Terrapin’s founder is proud of brewery’s legacy after 20 years

Terrapin marked its birthday in 2019 with a carnival. Courtesy of Kevin Roberts/Terrapin Beer Co.

Credit: Kevin Roberts.

Credit: Kevin Roberts.

Terrapin marked its birthday in 2019 with a carnival. Courtesy of Kevin Roberts/Terrapin Beer Co.

Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens is marking its 20th anniversary with a focus on the company’s Terraprint initiative for environmental sustainability and community outreach.

Founded by Brian “Spike” Buckowski and John Cochran in 2002, the company has been through myriad changes, but its beers have stood the test of time, from the fan-favorite Rye Pale Ale to best-selling Hopsecutioner IPA.

Buckowski started homebrewing in Atlanta in 1993, earned a degree from the American Brewers Guild, interned at Phoenix Brewing Co. in Sandy Springs and got a job in 1997 at Atlanta Brewing, where he met Cochran.

When the pair decided to open a brewery of their own, they set their sights on Athens. “We never even discussed being an Atlanta brewery,” Buckowski said. “From the moment we started, it was going to be Athens.”

Terrapin's co-founder and original brewmaster, Brian "Spike" Buckowski, is seen in 2013. Courtesy of Terrapin Beer Co.

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

A major milestone came in October 2002, when Rye Pale Ale won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. That brought a measure of fame to the fledgling company.

For many years, Terrapin beers were brewed under contract elsewhere, but, in 2006, the company landed a space on Newton Bridge Road in Athens, and officially started brewing beer there in early 2007.

In 2010, Buckowski and Cochran parted ways with their Athens investors, and made a deal with Tenth and Blake, a division of MillerCoors. In 2016, MillerCoors acquired a majority interest in Terrapin, and, three years later, complete control of the company. While Cochran took a buyout, Buckowski stayed on as founder and vice president of brewing development.

“In my eyes, being the founder is being the face of the company,” Buckowski said. “I do beer dinners and appearances and hit the market. It’s being all things Terrapin.”

And, as vice president of development, he said, “99% of the beers we’re doing are my recipes. So, I still have a hand in everything that comes out of the brewery.”

Buckowski also remains involved in the creative and marketing side. A little-known fact, he said, is that he writes the promotional blurbs that appear on the cans. “So, all the descriptions are mine, which I find really fun.”

Reflecting on the state of the beer industry, Buckowski said he thinks the U.S. “has the most cutting-edge breweries and outside-the-box ideas. But, for me, I still appreciate a well-made beer with four ingredients.”

Looking back, Buckowski believes Terrapin helped create the market for Georgia breweries that followed.

“We really wanted to go into Athens, produce word-class beer, and be part of that Athens culture, and the city of Athens,” he said. “We really wanted to be a shining light. And, I think we opened a lot of doors, not only in Athens, but in Georgia. We were, and are, Georgia brewery pioneers. Back in 2002, there were three or four (breweries). Now, there are something like 130.”

Buckowski said he and Cochran had a dream. “We maxed out our credit cards, and we busted our asses. I will always look back on what we did, with the little money we had, and the determination that we had to grow Terrapin Beer Co. into what it is today.”

Terrapin Brewery’s 20th Anniversary Party. 3-8 p.m. April 23. $20 general admission; $40 VIP package. Terrapin Brewery & Taproom, 265 Newton Bridge Road, Athens. terrapinbeer.com.

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