Reflecting back on 2016, I can easily say it was the biggest year for craft beer in Georgia since I first started writing this column some 16 years ago.
First the bad news. With the Mississippi Brewers Guild and the Mississippi Beer Distributors Association reaching a 2016 agreement that will allow craft breweries in the state to sell beer to the public through taprooms, Georgia will soon become the only state in the U.S. that prohibits direct sales. And that will pretty much make Georgia the worst state in the nation for the business of brewing.
But mostly there was good news. Because, despite the dark cloud cast by the collusion of Georgia lawmakers, regulators and wholesalers, Georgia beer keeps shining through, with more new breweries and a greater diversity of styles than ever before. Among metro Atlanta breweries and brewpubs that opened in 2016, Scofflaw and Torched Hop were both pleasant surprises with plenty of promise for the future.
I’ve called Georgia a growler Bizarro World. But this year, all that changed, as production breweries carried on selling growlers, and brewpubs found out they could do it, too, with a little help from a few beer-loving lawyers and friendly local governments.
In what was surely the biggest and most controversial news in Georgia craft beer history, in July, MillerCoors announced a deal to take a majority stake in Athens’ Terrapin Beer Co., now operating as a business unit of Tenth and Blake, the MillerCoors craft and import division.
On the heels of that deal, Terrapin and the Atlanta Braves announced a new Terrapin Taproom and brewery, set to open in collaboration with Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in spring 2017 at the Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park, the new home of the Braves in Cobb County.
While the Atlanta Beltline stays in the news with a slew of new restaurant and retail spots, in 2016 new breweries became part of the story, too.
Former Stone Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele, who is known for his innovative brewing techniques and love of American IPA, is opening a new craft brewery and brewpub, which will be located on the Beltline and Ralph McGill Boulevard. It’s billed as “a state of the art facility that will feature a rooftop bar and a beer garden, with brewery tours and brewing classes for the home brewer.”
Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing announced that it’s building a second brewery focusing on barrel-aged and sour beers that will be located in a new complex under construction on the Beltline’s Southwest corridor. Plans include planting an urban orchard to aid in wild fermentation and a second tasting room, set to open in summer 2017.
Was 2016 the year of the beer garden? In April, Kevin Gillespie, the chef/owner of Gunshow in Glenwood Park, opened a German-style beer garden in the backyard of his down-home Decatur restaurant, Revival. Dubbed an “elevated beer garden,” Nine Mile Station opened in late October on the rooftop of Ponce City Market. And dubbed a “Southern take on a classic beer garden,” Georgia Beer Garden opened soon after that on Edgewood Avenue in Old Fourth Ward.
Looking forward to 2017, on Jan. 5, SweetWater will open the tasting room for the Woodlands Project, in the new building that houses its barrel-aging and sour beer program. In the spring, Chase Medlin, the former brewer at Twain’s Brewpub in Decatur, is set to debut a new craft brewery, Locomotion Brewing Co., in Chamblee. Sometime later in the year, look for the team behind Brick Store Pub to open Good Word Brew Pub in downtown Duluth.
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