Unwind: HOP to it A look at Georgia’s GROWING craft beer culture
TThe ancient Sumerians must have known they were onto a good thing when they brewed up their first batch of beer in 1800 BC. More than 3800 years later, so did the folks at Terrapin Beer Company.
It was then, in Athens, Georgia (2002 A.D.), that founders John Cochran and Spike Buckowski released their first craft beer, Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, after the two came up with the idea while working at a microbrewery in Atlanta.
The beer quickly won the Gold Medal in the American Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival just six months after its release. Since then, Terrapin’s collection and varieties of craft beer has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s variety, said Leah Kuck of Terrapin, that keeps things going. Along with a willingness to stick to the company’s pledge to refrain from floating “the mainstream.”
“We use feedback from our customers all the time,” she said. “We’ll ask them things like, ‘What do you think about a pea - nut butter and chocolate-flavored beer?,’ and they respond wheth - er it sounds good or not. That’s how Liquid Bliss was born.”
For Terrapin, the craft beer culture serves as a driving force for the company’s bold choices in its products. It’s a culture that prides itself on individuality. In other words, this isn’t your father’s light beer. Though dad is welcome to grab a bottle as well. “Our employees and our customers are like family,” Kuck said. “We have a group called the Terrapin Tribe that consists of both employees and customers which has grown over the years.”
With the success of Terrapin, and nearby Sweetwater, craft beer breweries began to pop up all around Georgia. More than a decade later, the state is home to more than 20 craft beer opera - tions pumping out an eclectic mix of brews.
From the Instagram friendly cans of Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens to big city brews in Three Taverns Craft Brewery in Decatur, there is no shortage of craft breweries to fill your weekends with your favorite libation. The craft beer boom has created a niche inside a niche, so the days of having to go to a brewery to enjoy your favorite craft beer have gone by the wayside.
Now, there are a plethora of brewpubs that specialize in offering Georgia’s craft beer drinkers craft brews from local breweries and craft breweries across the nation. That’s where people like Chad Wimpy come in.
In the small, mountain community of Dahlonega, his Gold City Growlers offers its customers 20 different, rotating styles of craft beer. Customers can purchase 32- ounce or 64-ounce refillable, sealable containers to fulfill their craft beer needs. “We try to reserve half of our craft beer list to local breweries, as tourists are always asking for local craft beers,” Wimpy said.
Wimpy, who had never been a craft beer drinker before opening the growler shop, has grown to love IPAs and is continuously amazed by the eclectic palettes of his customers. “It is interesting how true craft beer drinkers can go from one taste to an entirely different taste and enjoy them all,” Wimpy said. “I have about 30 regulars who come in every week to try something new or get refills on their favorite flavor.” The Whistle Top Brew Co. in Cornelia, has also tapped into the craft beer boom, offering North Georgia one of the best selections of craft beer, wine and sodas available. Like Gold City Growlers, Whistle Top offers 20 taps of rotating brands of craft beer.
“Whistle Top always has great brews on tap, and the owners are extremely knowledgeable about beer,” said Sam White, a regular patron of the establishment. “If you’re in or near Cornelia and want a good brew, this is the place to go.” With the craft beer explosion that has consumed Georgia over the past 15 years, the craft beer culture has established itself within the state’s borders. The only concern the craft brewery industry has about the craft beer boom is that the sheer number of breweries that have popped up over the years may be too large in number.
How much is too much beer?
“The biggest concern is oversaturation in the market,” Kuck said. “But it is great to see what small craft breweries can offer. The craft beer culture is strong here, and as long as these breweries don’t try to get too big, too quick, the growth we’ve seen over the years bodes well for the craft beer industry.”
If you’re in the North Georgia area, check out: Southern Hart Brewing in Hartwell; Blue Ridge Brewery in Blue Ridge, Copper Creek Brewing, Terrapin and Creature Comforts in Athens; Left Nut Brewing Company in Gainesville; Bacchus Beer & Growlers in Hiawassee; or Whistle Top Brew Co. in Cornelia to quench your thirst for craft beer.
So pull up a stool and take part in a tradition that’s as old as time. And while you’re at it, you might want to raise a glass to the Sumerians.