Beer Town: Remembering craft beer’s humble beginnings

Beer Pick

New Albion Ale

Boston Beer Co., Boston, Mass.

$8.99/ six-pack at metro package and grocery stores.

Profile: New Albion Ale is brewed in honor of Jack McAuliffe, founder of California's New Albion Brewing Co., which opened in 1976, closed in 1983 and is widely considered the first US "micro" brewery. By today's standards, this American pale from McAuliffe's original recipe is pretty tame, with a clean, mild hop presence. But it is a nice bit of brewing history in a bottle.

Pair with: Pair this refreshing, mildly bitter beer with pub grub, like sandwiches, burgers, or fish and chips, or try it with spicy Mexican or Asian dishes.

Craft beer is everywhere nowadays. Surely, the number of new craft breweries coming on-line around metro Atlanta is one of the phenomenon’s most visible signs. But in the midst of the current boom, it’s easy to forget that the modern American craft brewing movement goes back only to the mid-1970s.

Craft brewing didn’t get going in North Georgia until the mid-’90s. And many of the breweries and brewpubs didn’t survive the nationwide craft brewing shakeout of the late-’90s, though the remaining companies, including Atlanta’s Sweetwater, rode out the bust to become far more successful.

Looking back on Atlanta's craft beer beginnings, with help from the smart folks who offer opinions and insights on the Atlanta Beer Talk list, it's amazing to behold bright-and-shiny new breweries like Monday Night and Three Taverns.

Atlanta’s first microbrewery, Marthasville Brewing Co., founded by publican Michael Gerard in 1994, was cobbled together from old dairy equipment. Terrapin Beer Co. co-founder John Cochran and Brick Store Pub co-founder Dave Blanchard were part of the Marthasville crew back in the day.

“My main job was sales,” Blanchard said. “But when we packaged, I would work on the bottling line. There wasn’t a whole lot of us, so we did whatever needed to be done. It’s a totally different game now. It’s not even close to the same game we were playing in the ’90s.”

On "The Lost Beers" website, created by brewer David Fowlkes and beer writer Bobby Bush "to share the old brewer profiles and recipes," you'll find a recipe for Sweet Georgia Brown. The well-named brown ale, later adopted by Sweetwater, was the most popular of the Marthasville beers, which also included an unfiltered pale ale.

Over in Athens, Blind Man Ales, founded in 1995 by Bob Tibbs, became known for brewer John Gayer’s imaginative takes on classic styles. Created with a glorified home-brew rig, Gayer’s India Brown Ale, hopped like an IPA, and Espresso Stout, brewed with coffee from Jittery Joe’s, have a very familiar ring today.

In Atlanta, Dogwood Brewing, founded in 1996 by owner/brewer Crawford Moran, offered four seasonal beers, including spring bock, spiced summer brew, fall Oktoberfest and Belgian-style winter ale. And Moran was an early adopter of barrel-aged beers, which he’s continued using in ever more exotic ways at 5 Seasons Brewing.

Marthasville and Blind Man didn’t survive the ’90s. Dogwood closed in 2004. But each brewery made a mark on beer around here, along with the likes of the Phoenix, Atlanta’s first brewpub, and the current site of 5 Seasons in Sandy Springs.

About the Author