Beer Town: Lawrenceville’s Ironshield Brewing produces for self, others

Glen Sprouse, a pioneer of Atlanta's craft beer scene, is a co-founder of Ironshield Brewing in Lawrenceville. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Glen Sprouse, a pioneer of Atlanta's craft beer scene, is a co-founder of Ironshield Brewing in Lawrenceville. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

As if opening a production brewery in Lawrenceville in the midst of a global pandemic wasn’t difficult enough, Ironshield Brewing co-founders Dave Rice and Glen Sprouse had already decided on a business model that bucked many current beer trends.

Working with the city of Lawrenceville, the duo purchased a sprawling 56,000-square-foot building on North Chestnut Street that formerly housed the Gwinnett Daily News. And they built it out big — installing a fully automated, 50-barrel Sprinkman/Krones brewhouse, with an array of state-of-the-art bells and whistles, and a high-tech control room that ensures quality and efficiency.

Both Rice and Sprouse are Atlanta food and beverage veterans. Rice worked for Coca-Cola in packing and quality assurance. Sprouse was a pioneer of the craft beer scene, and the co-founder and brewer at Phoenix Brewing (later 5 Seasons Brewing) in Sandy Springs.

Last week, Sprouse took me on a tour of the entire Ironshield brewing and packaging facility, which ended in the taproom, where we tasted through the lineup of European-style ales and lagers on draft.

“It took us almost four years to raise the money, and we looked at 15 different locations,” Sprouse said. “Obviously we needed some space, and a lot of power, and a big gas line, and big drains nearby. This building had all that, and they were surprised when we said we wanted it all.”

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A seasonal Maibock Lager and a Nitro Dry Irish Stout currently are among the beers on tap at Ironshield Brewing in Lawrenceville. Behind the bar is Ironshield co-founder Glen Sprouse. Bob Townsend for AJC
A seasonal Maibock Lager and a Nitro Dry Irish Stout currently are among the beers on tap at Ironshield Brewing in Lawrenceville. Behind the bar is Ironshield co-founder Glen Sprouse. Bob Townsend for AJC

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Essentially, Ironshield is a dual operation, brewing beers under its own brand, and using its capacity and technical capabilities to produce beverages under contract for other companies, including beer, hard seltzer and even nonalcoholic beer.

“If you don’t design a brewery to be a contract brewery, there’s a whole lot you can’t do, or you can’t do well,” Sprouse said. “You’ve got to design it for flexibility. You’ve got to have a brewhouse that can brew virtually any style of beer authentically and accurately, which means you’ve got to design a lot of extra capability.”

With all that, though, Sprouse said he and Rice wanted to be a part of the local Lawrenceville community and the regional beer community.

“We still wanted to be a small brewery and a local brand,” he said. “But we wanted to provide some scalability for the industry, and we wanted to help raise the bar in Georgia. You’ve got people out there now who are really struggling. They’ve survived COVID, and they’ve survived the shakeouts, but they’re trying to grow. We can come in and help them make their products, and make them better.”

Right now, Ironshield beer is distributed on draft and in cans around metro Atlanta, but obviously there’s enough capacity to reach much farther.

“Ultimately, it’s going to serve us in the future when we hit our production limit,” Sprouse said. “If our brand is still growing, we’ll start scaling back contract production and continue to scale up our brand. We want to be a regional brand. I don’t know if we’ll ever be national, unless somebody buys us. But we also wanted to help the industry. We felt like starting at scale was the way to do it, and contract brewing was the way to do it.”

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Co-owner and brewmaster Glen Sprouse is in the control room at Ironshield Brewing in Lawrenceville. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Co-owner and brewmaster Glen Sprouse is in the control room at Ironshield Brewing in Lawrenceville. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

The beer I tasted at Ironshield was excellent, and the taproom and adjoining beer garden offer a great place to enjoy it.

I was impressed with the smooth and creamy Nitro Irish Dry Stout, which was designed by head brewer Jason Carrol, who previously worked for Guinness in Ireland. But don’t miss Sprouse’s crisp and clean Helles lager, lovely Kölsch ale, and seasonal Maibock, which is a malty, more robust late spring treat. One caveat: If you’re looking for hazy IPA, you won’t find it here.

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