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Riding the Atlanta Beer Bus route

Call it another sign of the maturing Atlanta beer scene: The Atlanta Beer Bus — advertised as “a hop-on/hop-off shuttle service that transports beer enthusiasts between Atlanta’s finest breweries” — officially launched in early May.

Founded by Travis Irions, who’s lived in Atlanta for 15 years and worked in both banking and the bar business, it’s an efficient and surprisingly budget-friendly way to take in a whole lot of Atlanta breweries in one day.

And as I found out when I boarded the bus on a recent Saturday afternoon, the concept is in sync with the new law that finally allowed Georgia breweries to sell beer directly to consumers in taprooms.

Here’s how it works: For $15 per rider, you get a wristband that entitles you to unlimited rides on the brightly colored Beer Bus shuttles that travel on a continuous loop between breweries. Best of all, you can start and stop anywhere along the loop, and stay for as long or as little as you like at each brewery.

The bus routes and schedules, which are updated daily and posted on board, change according to taproom schedules and other events. For instance, the day I rode, Second Self was closed for a private event.

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Generally speaking, though, Fridays-Sundays, you can expect some combination of these stops: Monday Night Brewing, Urban Tree Cidery, Second Self Beer Co., Scofflaw Brewing Co., Red Brick Brewing Co., ASW Distillery, SweetWater Brewing Co., Orpheus Brewing, Park Tavern, and the Midtown MARTA station.

During my rides, I found the buses to be cool and comfortable, especially on a 90-degree-plus day. Each bus is manned by a driver and a “Beer Bus Nerd,” who handles the money and wristbands and acts as a guide. I found them to be pretty knowledgeable, and beyond enthusiastic and helpful.

That said, the party bus atmosphere of cranked music and happy imbibers hopping on and off at will might be a bit much for some older or more sensitive riders. As confirmed by Irions during a recent phone conversation, the current Beer Bus demographic skews toward early 20-30-somethings.

“The biggest compliment I keep getting is, ‘This is such a great idea, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it first,’” Irions said. “When I was developing the concept, and would tell my friends about it, more than not heard, ‘I want in.’ So I never solicited investors.

“The Beer Nerd concept actually came from one of my investors, who told me, ‘I just want to ride the bus and talk to people about beer.’ So we formed the Beer Nerd program. And what that’s done for us is merge the idea of a transit system, like MARTA, and a traditional beer tour. We can educate riders about the breweries they are going to, and even tell them about what the beers are on tap, and what they might like before they get there.”

Besides pleasing riders, Irions noted that several of the brewery taproom managers have mentioned how much they like the way the Beer Bus model works.

“We’re not dumping 40 people on them all at once at any given point,” Irions said. “Being able to bring 15 people in every 20 or 30 minutes is a lot easier for them to handle.”

As for the future, Irions said he’s looking for ways to make the route a little more efficient.

“Thinking probably too far ahead right now, we want to add buses, and we may even have some going the opposite direction,” he said. “But we’ll have to see how the breweries and the riders feel about that.”

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