The metro Atlanta beer scene has been growing exponentially over the past couple of years — mostly as a result of changes in Georgia law.
Both breweries and brewpubs brew beer, but, in Georgia, breweries must apply for a brewery license, and brewpubs must apply for a brewpub license, each with a different set of rules and regulations.
However, the lines have been blurring since 2017, when the Georgia Legislature passed Senate Bill 85, changing, among other things, the law governing beer sales to consumers, and how food could be served at breweries. That begat more creative ways of being a brewery, and offered consumers more ways to eat, drink, and buy beer.
Beyond the building boom, other trends suggest that operations that are small and local — or large and regional — do best, but but being somewhere in the middle can be difficult, given how many breweries and beers there are to choose from now.
Practically, that means some breweries are looking for ways to diversify and build growth in new directions.
At Bold Monk
One recent sunny afternoon, as the heat index hovered above 100, John Roberts emerged from the newly installed brewhouse at Bold Monk Brewing Co., smiling and wiping perspiration from his brow.
Roberts, better known as J.R. in the local beer community, is the award-winning brewmaster and co-founder of Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery in downtown Atlanta, the oldest brewpub in Georgia.
Bold Monk is the newest project from Brewed to Serve Restaurant Group, the company behind Max Lager’s, White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails, and Richards’ Southern Fried. In many ways, the ambitious Old World-inspired brewery restaurant represents the increasingly blurry lines between what’s legally considered a brewpub and a production brewery.
For months now, Roberts has been helping supervise the construction, while getting the brewery up and running. The three-vessel, 15-barrel system has an array of fermentation and bright tanks, kegging and canning equipment, and a dedicated bottling line for Belgian-style mixed-fermentation beers.
“I’ve had a lot of success with mixed-fermentation beers over the past few years, and that’s been a preparation for this brewery,” Roberts said. “Three of our core beers will be a Belgian-style dubbel, tripel and quadrupel, plus a beer called VOW, which is an Orval-style Belgian pale ale. But, we’ll be doing an IPA, and a Russian imperial stout, and lots of other beers, too. We’ll be able to brew consecutively as often as we like. And, we’re going to be doing a lot of production and distribution, once it all settles in place. It’s a good setup for that, and it’s going to be exciting.”
On this day, though, workers still were swarming through the 17,000-square-foot upper Westside space on Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard, wielding hammers, nail guns, and saws that erupted with popping and screeching sounds, creating swirling clouds of dust.
The extensive build-out is expected to be finished this fall, with an opening date in late September or early October. With design and architecture from ASD Sky and aesthetics by Atlanta’s Smith Hanes Studio — the firm behind restaurant projects such as Bellina Alimentari, JCT. Kitchen & Bar, and, most recently, Redbird — the atmosphere of the Bold Monk is meant to rival any of Atlanta’s best contemporary dining destinations.
Conducting a tour through the various rooms that cover two stories and capture different moods, Roberts pointed out what was to come — though it often required the viewer to use a bit of imagination.
The main bar boasts 32 taps, fed from above by cutting-edge, Euro-style horizontal serving tanks lined to preserve the most delicate flavors and aromas of freshly brewed beer, he explained. There will be plenty of wine, spirits, and cocktails on offer, too.
The open kitchen includes a wood-fired grill, a custom-made Neapolitan pizza oven, and other bells and whistles. The walls of the main dining room are finished in stone, and all of the seating is in booths, rather than at tables. Under a pair of arches, the stone-lined cask room will house four 15-barrel foeders for wood-aging, and will double as a private dining room and event space.
Climbing a flight of stairs (because the elevator wasn’t in service yet), Roberts showed off what may be the most unique feature of Bold Monk.
“This is our library loft,” he said. “It’s going to be a retail bookstore, with a coffee program and another 32-tap bar. All the seating will be low couches, with coffee tables, and plugs in the floor, so you can hook up your computer or phone, chill, and have coffee or a beer. We’re going to do live music up here, too.
“From the windows in front, you’ll be able to see what’s going on in the brewery. We’ve employed a lot of artisans, like our woodworkers, who put down the herringbone floor using reclaimed wood, and probably everything else that’s wood. And, we have an artisan metal guy who’s done our gothic windows and our railings.”
Walking outside, through the back door of the library loft, Roberts pointed out a wooded rise that’s slated to be turned into a 5,000-square-foot beer garden, with seating under the trees and along winding paths.
Surveying the scale and detail of the project from that vantage point, the next question was obvious: How much is all this costing?
It’s a $5.5 million to $6 million project, Roberts said. “It’s a lot of money for a brewpub, but we make the categories in Georgia simply by what license you hold. Certainly, you could call New Realm a brewpub. They have a full restaurant. And, even SweetWater essentially has a brewpub now, with the new kitchen in the taproom. They’re both licensed as a production brewery, but they’re allowed to have a restaurant, though they’re not allowed to have other things, like spirits or wine, or beer from other breweries.
“There has been a blurring of the lines,” he said, “but, ultimately, what we’d like to see in the future is to get away from that separation, and just have one license that allows us to do what we want to do.”
Asked about the current beer scene, and Bold Monk’s place in it, Roberts paused.
“I wouldn’t want to open a production brewery that was just a production brewery, anymore,” he said. “I think you want to have that attraction of food and beer together, because they go together. And, it’s all about community. We’re trying to create something here that gets people involved more than just staring at their phone or looking at a TV.
“We want people to come in and get engaged with each other. One of the greatest things about beer has always been the community of beer. You can go sit down at a bar anywhere in the world, drink a beer, and start a conversation. What turned me on to pubs in the first place was the camaraderie. Even if you’re disagreeing with the guy across the bar, at least you’re having a conversation.”
Like the Lee + White development in West End — dubbed “Malt Disney,” because it’s become a dining and drinking hub that includes Monday Night Brewing, Boxcar/Hop City, ASW Distillery, Wild Heaven Beer and Best End Brewing — Roberts said the Westside neighborhoods around Bold Monk are undergoing a similar transformation.
“When everything is built, and up and running, we’ll have nine breweries,” he said. “Fire Maker is about to open up the street. Steady Hand is across the street. Second Self is nearby. We’ll have the new Scofflaw in the new Works project, plus the old Scofflaw, Monday Night, and, of course, Atlanta Brewing. And, we have the new Round Trip coming in.
“I’ve heard some people starting to refer to it as the Westside Brewery District, which is kind of cool. So, there’s a lot going on over here. It’s up and coming, for sure. And, I think we’re doing it right, putting in what’s going to be one of the most beautiful brewpubs in the South, and one of the best in the country, I hope.”
At the Lost Druid
On June 21, when the Lost Druid Brewery in Avondale Estates had its ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening, a crowd gathered around a giant pair of scissors, simultaneously heralding the summer solstice and the debut of a new “own-premise” taproom and kitchen concept.
The Lost Druid team is headed by wife-husband owners Stacia Familo-Hopek, who cut the ribbon and handles the business side, and Robert Hopek, who is the brewer. Executive Chef Chantel Mines is tasked with creating the beer-friendly menu, which includes Sunday brunch offerings.
The free-standing, 6,800-square-foot building was designed and constructed from the ground up on a stretch of Washington Street, not far from Pine Street Market and Wild Heaven Beer. In addition to the 500-liter brewery, it includes space for a cellar and wood-aging facility, and a mezzanine above the bar that serves as a private event space.
“I think we’re one of the few breweries in Georgia that built from the ground up,” Hopek said later. “When SB 85 hit, that was our catalyst. We’d been waiting for that, because we always wanted to go with a taproom model. In my business technology company, I spend a lot of time in Portland, Oregon. Being out there, it’s a very different atmosphere from what we have in Georgia. Most breweries have kitchens, and that’s something we thought was lacking here.
“I hated the tour model that we had here. I thought it was dangerous to not allow food, while you’re telling people they could have six samples that were only good on the day you purchased them. It was bad. We love food trucks, but they can’t always be there to support your business. So, we wanted a kitchen, but we don’t do full meals. We’re not doing the brewpub model. It’s more small plates that are designed to satiate you.”
On the brewery side, Hopek explained that Lost Druid’s own-premise model, which primarily relies on revenue from sales at the brewery, was designed to offer an ever-changing selection in the taproom, rather than flagship beers produced to sell through a distributor. And, he noted, the brewery is kid- and pet-friendly.
“The way things are moving, people just want diversity,” he said. “They want the latest and greatest, and they always want to know what’s new. We’ll eventually have 21 beers on tap. We’ll also be doing some nitro coffee and craft soda. Taprooms have become more of a family mecca, now, so you need those things.”
When it comes to distributing Lost Druid beer, Hopek envisions a twist on the usual route from brewery to consumer.
“We’re kind of a hybrid between a brewpub and a brewery,” he said. “Kegs will be going out to select accounts, and for festivals. But, we’re going to do a little bit of a different model. We’re going to produce beers that we don’t sell in-house. So, the only way people will be able to get that beer is at places like Brick Store Pub or My Parents’ Basement.
“We’re not trying get shelf space for our beers. That’s too hard to get now. You just can’t compete, so we’re going another way.”
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