Beer Town: Terrapin celebrates 17 years with new takes on classic beers

To mark its 17th anniversary, Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens will hold a carnival with music, games, local vendors, food trucks — and plenty of beer. CONTRIBUTED BY TERRAPIN BEER CO.

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To mark its 17th anniversary, Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens will hold a carnival with music, games, local vendors, food trucks — and plenty of beer. CONTRIBUTED BY TERRAPIN BEER CO.

Athens brewery will host anniversary event with special beers, live music, games and more

On April 6, Terrapin Beer Co. will celebrate its 17th anniversary with a carnival of sorts.

At the popular Athens brewery, there will be music, games, local vendors and food trucks. And, of course, plenty of beer, including year-round favorites such as Hopsecutioner IPA and Sound Czech Pils, as well as cask ales, and specials and one-offs from Terrapin’s ATL Brew Lab at SunTrust Park.

Along with all the festivities, though, the white noise of the 2016 deal that MillerCoors struck to take a majority stake in Terrapin will be on the minds of some craft beer purists.

Terrapin was co-founded in 2002 by brewmaster Brian "Spike" Buckowski, who remains with the company, but according to the rules of the Brewers Association can no longer operate as a craft brewer.

As I always reveal when I write about Terrapin, Buckowski and I have been friends since I first started writing about beer, which was around the time his Rye Pale Ale won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2002, some six months after the company launched.

Recently, I caught up with Buckowski at the ATL Brew Lab’s Taproom at The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park, where we sat down to drink some beer and talk about some of the things the Terrapin team has been working on.

“Obviously, Rye Pale was the first beer we made in 2002,” Buckowski said. “And it’s still my favorite beer we’ve ever made. It’s the most sentimental beer for me, and so with the brewery turning 17, we decided to do a small batch at the Brew Lab. When we took it out of the rotation a couple of years ago, that hurt, but I understand that brands have a life cycle.

“But the cool thing in doing a 10-barrel batch this time, we’re teaming up with Riverbend Malt House in North Carolina. We’re using their two-row and their Heritage, which is Munich-style malt, and, of course, their Carolina Rye malt. So we’ll have it at the anniversary and at events at some of the first places that served Terrapin Rye.”

With light lagers and session beers showing up as part of the portfolios of many craft breweries nowadays, Buckowski says there might be a time when Rye Pale Ale returns, maybe as a seasonal.

And in that vein, Buckowski is getting ready to unveil a rather audacious beer that’s bound to shake things up. It’s a MillerCoors collaboration called Hop N’ Bubbly that will be marketed as a Brut IPA that’s based on Miller High Life, with some nods to Rye Pale Ale.

It’s brewed with Moravian malt, flaked corn, flaked rye, and Cascade, Citra and Mosaic hops, and dry-hopped with Amarillo hops, and Buckowski describes it “as basically the High Life malt bill with rye, and some Rye Pale Ale hops.”

“I’ve been fooling around with doing a Brut IPA for a while,” he said. “Two years ago when we did the MillerCoors deal, I made up these T-shirts with a High Life logo, and it said ‘Terrapin Rye Life.’ It was a joke. But I really wanted to do a collaboration with High Life. That’s my go-to macro beer, right? When I’m with craft beer guys, if we’re drinking a mass-market beer, it’s a High Life.

“And it’s the ‘Champagne of Beers,’ so what other style would show off a Brut IPA better than a High Life collab? I’ve tried a lot of Brut IPAs, and I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think we nailed it. I’m really, really excited about it. It will be brewed in Athens, and it will only be available in Georgia and Wisconsin, probably at the end of May.”

From 4:30-8:30 p.m. April 6, Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens will celebrate its 17th anniversary with barrel-aged beers, year-round favorites, and specials from ATL Brew Lab at SunTrust Park. Entertainment includes the Balkun Brothers band, with local vendors, food trucks and carnival games. Tickets ($26) include beer samples, a souvenir glass and brewery tours. 265 Newton Bridge Road, Athens. 706-549-3377,