Great Beer Pubs Make a Difference
The important influence of prominent beer pubs in the region should not be discounted. Bars like Bulldog Pub in New Orleans, Barley’s Pizza in Asheville, and Georgia’s Brick Store in Decatur and Summits Wayside Taverns in Snellville and Cumming serve a staggering array of well-cared-for draft and bottled beers from around the world. Summits’ owner Andy Klubock says, “Our store in Cumming has over 200 different tap lines and as many bottled beers…more than any other place in the country, in our opinion. I think Summits does a good job of introducing new styles to Georgia and allowing customers to continually try new things.”
Many look at Brick Store as one of the most impressive beer bars in the entire country. Dave Blanchard, Mike Gallagher and Tom Moore started the pub in 1997 in a beautiful, historic building on the main courthouse square. The best craft beers available at the time from the region, nation and world were served in proper glassware by friendly, well-trained staff. In 2004, House Bill 645 brought an end to Georgia’s 6% ABV law and allowed beers up to 14% to be sold in the state. This spurred Brick Store to open an impressive, Belgian-themed bar upstairs from the original pub. Blanchard explains, “Our relationship with importers and breweries allows us to offer beers that customers will find almost nowhere else in the state. What’s really encouraging is that people visit the Brick Store from areas of the Northwest or Northeast and say that our pub is better than many of the places in those areas.”
Brick Store’s Mike Gallagher adds, “We get to be creative here in the Southeast. If our pub were located in Portland, Philadelphia or New York, people would be looking to see how we fit in with the established beer culture or what we are doing that’s different. Here, we are helping create the beer culture and set new trends. After we opened and made a success of the place, people admitted to us that they had some big doubts about whether or not we could make the pub work here. They were polite southerners all along the way, but many admitted that they were amazed that we have done so well in a region of the country that has been dominated for so long by light lagers.”
A few obstacles still remain in the journey toward beer enlightenment in the South. Michael Bryant of Dunedin (a pioneering brewery in Tampa) and Kevin Rusk of Titanic Brewery & Restaurant in Miami remain very frustrated by the legal landscape in Florida. Rusk sums up their opinions: “Florida legislators, along with their friends who own Busch Gardens, have purposely manipulated the state’s laws to keep out many craft brewers. Up until 2005, the state also banned any bottle that was not a domestic size, allowing only 8-, 12-, 16- and 32-ounce bottles. This prohibited many fine beers from being sold in the state.”
After a few legal victories favoring craft beer in the past several years, the Georgia Department of Revenue alcohol division has decided to enforce brewery laws that have been basically ignored for years. Breweries are now being fined for bringing beer samples to festivals, telling retail customers where to purchase their beers or doing pint nights at bars. It is still illegal to purchase beer directly from a microbrewery or take home a growler of beer from a brewpub.
Danner Kline’s Free the Hops campaign keeps fighting to raise the beer alcohol limits in Alabama. Kline communicates both frustration and hope when he says, “Influence from the religious right is crippling. Alabama is still overrun with neo-prohibitionists stigmatizing alcohol at every opportunity, portraying alcohol as the ‘Great Satan’ killing children and breaking up families. All of this is detrimental to a culture that appreciates fine alcoholic beverages. I am envious of cities that have a wide variety of breweries when the entire state of Alabama only has one bottling brewery, recently destroyed by fire. The South still has a long way to go, but I think many years from now we’ll have a well-developed beer culture that will not be a carbon copy of the Northwest or Northeast.”
On the whole, beer culture in the South has made remarkable gains in the last 15 years. Rather than viewing the South as lagging behind, many craft brewers now see the region as a land of promise and possibilities. Several breweries in other parts of the country have capitalized on this demand: Ommegang, Oskar Blues, Great Divide, Dogfish Head and Victory are all amazed at the massive volume of beer that they have sold in Georgia alone.
As beer drinkers in the Southeast become more educated and experimental in regard to robust beer styles, the region will offer new horizons and an ever-expanding market for these beers.
Spike Buckowski, brewer for Terrapin in Georgia, sums it up by saying,” I feel that the beer culture in the Southeast is evolving into something very special. It’s really nice to have a wide open market down here and introduce people to creative and flavorful beer styles. To tell the truth, many southeastern craft brewers are producing beers that are still over the heads of many beer drinkers here. In a lot of ways, I kind of like that.”