- Bob Townsend, For the AJC
Brewpubs became legal in Georgia in 1995. But the concept of the modern brewery restaurant, with beer made in an on-premises brewhouse and chef-driven menus a cut above the usual pub grub, has been a big part of the American craft beer movement since the early ’80s.
Among metro Atlanta’s longest running brewpubs, Max Lager’s downtown dates to 1998, and 5 Seasons at the Prado rose from the ashes of a previous brewpub operation in 2001.
Twain’s in Decatur recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, though it’s only been a licensed brewpub since 2006.
Two more favorites, the Wrecking Bar in Inman Park, which opened in 2011, and Cherry Street in Cumming, which opened in 2012, are relative newcomers that have already made a mark on the scene.
Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery, downtown Atlanta
Located on Peachtree Street in the heart of downtown in a vintage two-story brick building built in 1913, Max Lager’s lays claim to being the oldest continuously owned and operated brewpub in Atlanta. The brewery takes up two floors, with the copper-clad brewhouse visible across from the bar on the main floor and the fermentation and serving tanks situated on the floor above.
Brewer John “JR” Roberts has won numerous awards for his beers, including a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver for IMOS (Imperial Mocha Oatmeal Stout). Other favorites include the hop-bursting Hopsplosion IPA, seasonal beers such as Oktoberfest, and a rotating fresh cask ale tapped on Thursday afternoons.
On the sprawling lunch and dinner menus, look for everything from brick oven pizzas and big burgers to hand-cut steaks. Southern signatures include buttermilk-battered fried chicken, low country trout with crawfish and andouille jambalaya, and beer-basted baby back ribs.
Signature dish: The house-smoked hickory grilled pork chop is served with whipped potatoes, collard greens, jalapeno gravy and fried onions.
Signature beer: Dark Side India Dark Ale is a black ale featuring Jaryllo, Amarillo and Cascade hops and a surprisingly low alcohol content.
320 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-525-4400, maxlagers.com.
5 Seasons Brewing, Sandy Springs
With locations on the westside and in Alpharetta, 5 Seasons is something of an Atlanta brewpub empire. But, with its woodsy ski lodge look, the original Prado location in Sandy Springs first earned a reputation as a mecca for local and seasonal cooking. Executive chef and founder David Larkworthy displays his fine dining background as an early adopter of sourcing from farmers around the region.
Kevin McNerney, the co-founder and former brewmaster at Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Co., brought a wealth of experience and awards to the job when he took over as the brewer at the Prado in late 2008. Since then, McNerney has created new signature beers that build on his Sweetwater legacy, including his Hopgasm West Coast-style IPA. But there are also several holdover classics, such as the German-style Munich Helles.
Larkworthy’s menu features a daily array of seasonal specials. But regulars return for staples such as rustic bread baked with spent grain from the brewery, beer-braised mussels and beer-battered onion rings. Look for entrees made with local organic meat and poultry, such as sweet tea-brined Southern fried chicken with smashed potatoes and braised greens.
Signature dish: The Ploughman’s is a pub classic served with bratwurst, three salads, blue cheese and French bread with butter.
Signature beer: Hopgasm is brewed with five different hops, including Simcoe and Amarillo, which give it a distinctive hoppy presence.
5600 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-255-5911, 5seasonsbrewing.com.
Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards, Decatur
Twain’s has been through a few changes over the years, transforming from a beer bar and game room to a brewpub. Along the way, David Stein, one the founders of Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens, tried out the now famous Tropicalia IPA in the brewhouse. And, a few years ago, chef Savannah Haseler took over the kitchen, putting an exciting new spin on the pub grub menu.
Mike Castagno is the new brew guy at Twain’s. He’s got some big barrels to fill but he’s up to the cask!
Haseler’s menu features the likes of a poutine served with house fries, gravy and a sunny side up egg. There’s also the Olivia Burger and pasta and entree specials.
Signature dish: The Olivia Burger is made with Brasstown beef, topped with pimento cheese, arugula, green tomato relish and bacon.
Signature beer: Celebrated Jumping Frog IPA is a nod to California IPAs with pine and grapefruit notes.
211 E. Trinity Place, Decatur. 404-373-0063, twains.net.
Wrecking Bar Brewpub, Inman Park
Easily Atlanta’s most improved and best reviewed brewpub, Wrecking Bar boasts an impressive space in a restored grand Victorian-style home that was most recently an architectural antiques store. The kitchen has risen to acclaim under chef Terry Koval, and the beer has reached a level of quality mixed with invention under brewer Neal Engleman.
Many of the beers on tap are recipes of owner-homebrewer Bob Sandage, who also holds festivals such as the Atlanta Strong Beer Fest and the Wild, Wild Beer Fest at the brewpub. Staples on the WB beer list include Mangose, Atlanta Altbier and Jemmy Stout, plus weekly wood-aged cask ales and special releases like the beer geek obsession, Bourbon Barrel Aged Mexican Siberius Maximus.
Koval’s menu is a study in using local and seasonal ingredients in imaginative ways. But, there are plenty of fun takes on pub grub, too, with the likes of beer-boiled peanuts, corn dog pops, a hefty grass-fed burger and award-winning hand-cut fries. With a fine dining-worthy approach, look for entrees like pan seared trout and tongue and cheek (yes).
Signature dish: Corn Pups are corn bread-battered and fried corn dog pops, made with WB cheddarwurst, and served with curry catsup and yellow mustard.
Signature beer: Galaxial Temples is an IPA with lots of Galaxy and Simcoe hops, which is balanced with wheat.
292 Moreland Ave., Atlanta. 404-221-2600, wreckingbarbrewpub.com.
Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative, Cumming
Carving out a craft beer niche in Cumming’s Vickery Village, Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative is the creation of brewer Nick Tanner, in partnership with his restaurateur dad, Rick Tanner. In fact, Rick Tanner’s Grille & Bar next door to the brewery serves as the pub side of the equation, with a dozen Cherry Street beers on tap, and breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch service.
On the menu, Rick Tanner’s whole rotisserie chicken is served in dinners with sides, and packed into sandwiches and tacos. There’s also the ever popular chicken fingers, egg roll-like chicken lips, plus sandwiches, burgers, steaks, barbecue ribs and seafood.
On Nick Tanner’s side of the operation, the small brewhouse produces a stunning array of styles for the cozy Cherry Street Taproom, which keeps 25 different beers on draft, along with guest taps, craft cocktails, whiskey and wine lists, and bar snacks. Among the most popular Cherry Street beers, look for Chief Sawnee’s Stash Coconut Porter, Gingerbread Stout and Dirty Frenchman Saison.
Signature dish: Rick Tanner’s “world famous” chicken fingers are made with a light, crunchy batter and served with a squeeze bottle of house honey mustard sauce.
Signature beer: Chief Sawnee’s Stash Coconut Porter is a take on Sawnee Mountain Porter with the addition of toasted coconut flakes, caramelized dates and vanilla bean.
5817 S Vickery St., Cumming. 770-205-5512, cherrystreetbrewing.com.