Beer Town: Pontoon Brewing reopening in Sandy Springs after brief closure

Pontoon Brewing co-owner Sean O’Keefe blamed the failure of a distributor to pay for product as the primary reason for the company's bankruptcy. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Pontoon Brewing co-owner Sean O’Keefe blamed the failure of a distributor to pay for product as the primary reason for the company's bankruptcy. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After closing at the end of 2023, Pontoon Brewing is set to reopen its flagship Sandy Springs taproom Jan. 17, with several beers that were in the tanks when it closed.

“We’ve got some awesome New England IPAs,” co-owner Sean O’Keefe said, “and some fantastic lager that’s been lagering for about 20 weeks now. We’ve got New Wave blond ale, which is our core year-round beer and top seller out of our taproom. But, in total, we’ll have 18 beers on tap for the opening.”

Pontoon, which originally opened in Sandy Springs in 2017, expanded distribution around the U.S. and into several European countries over the years. In late 2022, it also opened a brewery and taproom in Tucker.

After that, the Sandy Springs brewery mainly focused on barrel aging, wild ales and experimental beers, until Oct. 28, 2023, when Pontoon suddenly closed both brewery locations and filed for bankruptcy.

O’Keefe blamed the failure of a distributor to pay for product as the primary reason.

The reopening Pontoon Brewing in Sandy Springs promises 18 beers on tap. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bob Townsend

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Credit: Bob Townsend

Only the Sandy Springs location at 8601 Dunwoody Place is reopening; Pontoon will be liquidating the equipment in Tucker as part of its bankruptcy agreement.

“The taproom in Sandy Springs had a lot more traffic,” O’Keefe said. “We’re going to bring back all of production here, with our 10-barrel, four-vessel system. We’ve got about a 5,000-barrel capacity, and a lot of it will be smaller batch beers and in-house releases that you can only get at the taproom.”

The bankruptcy process was tough, he said, but “it’s giving us new life in the sense that, when it’s completed, we will be debt-free.” He said the company now will focus on limited distribution and “quality over quantity.”

The Sandy Springs taproom is getting more bars with more taps, and the company hopes to find a permanent on-premises food partner.

“We’ll have more seating inside and outside,” O’Keefe said. “But we’ll have more limited hours, capitalizing on the times that have the most traffic.”

Pontoon Brewing co-owner Sean O’Keefe displays a selection of barrel-aged Brownie Batter beers. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bob Townsend

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Credit: Bob Townsend

Many beer geeks know Pontoon best for its barrel-aged Brownie Batter stout and its annual Brownie Bash festival.

“I’m from the Tampa area, and a lot of the breweries down there are known for their big, big stouts,” O’Keefe said, adding that Brownie Batter “was a recipe that I developed when I was home brewing a long time ago. But at the brewery, we put it in barrels, and we haven’t looked back.”

Moving forward, O’Keefe is hoping for a return to the stability of Pontoon’s early days.

“We are in the middle of (raising equity) and we’re doing pretty well with it,” he said. “People are excited and there’s a lot of interest, because of the community that Pontoon has built over time. And we’re definitely going to have a more focused approach with our distribution.”

Pontoon appears to be a rare success story, given the number of Georgia breweries that closed last year and have not reopened. Certainly, Georgia’s restrictive beer laws have made it more difficult for small breweries to prosper.

It will be interesting to see whether O’Keefe and his crew can beat the odds.

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