beer-centric Cypress Street Pint & Plate, like Grindhouse, features a strong food focus, while still boasting a small, but sharp, suds list. As one of the only Atlanta spots rocking a $3 SweetWater IPA pint deal 24/7, that’s what gets you in, but the weekly “Beer Geek Tuesdays” are what keep you coming back. During your visit, your gluttonous food game should go like this: gobble up the bacon-laced, half-pound cheeseburger cushioned on two of local Sublime Doughnuts’ glazed, and then, order up the Cypress Philly,
a cheesesteak developed by a “true Philadelphian.” I’ll let you give it the native test.
Take a quick trip out of city bounds to Decatur, a progressive suburb comparable to Berkeley, CA, that’s just twenty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Your first stop should be to visit the area’s sage of suds, Eddie Holley, at his bottle shop, Ale Yeah! He and his crew pack the most obscure craft beer selection in the region, aside twelve equally awesome rotating taps for growler fills. His inventory of artisan cheeses, sausages, pretzels and chocolates will round out your experience.
While in town, speed over to the Brick Store Pub to finish off your trip at a true
beer nerd’s Smithsonian. The bi-level, rustic space touts a behemothic beer list
(seventeen taps plus a 200+ international bottle roster) with a staff insanely knowledgeable about each and every release on the menu. The bar has direct dealings with world-famous brewers and monks, including St. Bernardus Abt. 12, and even touts a vintage room highlighting co-owners Dave Blanchard and Mike Gallagher’s private collection. (Hey, you can drink any up—if you’re willing to pay the price.)