25 of Georgia’s best beers

When Jailhouse opened in Hampton in late 2009, it joined the ranks of Sweetwater and Red Brick in Atlanta and Terrapin in Athens as the only four production craft breweries operating in Georgia.

Now, that number has grown to nearly 30, and many more are being planned or opening soon. Given that bounty of beer, it seems like a good time to highlight some of the state’s best and most enduring offerings.

These are the beers we like right now or have liked for a long time, skewed toward the iconic, historic, exciting and readily available year-round. We also tried for a mix of styles, without leaving out old favorites. Still, there are probably way too many IPAs.

You will notice that only production breweries are included, and are arranged in alphabetical order. But, we do love Georgia’s brewpubs and plan to cover them soon.

The final list, with all its quirks, is my doing. Phil Farrell and Owen Ogletree, two of Georgia’s best-known beer writers and certified beer judges, offered their own lists and advice. Holly Steel of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pulled it all together.

Arguments are expected. Your feedback is encouraged. Vote for your favorite of our top 25 here.

Burnt Hickory Ezekiel’s Wheel — The flagship beer from the Kennesaw brewery best known for its big styles and iconoclastic attitude is a pale ale dubbed “Zeke.” It’s billed as “grainy malty, yet wonderfully hoppy.” Let’s just say here’s more proof that pales need not be boring or wimpy or even very pale, really.

Burnt Hickory Big Shanty — Emblematic of Burnt Hickory’s more-is-more philosophy, this imperial oatmeal stout is brewed with roasted malt, graham cracker flour and honey. The result is dark and very drinkable, hiding its high alcohol content in bittersweet layers of flavor, with notes of cinnamon and vanilla.

Creature Comforts Tropicalia — Arguably the biggest buzz beer in recent Georgia history comes from the Athens brewery known for crafting takes on classic styles that bring out something new. In this case, it’s a hoppy beer for people who think they don’t like hops. True to its name, here’s a soft, sensual IPA bursting with lush tropical fruit.

Creature Comforts Athena — Before Tropicalia, Athena was Creature Comfort’s claim to fame. It still marks the not-so-long-ago time when sour beers started surfacing around Georgia. Tart, low-alcohol and very refreshing, it’s a take on the classic German style of wheat beer known as Berliner Weisse, and it’s better than lemonade on a hot day.

Eventide Nitro Dry Irish Stout — What may be Georgia’s smallest production brewery, Eventide, was launched in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood in early 2014, but only opened its tasting room in June. The surprise of the portfolio is an improbably tasty and true to style nitro dry stout with classic roasted flavors and aromas and a super creamy mouthfeel.

Jekyll Hop Dang Diggity — The first brewery located in Alpharetta is both small and productive, mixing well-balanced renditions of tried-and-true, mostly American and German-style beers with an easygoing Georgia touch. This “Southern IPA” splits the difference between malty sweetness and piney and citrus hops, with a clean finish.

Jekyll Big Creek Kӧlsch — This subtle hybrid style from the Cologne region of Germany is difficult to balance. But Jekyll brews this one the historic way, at cold temperatures with only barley, water, hops and yeast. The result is a crisp, pale beer with a soft palate, fruity aromas and flavors, and bready notes.

Jailhouse Misdemeanor Ale — Tiny Jailhouse in Hampton has grown up in production and helped inspire several newer breweries. This food-friendly, old-school amber ale is still a favorite, even if the once popular American style has fallen out of favor. Medium-bodied, with caramel and biscuit malt flavors balanced by earthy hops.

Jailhouse Breakout Stout — A solid sender of an American stout, with dark roasted and chocolate malts and Chinook and Cascade hops combining in a pitch-black beer that reveals flavors and aromas of bittersweet cocoa with vanilla and hints of coffee. As a bonus, it pairs with a range of foods, from grilled meats to desserts.

Monday Night Drafty Kilt — Debuting as a contract brew, this signature beer was a harbinger of the new wave of production breweries that have opened around intown Atlanta in the past few years. A tweaked example of the fairly rare Scotch ale style, it features deep flavors of cherrywood-smoked malt, chocolate malt and roasted barley.

Monday Night Eye Patch — Another Monday Night signature, this easy-drinking American-meets-English IPA starts with a base of rich, slightly nutty British Marris Otter malt and a touch of rye malt. The citrusy aromas and flavors of American hops come through, along with hints of pine and a bit of spice.

Orpheus Atalanta — This brewery near Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and Beltline was founded as a Greek-inspired temple to Belgian-style sour beers. But the big idea for this tart, sour mash saison, named after the Greek heroine and flavored with fresh plum juice, came from the taste of a King of Pops sour plum popsicle.

Orpheus Transmigration of Souls — While sours may be the Orpheus way, this highly rated, sometimes difficult to find seasonal double IPA is advertised as “irresponsibly hopped.” Its citrus, floral and bittering profile reaches through aromas and flavors of lemon and tropical fruit under a dryish malt base.

Red Brick Hoplanta — Atlanta’s oldest living craft brewery has sometimes struggled to find an identity, even confusing folks by changing its name from Atlanta Brewing. But younger management and brewing crews have brought out some new vitality and several more popular beers, such as this sturdy, hopped-up IPA named for our city.

Second Self Red Hop Rye — Debuting in October 2014 on Atlanta’s westside, this small brewery is the brainchild of Georgia Tech grads with some help from a veteran of the high-end wine business. The beers tend to have a culinary bent, and this American hybrid IPA is brewed with a good portion of spicy rye malt and hops with citrus notes.

Service Compass Rose — This Savannah brewery recently celebrated its first anniversary. Veteran-owned and operated and dedicated to veterans’ causes, it mostly brews approachable beers riffing on standard styles, including this refreshing IPA, which nicely displays caramel notes and aromatic citrus hops with hints of tropical fruits.

Southbound Hoplin’ — The first production brewery to open in Savannah has already built a strong reputation in the Atlanta area with the Sweetwater connections of its co-founders. This IPA has become a fixture of the portfolio, with a smooth, medium-bodied take on the style, plentiful American hops and citrus-pine notes.

Sweetwater IPA — The South’s biggest brewery doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. But its fresh and consistent beers are difficult to dismiss. This iconic unfiltered IPA often can be had in a matter days after it’s kegged, canned or bottled, which is the ideal way to appreciate a juicy panoply of American hops, finished with a signature punch of Simcoe.

Sweetwater Happy Ending — Although, after all these years, the name still riles some, this award-winning American imperial stout remains one of Sweetwater’s most successful and anticipated seasonals. It features a winning combo of complex dark roasted malts and bold hops in a big, warm beer that’s utterly drinkable.

Terrapin Rye — The gold medal winner that helped launch the Athens brewery sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of seasonals, one-offs and collaborations. But with a specialty malt bill that, of course, features rye and a mix of British and American hops, its food-friendly flavors and aromas are deliciously complex, spicy and well balanced.

Terrapin W-n-B — This signature Terrapin Monster Beer Tour creation, formerly known as Wake-n-Bake, pretty much defines the robust style of coffee oatmeal stout. Brewed with a special blend of Jittery Joe’s coffee, it’s as dark as espresso and just as strong, but with enough malt sweetness and essence of oatmeal to bring everyone together for breakfast.

Three Taverns A Night on Ponce — Since opening two years ago, this Decatur brewery has become known for its Belgian-style beers, ranging from a single to a quad. But this version of its Belgian-style IPA, which subs American ale yeast for Belgian ale yeast, threatens to be the best-seller, with a hop-forward profile that’s proving irresistible.

Three Taverns Inceptus — The name is Latin for “beginning,” and this limited-edition, spontaneously fermented wild ale started with yeast wrangled from the air around the brewery. Barrel-aged for some 18 months, it’s delightfully tart and complex, but very clean and completely drinkable, with many characteristics of classic Belgian lambic.

Wild Heaven Invocation — After a little over a year as a production operation, Avondale’s Wild Heaven is already turning out lots of new, complex and barrel-aged beers with culinary twists. But, among its first beers, this Belgian-style strong golden ale remains a favorite, with lively carbonation and a fruity, spicy yeast character amid lush, soft malts.

Wild Heaven Let There Be Light — An odd final choice, perhaps. But, like the first American pale ale on the list, this one sheds new light on the style, or goes beyond it, with a grain bill of barley and wheat and two rare hops, Nelson Sauvin and Sorachi Ace, plus orange peel. The result is a nuanced beer that’s full of flavor and light on the palate.

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