Beer Town: Rocking the Civil War at Burnt Hickory Brewery

Burnt Hickory is a different kind of brewery.

Sure, president/brew master Scott Hedeen is making beer the old-fashioned way -- with water, malt, hops and yeast. But Hedeen is creating high-gravity ales on such a small scale, with so much punk attitude, that it’s sometimes difficult to separate the method from the madness.

One afternoon at the brewery, which is hidden away in a small industrial park in Kennesaw, Hedeen attempted to explain the wild DIY mystique of the Burnt Hickory brand to a woman from Cobb Travel & Tourism.

“It’s all free and it’s all hype on a certain level,” Hedeen said. “But now I’m sort of trying to go to a motif that’s a Civil War, spaghetti western, biker-type thing.”

“I like that,” the women said, clearly confused but amused.

On one wall of the tiny tasting room, surrealistic portraits of Civil War figures by the designer of Burnt Hickory’s labels, Nashville artist Mr. Hooper, depict scenes from the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

“That’s Leonidas Polk,” Hedeen said, pointing to a painting of a feisty looking man dressed as a cleric. “He was an Episcopal bishop and a Confederate general who was killed about a mile from here. His nickname was the Fighting Bishop, so our green peppercorn Belgian triple is called the Fighting Bishop.”

The other Civil War beers in the current Burnt Hickory lineup include Ezekiel’s Wheel Pale Ale, Cannon Dragger IPA and Big Shanty Graham Cracker Stout.

“Our branding is going toward the attitude and the swagger of the time,” Hedeen said. “The battle was right here. It was kind of like a Motorhead concert, except they had it in 1864. It was loud and obnoxious and deadly.”

Hedeen’s psychotronic cinema sensibility can be traced to comic book collecting and a degree in film from Towson University in Maryland. He’s a retired Emmy Award-winning TV cameraman who moved to Atlanta in 1997 to take a job at WXIA. Like so many commercial brewers, he started as a home brewer.

But what seems to really drive Hedeen’s passion is music. In the '70s, '80s and early '90s, he collected all kinds of punk, grunge and hard-core music and memorabilia, amassing rarities such as a Nirvana set list written by Kurt Cobain that Hedeen sold to help fund the “nano-size” Burnt Hickory operation.

Later, in the brew house, which isn’t much bigger than a sophisticated home brew setup, Hedeen blasted the Stooges’ “Fun House” album and raided the cold room for samples of limited-edition beers he’d made in tribute to favorite bands such as the Germs, Jesus Lizard and Die Kreuzen. Recently, Mojo magazine had a short item on Burnt Hickory’s Killdozer 12 Point Buck Ale.

Hedeen said his plan to start really small, break into the market and build a following has a part two that calls for expanding into a much bigger brewery as soon as possible.

“What’s going to make us work is our passion,” Hedeen said. “l always say we may be a small brewery, but we’re making big beers.”

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