Beer Town: The future of brewing in Atlanta isn’t what it used to be

SweetWater’s renovated taproom, which opened in April, is an example of dining playing a bigger role in metro Atlanta’s growing beer scene. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
SweetWater’s renovated taproom, which opened in April, is an example of dining playing a bigger role in metro Atlanta’s growing beer scene. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Nearly seven years ago, Atlanta writer Austin L. Ray interviewed me for his Creative Loafing beer feature, First Draft.

I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable answering rather than asking the questions. But rereading our exchange, recently, I was struck by my response when Ray inquired about the future:

<em>“More,” Townsend replies, when asked what he looks forward to in Atlanta’s beer scene. “More brick-and-mortar breweries. More styles. More fine dining restaurants that feature craft beer in a serious way. More events exploring serious food and beer. More of everything.”</em>

Of course, as every local beer lover knows, <em>more</em> is everywhere now. The metro Atlanta beer scene has been growing exponentially over the past couple of years — mostly as a result of the 2017 changes in Georgia law that created new ways for breweries to sell beer and serve food.

As a direct result, breweries like New RealmHalfway Crooks and the Lost Druid have hired chefs and built kitchens as part of new and evolving business models.

To the point, SweetWater, Atlanta's biggest brewery, reopened its renovated taproom in April, unveiling a full-scale restaurant helmed by executive chef Nick Anderson, who has a deep resume working in Atlanta fine dining restaurants like Canoe and Rathbun's.

Last month, I started working on what has become the yearly beer package for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As you can see later this month, one of my current obsessions is the blurring line between brewpubs and production breweries.

Likely the most ambitious example of that is Bold Monk Brewing Co., a close to $6 million build-out projected to open sometime in late September or early October on Atlanta's Upper Westside.

Designed by Atlanta’s Smith Hanes Studio, the atmosphere of Bold Monk is meant to rival any of Atlanta’s best restaurants. And beyond a brewery and restaurant with multiple bars, there’s a retail bookstore with baristas, and a woodsy beer garden.

As it turns out, the area around Bold Monk may be home to at least nine breweries by next year, including a second Scofflaw location, and new entries like Fire Maker and Round Trip.

Of course, seven years ago, it was hard to imagine anything like the Lee + White development in West End.

Dubbed "Malt Disney," it's a drinking and dining destination, pioneered by Monday Night Brewing, that's now home to Boxcar and Hop City, ASW Distillery, a second Wild Heaven Beer location with a brewery, kitchen, and event space, and Best End Brewing, a sprawling brewpub set to open on Sept. 20.

Beyond the building boom, other trends suggest that being small and local is likely good, being big and regional may still work, but 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 suddenly looking for ways to diversify and build growth in new directions.

Just two years after opening in La Grange, Wild Leap Brew Co. got into the distilling business with Wild Leap Vodka, and now serves craft cocktails alongside craft beer in its taproom.

Not long ago, I spoke with Jason Santamaria, the co-owner of Atlanta's Second Self Beer Co., which will celebrate its fifth anniversary in October. Santamaria told me that Second Self is embarking on a new path to become a "beverage incubator."

Right now, there’s Cirrus, a new CBD water venture. But in the future, cider, wine and spirits will all be part of the mix.

“I want to create Second Self Beverage Co. as the vision I put forth after five years, and really focus on unique ways to create beverages,” Santamaria said. “Beer is the main focus. CBD is another one. We may do nitro coffee with and without CBD. And then we’ll be moving on to other alcohols.”

I must admit, seven years ago, I really didn’t see that coming.


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