Beer Town: Award-winning Iron Hill Brewery finds a home in Buckhead

Director of Brewing Operations Mark Edelson (right) and head brewer Alex Vanderlek are at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Buckhead. Bob Townsend for The AJC

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Director of Brewing Operations Mark Edelson (right) and head brewer Alex Vanderlek are at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Buckhead. Bob Townsend for The AJC

Long before I ever set foot in an Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, I’d enjoyed many of the company’s beers at the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Known for a string of gold and silver medal wins at the competition, going as far back as 1997, sometimes Iron Hill’s lines were long to taste the likes of its coveted Russian Imperial Stout.

But last month, I was able to sip that rich, dark favorite again at the new Iron Hill location in Buckhead, and sample a huge flight of new and signature beers on draft.

Better yet, I sat down on the patio with the co-founder and Director of Brewing Operations, Mark Edelson, and Buckhead head brewer, Alex Vanderlek.

They guided me through the offerings, and told me a bit about the history and current growth of Iron Hill, which includes a second Atlanta location, slated to open in the spring on Hammond Drive in Perimeter Center.

Right now, Iron Hill has 19 locations, mostly in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The first foray into the South was Greenville, South Carolina.

“Our motto was ’20 by 20,’ and COVID got in the way of that,” Edelson said. “But we just opened our production brewery in Exton, Pennsylvania, a few weeks ago. It’s a 30-barrel brewhouse, with 120-barrel fermentors. With this large-scale brewery, we’ve launched into retail in Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania, and that’s going really, really well.”

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The bar and taproom at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Buckhead. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

The bar and taproom at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Buckhead. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Combined ShapeCaption
The bar and taproom at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Buckhead. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

At the 10-barrel brewhouse in Buckhead, Vanderlek is in charge of a much smaller, but every bit as important production schedule. And with the help of a mobile canner, some of the beers he brews are available to take home from the taproom.

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“My typical week is move a beer one day, brew a beer another day,” Vanderlek said. “But a lot of it is engaging with the staff and engaging with our customers. Something that Iron Hill is really proud of is that our staff is extremely knowledgeable about the beer we have on tap.”

“We like to say we’re creating excitement about beer,” Edelson added. “That’s how you get long-term guests, and staff, too.”

Iron Hill currently has six signature beers that are always on tap at all locations: Light Lager; Vienna Red Lager; Pig Iron Porter; Philly Phavorite IPA; Homestead Farmhouse Ale; Brambleberry Farmhouse Ale with raspberry.

They’re all excellent examples of each style, but so far, my two favorites are the clean, crisp, GABF gold medal-winning Vienna-style lager, and the classic dark, GABF gold medal-winning Porter. The kolsch-style Light Lager is very refreshing and food-friendly. And not surprisingly, the hazy, hoppy Philly Phavorite has become the top-seller everywhere.

“When we do something new, we always have a plan for it,” Vanderlek said. “One of the new beers we have coming out now is a double release. We’re going to call one Buckhead IPA, and we’re going to call the other one Peachtree IPA. They will be the same heavily hopped hazy IPA, but I’m going to split the batch and add peach puree to the Peachtree.”

Asked about the decision to move into the Peach State, Edelson said it was part of a Southern expansion strategy suggested by the company’s real estate agent, beginning with Greenville two years ago.

“We decided to keep coming south to Atlanta because it’s a hot market,” he said. “We looked really hard at real estate, and this is where we landed, and we’re really excited about it. Even with COVID, it’s been a great ride, so far.

“I was at the 1998 Craft Brewers Conference in Atlanta, and I clearly remember it because the difference between 1998 and today is huge. The local beer scene just wasn’t here. But now, especially in the last few years, it’s just wonderful.”

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