Beer Town: The year in Atlanta beer 2020 was eventful but not easy

Though 2020 was a tough year, there were openings, including Dr. Scofflaw’s Laboratory and Beer Garden. Here, Scofflaw Brewing co-founder and chief brewing officer Travis Herman is at the new seven-barrel research and development brewery and taproom at the Works in Atlanta. (Bob Townsend for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Though 2020 was a tough year, there were openings, including Dr. Scofflaw’s Laboratory and Beer Garden. Here, Scofflaw Brewing co-founder and chief brewing officer Travis Herman is at the new seven-barrel research and development brewery and taproom at the Works in Atlanta. (Bob Townsend for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

For the first time in a long time, I won’t declare the past year the biggest for craft beer since I first started writing this column.

Like everything in 2020, COVID-19 took a toll on breweries — especially smaller and own-premise breweries that rely on the taproom and takeout sales. But most persevered, and some even expanded, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Two of my favorite new breweries are fairly diminutive operations that opened in the midst of the pandemic.

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Beer from Outrun Brewing Co.
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Beer from Outrun Brewing Co.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Outrun Brewing in Stone Mountain, from former Three Tavern brewers Josh Miller and Ryan Silva, is housed in a former gas station/garage on East Mountain Street that evokes the look and feel of 1950s Los Angeles. And Miller and Silva are offering an appealing range of lagers and mostly lower-alcohol beers.

Elsewhere Brewing's setup at the Beacon complex in Grant Park includes a patio. Courtesy of Elsewhere Brewing Co.
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Elsewhere Brewing's setup at the Beacon complex in Grant Park includes a patio. Courtesy of Elsewhere Brewing Co.

Credit: Dessa Lohrey

Credit: Dessa Lohrey

Elsewhere Brewing is a brewery restaurant in Grant Park from husband-and-wife co-founders Sam and Sara Kazmer. The buildout features a 10-barrel brewhouse, where award-winning brewmaster Josh Watterson is creating an impressive lineup of beers, including some excellent European-style lagers.

Two of Georgia’s most successful breweries opened second locations in 2020, but not without pandemic-related delays and accommodations.

Brian Purcell stands behind the Apothecary bar inside the Three Taverns Imaginarium at the Atlanta Dairies development on Memorial Drive. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Brian Purcell stands behind the Apothecary bar inside the Three Taverns Imaginarium at the Atlanta Dairies development on Memorial Drive. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Slated to open in summer 2019 in the Atlanta Dairies development on Memorial Drive, the Three Taverns Imaginarium finally opened in October 2020. The innovative 10-barrel pilot brewery, which includes upstairs and downstairs taprooms and patios, and a to-go window, features plenty of inviting outdoor spaces.

Scofflaw Brewing opened Dr. Scofflaw’s Laboratory and Beer Garden, a new seven-barrel research and development brewery and taproom at the Works, an adaptive mixed-use development off Chattahoochee Avenue. The 9,000-square-foot-plus space includes a covered patio, a takeout window, and an outdoor area for live music.

David Stein is the founder of Creature Comforts Brewing Co. (Courtesy of Creature Comforts Brewing Co.)
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David Stein is the founder of Creature Comforts Brewing Co. (Courtesy of Creature Comforts Brewing Co.)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In a stunner, Athens’ Creature Comforts Brewing announced that it was opening a brewery and taproom in downtown Los Angeles. Founder and co-owner David Stein will take on the task of moving to L.A. to oversee the new project, which is projected to open sometime next year — with the help of “Avengers” producer and director Joe Russo, no less.

But as big a surprise as the Creature Comforts reveal was, SweetWater topped it on Nov. 4, when Aphria Inc., a global cannabis company headquartered in Canada, announced a blockbuster agreement to acquire the pioneering Atlanta brewing company.

As I wrote at the time, “if the $300 million cash and stock deal was a surprise, the affinity between the two companies seemed perfectly natural.”

And in an interview at SweetWater, founder Freddy Bensch, who will continue as chief executive officer, agreed.

“It goes back to what we did 24 years ago, naming a beer 420,” Bensch said, referencing slang for marijuana. “I consider myself a visionary in a lot of regards, but to see this actually become a reality is brilliant.”

SweetWater founder and CEO Freddy Bensch (from left) and VP of Marketing Brian Miesieski are shown with Aphria CEO Irwin D. Simon in the SweetWater taproom. (Courtesy of SweetWater Brewing Co.)
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SweetWater founder and CEO Freddy Bensch (from left) and VP of Marketing Brian Miesieski are shown with Aphria CEO Irwin D. Simon in the SweetWater taproom. (Courtesy of SweetWater Brewing Co.)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Looking back on 2020, it’s not easy to predict what 2021 might bring. But with vaccines starting to roll out, and a new COVID package, we can only hope that winter is mild, and spring and summer bring much-needed relief to bars, restaurants, brewery taprooms, and beer lovers everywhere.

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