Ale Yeah in Decatur proves you can tap into a trend but outlast it

When it opened in late 2010, the Beer Growler in Athens claimed to be the first-ever growler shop in Georgia. But since I’ve never been a big fan of growler shops, I took it as a dubious distinction.

For me, growlers (essentially glass, ceramic or stainless steel jugs) were something you’d grab as a sample or souvenir, while you were visiting a brewery or brewpub.

Oddly, it wasn’t until March 2016 that Moon River in Savannah became the first brewpub in Georgia to fill and sell a growler. And that’s why I started calling Georgia a growler Bizarro World.

Needless to say, a lot has happened since then. Growler shops flourished for a couple of years, then receded, and the remaining businesses, such as Hop City, diversified.

The Beer Growler in Athens is long gone. And the Beer Growler that opened in Avondale Estates in 2011 is closing in August.

Still, Gremlin Growlers in Fayetteville, billed as a “craft beer and coffee tasting lounge,” seems to be thriving. So much so that last month, the owners were able to purchase the property from the Downtown Development Authority.

In December 2010, Eddie Holley opened Ale Yeah, a beer store in Decatur that was the first of its kind in Georgia. It’s grown over the years, and branched out, stocking wine and other beverages. But it has some 20 taps, and you can cozy up to the bar in back for a pint, or a growler to go.

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Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Recently, I stopped by for a visit with Holley, and we discussed some of the history and current state of beer sales around Atlanta.

The first thing I asked about was my Georgia growler Bizarro World theory, which seemed to bother some people way back when.

“I wasn’t offended by it, because I wasn’t a growler store,” Holley said with a sly grin. “I owned a bottle shop that happened to sell growlers. But we were the first craft beer-only package store in Georgia.

“Beer Growler in Athens did the first growlers, and it caused this huge commotion, because nobody in Georgia in the beer industry thought growlers were legal. We followed suit and put in eight taps by January or February of 2011.”

Of course, on Sept. 1, 2017, a new Georgia law not only allowed breweries to sell beer directly to consumers in taprooms, but it did away with mandatory tours, and made it legal to sell beer to go and food on-site.

However, that law wasn’t good news for Ale Yeah.

“That changed my business, dramatically,” Holley said. “We’re selling less now. It’s just a fact. We shifted toward the bar concept in 2019, when we put in the bar and the tables.”

To help the bottom line, Holley offered homebrewing supplies when he first opened. More recently, he sold the Big Green Egg, but it wasn’t a good fit.

“It made me feel like a used-car salesman,” Holley said. “People were calling trying to get the best deal, and just wearing me down, so I got out of it. But the reality is this. Every year, my rent goes up. Every year, my insurance goes up, and every utility goes up. So how do I keep up?”

Among other things that add to the revenue stream, there are prepared foods, such as empanadas, to enjoy with a beer. And cheese, cured meats, pretzels and fancy mustards are on offer to go. Some unlikely beverages are making an impact, as well.

“We sell a lot of nonalcoholic everything now,” Holley said. “Suddenly, dry January became dry 2022 for a lot of people. But here, I want butts in seats. I want people drinking and eating, and I want to encourage people to spend more time here.”

Looking to the future, Holley is happy that two new restaurants are opening on either side of Ale Yeah, including Tortuga y Chango, a Mexican bar and restaurant from Alan Raines of El Tesoro.

“That’s going to be some great synergy,” Holley said.

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