Spreading the Word
The new players of the southeastern beer culture include a variety of energetic brewer-evangelists spreading the love of craft beer throughout the region.
Crawford Moran, the founder of defunct Dogwood Brewing Co., is the co-owner and brewer for 5 Seasons brewpub in Alpharetta, GA. “The key to growing our beer culture is continuing education about craft beer,” he says. “We must keep educating consumers, wait staff, restaurateurs and especially the politicians. I brew a vast array of styles, we do a unique cask ale every week, we always have a high gravity beer on tap and we’re aging beers on site in whiskey barrels. The advantage of a brewpub in the education area is that I get to interact directly with our customers.”
Locally-owned brewpubs that drip with southern ambience and hospitality are the first place that many southern folk get to sample their first craft beers.
“In the early 1990s, the concept of a brewpub seemed really outrageous to a lot of people. Now brewpubs are a commonplace, accepted locale to enjoy good food and fresh beers,” says Jordan Fleetwood, brewer for Twain’s Billiards and Tap brewpub in Decatur, GA. “Twain’s was established as a great beer bar and then grew into the brewpub arena. It was a natural progression for us, and our customers have really been supportive.”
Scott Maitland’s experience with his Chapel Hill brewpub leads him to concur. “When Top of the Hill opened ten years ago, people didn’t understand the concept of local breweries or the fact that beer was something different than Bud, Miller and Coors. A typical exchange at the bar went like this: ‘Hi. I’d like a Bud Light.’ ‘Sir, we are a microbrewery and we only sell the beers that we make.’ ‘OK, how about a Miller Lite?’ This has completely changed now. We educated the college crowd, and because of the great economy now in our state, these young people have stayed here and are demanding craft beer. I think brewpubs don’t get enough respect for creating a grassroots-level of appreciation for craft beer.”
The founders of Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Co. met while attending the University of Colorado in Boulder in the early 1990s and worked together for a time at Rockies Brewing Co. (when they weren’t hiking, fishing and river rafting). The two free spirits visited Georgia around the time of the 1996 Olympics and saw Atlanta as a city in desperate need of another microbrewery. Sweetwater’s motto is “Don’t Float the Mainstream,” and the company has grown into a craft beer leader in the Southeast by producing West Coast and U.K.-style ales. Their immensely popular Sweetwater 420 outsells Samuel Adams Light and Shiner Bock in the Atlanta area and is the most popular craft beer in the state of Georgia.
The struggle for great beer is most arduous in the states of Alabama and Mississippi. Alabama does have two fine brewpub standouts: Montgomery Brewing Co. and Old Auburn Ale House. Lazy Magnolia is Mississippi’s lone brewery, and brewer Leslie Henderson is well aware of the difficult road ahead in running a brewery in the state. “We knew that this is ‘Bud Country,’ and that natives in southern Mississippi won’t tolerate being told that they need to catch up with the Yanks,” says Henderson. “Instead, we started making beers that use local ingredients (pecans, sweet potatoes and locally produced honey) with flavors designed to pair with the amazing food we have down here. In doing this, we’re adding to the overall culture of the South, not trying to introduce some alien beer culture.”
Creating National Recognition
Linus Hall and his wife Lila started Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Co. in 2003. Linus was a homebrewer who got his professional start working at Brooklyn Brewing Co. After relocating to Nashville, Linus decided to open his own microbrewery in the old Marathon automobile factory near downtown. Yazoo’s beers have become a vital and respected part of Nashville’s beer culture, and the hefeweizen brought home a gold medal from the 2004 Great American Beer Festival.
As to why the beer culture in the South may trail other areas of the country, Linus offers, “Based on the success of many new breweries popping up in the South, I think that southerners do have the taste to appreciate rich flavors of a well-made beer. Look at our food—spicy, rich, barbecued, smoked—much more adventuresome than the fare in some parts of the country where craft beer took off in the beginning. I think with our ever-expanding food culture, the rest of the country better look out, because the South will one day lead the way in craft beer sales!”
John Cochran and Brian “Spike” Buckowski started their Athens, GA-based Terrapin Beer Co. in 2002, contract brewing their unique Rye Pale Ale out of Dogwood Brewing in Atlanta. The crisp, refreshing pale ale later went on to beat out 92 other pale ales to win a gold medal at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival. Terrapin is known for using non-traditional ingredients such as rye and coffee and for helping create new styles such as their hoppy India Brown Ale, a cross between a traditional brown ale and an IPA. The company also produces four seasonal “monster beers” that are all over 8%. Terrapin’s beer portfolio, probably one of the most unusual in the Southeast, has enabled the company to begin construction this year of their very own brewery in a 45,000 square-foot warehouse located just outside downtown Athens.
John Stuart of Green Man Brewing believes that the South really has not created its own unique beer styles. His progressive town of Asheville, NC has weather very similar to some parts of the U.K., and this is why Stuart thinks that traditional, British-style ales are so popular there. Green Man has been so successful with their line of pale ale, ESB, IPA and porter, that they have opened a new microbrewing facility and tasting room just down the street from their Jack of the Wood pub (home of their original brewpub). Stuart remarks, “Tasters who visit our microbrewery are very appreciative of our ales, and no one asks for a light lager.”
Paul Philippon of the Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC rejects the stereotype that beer drinkers in the Southeast only want light bodied beer. “We produce full flavored, full-bodied dark beers. Regional differences make things a lot more interesting than homogeneity, and I hope that Duck-Rabbit can make a positive contribution to the range of beer styles and beer flavors available in the Southeast.”