Beer Town: How Georgia brewers are going live with virtual events

A screenshot of the Terrapin Facebook Live video with former Braves player Jeff Francoeur. CONTRIBUTED BY TERRAPIN BEER CO.
A screenshot of the Terrapin Facebook Live video with former Braves player Jeff Francoeur. CONTRIBUTED BY TERRAPIN BEER CO.

The hospitality business has been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, as bars, restaurants, and brewery taprooms have struggled to find new ways to sell food and drink and connect with customers.

But in these times of social distancing, virtual events are helping brewers promote new releases and let fans find out more about their favorite beers and the people behind them.

Athens' Terrapin Beer Co. has been doing a really entertaining series of archived Facebook Live sessions, featuring special guests such as beer label artist Chris Pinkerton, former UGA and Falcons quarterback D.J. Shockley, and longtime Widespread Panic percussionist Sunny Ortiz.

Produced using the Zoom platform for video and audio conferencing, the Terrapin broadcasts are surprisingly sophisticated — with founder and brewmaster Brian “Spike” Buckowski, President Dustin Watts, and VP of Sales and Marketing Brian Sykes popping up on a grid of screens and cutting up with their guests.

“For us, it was a way to reach out to our fans, but also give them a behind-the-scenes look at how we function,” Buckowski said. “Our first one was just Dustin and I talking about how Terrapin got started. But then we had Chris Pinkerton on, who was one of our artists, so that was about how we go about putting our artwork together. But we have other relationships, too, like Jeff Francoeur.”

As it turns out, Francoeur, the former Atlanta Braves outfielder, made his blueberry Berliner Weisse, Frenchy’s Blues, in collaboration with Terrapin, using blueberries from his South Georgia farm. And the intro to the Francoeur episode, which first aired April 29, features video highlights from his playing days, and photos of the farm.

“He is a big beer drinker, he owns a blueberry farm, and when you’re working with someone like that who understands beer, it’s really nice,” Buckowski said. “So we were able to talk about all that. I don’t think people realize that Georgia is the biggest producer of blueberries in the country. So just to learn about that is kind of cool, too.”

Buckowski said he enjoys seeing the live stream of comments on Facebook, and follows them on his phone during the broadcast.

“It’s nice to put our faces with the brand, and it makes our fans feel like they’re getting an inside scoop,” he said. “We’re not going to roll out a new beer every time, but if it fits into the talk, then yes. That was an easy one with Frenchy. And with Sunny and the Spread Heads, we’re drinking Terrapin Los Bravos Mexican lager.”

Atlanta's New Realm Brewing Co. brewmaster Mitch Steele has been broadcasting "NRBC TV" chats from his home office, using Facebook Live to introduce new beers and take questions from viewers, while sipping and offering details and tasting notes.

The sessions are archived, and Steele, who is a big music fan and has played guitar in several brewery bands, has been creating Spotify playlists to go along with each episode. But if Terrapin’s shows are like jam sessions, New Realm is showcasing Steele solo.

“Since so many people couldn’t come to our place, and since we couldn’t get out and interact with people, we thought this might be a way to get New Realm out there a little bit,” Steele said. “The original plan was for me to go through a beer tasting, and that was it. Then as it went on, things evolved, and I tried to throw a few more things in there.

“I like putting the music thing together, and I started adding a charity that we wanted to give a shoutout to at the beginning, just because these are important organizations to us and for us, like the Giving Kitchen. But it’s been very casual, obviously. It’s an hour long. I pick four beers, including a good guest beer, and just try to have some fun.”

Because Steele was formerly the brewmaster at Stone Brewing Co., and wrote an important book on IPAs, one thing that stands out is how many fellow brewers, and especially homebrewers, tune in to make comments and ask questions about brewing science.

“It’s kind of fun, and a challenge, you know,” Steele said. “But if I can help somebody, I will. But there are going to be times when it’s not going to be something I have experienced myself. In my career, I’ve made a point of trying to help people, and answer questions to help people become better brewers. So I kind of live by that, and I like those kinds of questions. I like getting into the science, and questions about things I haven’t even thought about. Then it gets me going.”


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