One recent Saturday afternoon, a swarming, enthusiastic throng occupied most of the indoor and outdoor space around Burnt Hickory Brewery in Kennesaw, making it difficult to find a place to stand, and even more difficult to get a beer.
But Burnt Hickory president/brewmaster Scott Hedeen easily surfed the chaos of the brewery’s monthly “open house” — stopping to chat with Kennesaw mayor Mark Mathews before stepping to the makeshift stage to introduce Marietta musician Murray Attaway.
In April 2012, when I first came to Burnt Hickory, it was a fledgling “nano” operation, barely bigger than a home-brew rig. But I was impressed by Hedeen, a retired Emmy Award-winning TV cameraman and diehard music fan, who was inspired by the DIY ethos of punk rock.
Hedeen told me his plan was to start really small, break into the market and build a following, then build a bigger brewery. It’s taken a bit longer than he hoped — nearly three years.
BHB’s, strong, full-flavored core brands —Fighting Bishop Belgian-style triple, Ezekiel’s Wheel Pale Ale, Cannon Dragger IPA, Big Shanty Graham Cracker Stout — are beloved of beer geeks.
The limited-edition beers Hedeen made in tribute to favorite bands, such as the Germs, Jesus Lizard and Die Kreuzen, are now collectors’ items.
And in late 2014, the nano morphed into a micro with the installation of a new 20-barrel brew house, dubbed “Clementine,” that will allow BHB to make up to 4,000 barrels of beer a year.
“When I started, people told me there’s no way a nano brewery can work in Georgia with the laws here,” Hedeen said. “Yeah, I know that. I ran one for two-and-a-half years. Our best year as a nano brewery, we made 262 barrels. Now we’re going to make about 2,000.
“But in the beginning, it was never meant to be a successful business. It was designed to be my own version of beer school. And what I didn’t make in folding equity, I made in brand equity.”
In many ways, Burnt Hickory is a new brewery, mainly because the new equipment enables Hedeen and his crew to start keeping up with demand. Last week, they were busy bottling a big batch of the Didjits Blood Orange IPA, a popular spring seasonal.
“For a long time, I didn’t want to over-hype what we were doing, because I didn’t want somebody looking for beer that they couldn’t find,” Hedeen said. “But now the beer is out there, and we’ve sort of come out of our cocoon. Here’s the beautiful butterfly that is the new BHB.
“My idea was to build the brand, and we’re finally making it available. It’s almost kind of like a band. We recorded a demo, shopped it around, and everybody heard it. Now we finally have our major label record out. It’s our debut record, but everybody knows the songs. So the plan worked.”
As to the future, Hedeen, who always seems ready for a party, is looking forward to the next open house March 21 and Burnt Hickory’s third anniversary later in April.
“We’ll have our big anniversary party on April 25,” he said. “Last year, something like 1,000 people showed up. It was crazy. This year, we will be freeing the floodgates of all the beer we’ve stocked up.”
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