Beer Town: Orpheus Brewing debuts sour beers

When Atlanta’s newest craft brewery, Orpheus Brewing, debuted its first beers on Memorial Day, enthusiastic crowds packed the tasting room located at the cul-de-sac of Dutch Valley Place and spilled out onto the decks that overlook sections of the Atlanta Beltline and Piedmont Park.

Not long before, Orpheus founder and brewmaster Jason Pellett and his business partners Andrew Lorber and Will Arnold scrambled to bring some order to the under construction space, while head brewer Chuck Duffney worked around the brewhouse.

Orpheus is another crest on the new wave of small breweries currently surfacing all over the U.S. The three young partners are beer-loving entrepreneurs who were brought together by mutual friend Molly Gunn, co-owner of the Porter Beer Bar in Little Five Points.

Pellett dreamed of building a brewery that could produce the kind of Belgian-style sour beers he loved. The name pays homage to the legendary musician and poet of Greek myth and is rooted in Pellett’s background as a trumpeter with an orchestral performance degree from Georgia State.

A prime example of Pellett’s palate is Atalanta, a tart, sour mash saison with fresh plum juice. The beer is named after the Greek heroine and Argonaut, but the inspiration is more contemporary Atlanta.

“I had a sour plum popsicle from King of Pops,” Pellett said, taking a sip from a fluted tasting glass branded with the Orpheus lyre. “The very first bite made me think, ‘Oh, that needs to be a beer.’ ”

In addition to Atalanta, three more Orpheus beers should be upcoming on draft around Atlanta.

Serpent Bite is another sour mash saison, but it’s dry-hopped with mandarina bavaria, a new German hop variety that imparts fruity citrus aromas and flavors. Calliope is a more straightforward but still a complex take on the saison style with huell melon and apollo hops. Transmigration of Souls is a strong, aromatic double IPA.

Pellett began as a homebrewer over a decade ago, though at the time he was more into culinary experiments, and had no thoughts of sour or hoppy beer.

“I was cooking everything from scratch, baking my own bread, making my own curry pastes and things like that,” he said. “So why wasn’t I making my own beer? I decided to try it. But I wasn’t even much of a beer guy at that point.”

Six years ago, Pellett met his fiancée, Leslie Campbell. The couple started out as drinking buddies, spending time together at beer bars, discussing what they liked and didn’t like.

“We got more and more into beer together,” Pellett said. “The Porter opened around that time and we became regulars there. But I get obsessive about things. You can’t really do an orchestral degree without being obsessive, so I wanted to learn all aspects of beer. And there were all these flavors I wanted to taste in beer that nobody was doing or at least that you couldn’t get here then.

“When I decided to start brewing again, it was still a hobby but I approached it like it could be a brewery. I tried to come up with cohesive flavors in the beers, so it was like the different songs from a band, instead of just random flavors.”

Pellett vividly remembers the first Belgian sour beer he tried.

“It was March 18, 2009,” he said, laughing. “It was a Duchesse De Bourgogne and that started the sour quest. We have four beers at Orpheus, so far, and two are sours. In many ways, the brewery was built around a sour mash vessel dedicated to brewing sour beers.”

As planned, the majority of the Orpheus sour beers will be done in the sour mash vessel. But the brewery has 3,000 square feet of barrel-aging space set aside and there will be plenty of sour fermentation going on there in the coming months and years.

For the time being, though, Pellett is enjoying what’s stored up in kegs.

“This is a fantasy that somehow happened,” Pellett said. “There are a lot of homebrewers with good beer. But I really owe it to my partners who made it a reality and my fiancée who was there from the beginning. Here we are, six years later, engaged, with a brewery just opened.”

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