It’s a mid-April afternoon in Greensboro, Georgia, and master brewer Taylor Lamm stands on the patio outside Oconee Brewing Company breathing the fresh spring air.
A minivan pulls up and the passenger window rolls down. “Are y’all open yet?” comes a voice from inside.
“Not yet,” answers Lamm, “We’re opening on May sixth.”
“We’re so excited,” says the voice in the van, “We’ll see you then.” Lamm leans in to give the particulars of the grand opening festivities and then the van pulls away. “That’s been happening a lot lately,” says Lamm, who is also a co-owner of the brewery. “During Masters Week, so many people were walking in while I was brewing I had to lock the door.”
That Lamm didn’t think to lock the door beforehand tells you more about this town than it does him. Greensboro has often been compared to TV’s fictional Mayberry. It once even had a sheriff, local legend L.L. Wyatt, who didn’t carry a gun.
If you go to the visitor center in the Chamber of Commerce building on Main Street, they’ll give you the key to the jail — the old stone jail, or Old Gaol, as it’s called. Built around 1807 when the area was still a frontier land where the Creeks and Chickasaws roamed, the historic, medieval-looking structure of thick granite still has its trap-door gallows and dungeon-like cells with irons chained to the floor. It’s not open for tours unless you make prior arrangements, or you ask for the key for a self-guided tour. It doesn’t get any more Mayberry than that.
The town sits about halfway between Augusta and Atlanta, but a little closer to Augusta, so it sees a lot of traffic during Masters Meek. Lake Oconee and its many championship golf courses are a few miles south of town. Most tourists head to the lake after getting off the I-20 exit at mile marker 130, but Oconee Brewing Company is downtown, away from the lake traffic. Housed in a circa-1917 warehouse that once served as a bottling plant for the old soft drink Chero-Cola (the faded hand-painted sign is still visible on the side of the building), the brewery will likely draw more of those lake-bound travelers into town with its tours and tasting room bar with 12 taps.
Greensboro has managed to escape the fate of so many other Southern towns of similar size. You won’t find the depressing sight of empty storefronts and weeds growing through cracks in the sidewalk here. Boutiques, galleries and antique shops populate Main Street. Genuine Georgia at the corner of Main and Broad streets in the center of town is one of the more popular shops; it only sells products crafted in Georgia. At various times, the 1889 building the shop is housed in has been home to a bank, a hotel and a restaurant. Now, the wooden and red-brick interior is stocked to its high ceiling with arts, crafts and foodstuffs made by Georgia-based artisans.
Ripe Thing Market, a block down Broad Street, also likes to keep it local. The market specializes in regional produce, specialty groceries and makes its own line of items such as dips, spreads and sauces. There’s a full deli on site serving sandwiches with freshly-sliced meats and homemade soups. The dining area consists of a few tables scattered about the roadside market.
Walk west down Broad a couple of more blocks and you’ll come to an old gas station that is now home to Holcomb’s Bar-B-Q. It’s everyone’s favorite barbecue joint because it’s the only barbecue joint in town. The menu contains three items: coleslaw, Brunswick stew and barbecued pork served with sliced white bread or on a bun with dill pickles and best topped with Holcomb’s spicy, vinegar-based sauce.
While strolling around town, you’ll see many historic homes and churches. One of the more opulent homes on Main Street is Goodwin Manor, a five-room bed and breakfast inn. The white-columned Greek revival house features a wide, airy porch filled with comfortable rocking chairs and wicker furniture fronted by an expansive lawn. The innkeepers stay in the house across the driveway, so unlike many B&Bs, you don’t get the uncomfortable feeling that you’re intruding in someone’s living space. It’s only a two-block walk to the heart of downtown from the inn and another two blocks to the brewery.
Farmers Feed and Seed store across the dirt and gravel parking lot from the brewery still does a brisk business. Historically speaking, this is an agricultural town first and foremost. Cotton used to be king, but these days it’s a mix of cattle, poultry, rotating crops and hay fields.
Greensboro is that rare place where you’ll see John Deere tractors sharing the roadways with luxury cars headed to the ritzy lake resorts or coming into town to eat at the Yesterday Cafe. The cafe is the nicest restaurant in town, famous for its buttermilk pie and containing the only bar within the city limits, except for the bar in the brewery’s tasting room.
That tasting room will feature OBC’s permanent lineup of a habanero pale ale, a Kolsch and an IPA, along with rotating seasonal brews. The habanero pale ale goes down easy with the essence of chili pepper but not the heat, so there’s no need for those with an aversion to spiciness to avoid it. The Kolsch and the IPA are worthy entries into the Georgia craft beer market.
The brewery plans to begin canning this summer with a distribution area that includes metro Atlanta. Kegging has already begun and the tasting room will be open Thursdays through Saturdays. There’s a large indoor/outdoor event space that will be available to rent and open for special events, live music concerts or just for hanging out during a visit. Food trucks set up in the parking lot for the grand opening so patrons could have a meal or a snack to complement their tasting experience; OBC plans to keep having food trucks on site for special events or when conditions merit.
Until recently, you couldn’t buy a beer in Greensboro on Sundays. Residents voted last November to start allowing beer and wine sales. It marked a big change in this Bible Belt town where blue laws stood on the books for decades and Sheriff Wyatt put a stop to a once-vibrant moonshine trade in the early 20th century. You still can’t get liquor by the drink on Sundays, not that there’s any place open that sells it (the Yesterday Cafe is closed on Sundays).
Asked if he and co-owners John and Nathan McGarity, a father-son real estate team out of McDonough, met any resistance opening a brewery in the town, Lamm shakes his head. “If there ever was any, I never heard about it. The city has been very supportive all throughout this process.”
Nathan McGarity relishes the chance to talk about the history of the place, connecting the dots between the fields outside of town to the walls of mortar and fieldstone in the renovated building he now owns. “This stone was pulled out of the surrounding cotton fields,” he says. “The plow would hit a stone and they’d throw it to the side. The stones that came out of the fields were rejects, yet they’ve built up something that’s still standing today.”
According to the highway mileage sign on Broad Street at the western edge of town, Greensboro is 79 miles from Atlanta. That’s just far enough away to remain untouched by the city, but close enough for an easy, idyllic small-town weekend getaway, one where you may feel like you’re in another time, even though it’s only an hour-and-10-minute drive from downtown.
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