My wife and I headed up to Athens, Georgia a few weeks back for the wedding of our good friends. After doing a little research, I came to find out that Athens is home to three great breweries. I also found out that Georgia has really odd beer laws. Basically, you go to the brewery, buy a tour, and with that tour comes 36 ounces of beer to be consumed on-site. Georgia certainly isn’t doing their craft beer scene any favors, but that isn’t stopping the breweries from producing great beer. This is the first of the three reviews from my Georgia trip.
Georgia Craft Brewery: The Southern Brewing Company
Established: May 14th, 2015
Location: 231 Collins Industrial Blvd, Athens, GA 30601
Known For: I heard through the grapevine that The Southern Brewing Company was doing things with yeast that other Georgia brewers weren’t. Of course, I had to find out more. Southern is developing their own yeast strains and actually has a yeast lab on the property, which is typically unheard of for such a young brewery. One of the strains was developed from a Wild Native Azalea bush directly from Southern’s property. The Wild Azalea also just so happens to be the state wildflower. Unfortunately, the beer produced from the yeast strain and named after the flower wasn’t available on my visit. Another yeast strain developed by Southern was taken from the state flower, which is called the Cherokee Rose. Luckily there was a keg of Cherokee Rose in the cooler which was moved up in the line so I could try what all the talk was about. Cherokee Rose is an easy drinking summer beer with a mild tartness and bananas for days. The only thing that would have made it better was a slab of my wife’s delicious, put-it-up-against-anyone’s, banana bread.
Current Beer Menu: Finally a brewery that understands me and has their Imperial Stout on tap during the summer. Chocolate and hints of coffee were dancing around me like fireflies on a hot Georgia night. It made a great base beer for what was aged in bourbon barrels and came out drinking damn near like a masterpiece. The BBA version wasn’t on tap, but Southern hospitality certainly was alive and well in Athens, Georgia. The Southeastern Berliner uses the aforementioned Wild Azalea yeast and was very good with citrus on the nose. With thirteen different beers to choose from, I certainly wasn’t going to walk away disappointed with all of my options. There was everything from a Kolsch to a Sour Stout on tap. With every beer I tried I kept thinking to myself, “are these guys really only a year old?” There are certainly big things ahead for The Southern Brewing Company.
Price Range: $10.00 gets you access to the facility, a glass, and six 6oz pours of beer. You can’t just walk into a brewery and order a beer. Nope! You have to buy a tour and are only allowed 36oz’s of Southern’s finest nectar. It makes entirely no sense to me. You would think the government would be all about small business booming like they are everywhere else across the country. Everyone that I spoke to was hopeful there would be some change for the better coming in 2017, but until then the great craft beer drinkers of Georgia are stuck with the ass-backward laws.
Wine Menu: Wine is not allowed to be served at the brewery.
Food Menu: Food trucks are permitted, but they aren’t necessarily allowed to be scheduled. If a food truck happens to show up, consider yourself lucky. From what I was told food trucks haven’t been embraced in Georgia like they have in Florida.
Ambiance: You walk into Southern and immediately pay for a tour. After a few feet the 12,000 sqft building opens up with brewing equipment to the left, ‘Barrel Land’ at the far end of the building, and the taps to the far right. Two large warehouse doors are open on either side of the building one of which opens to the great expanse of land that Southern has at their disposal. There is a different feel to this brewery than I am used to. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I want to tie it to being in the Deep South. There’s just something the South has that can’t be found anywhere else.
Bar Seating: There are plastic Adirondack chairs spread throughout the brewery. There was no actual seating at the bar, which seemed to be consistent in each of the breweries I visited. There was a large area behind the brewery where a small stage had been set up with a number of tarp coverings and more Adirondack chairs.
Staff: Ian, the tour guide, was kind enough to give me a private tour since my time was limited. After showing me around, he introduced me to one of the brewers, Mark Mooney. Before getting hired on at Southern, Mark attended the Siebel Institute of Technology Brewing School in Chicago, followed by a four-month internship with Jailhouse Brewing in Hampton, Georgia. After a short time of shooting the shit and tasting a few beers, I had to make my way back to the hotel and quickly get ready for the night’s festivities, which included the wedding rehearsal dinner. Mark agreed to meet me the next day to show me around what he affectionately referred to as ‘Barrel Land’. The following day I met up with Mark at the brewery. We had a great hour-long conversation. He listed what was in the barrels and asked what I was interested in trying. I decided on a Flanders Red that was aging in red wine barrels with a pound and a half of local strawberries per gallon. The aroma of strawberries was certainly there. It wasn’t as sour as I expected it to be, but it definitely was tasty with the strawberries and a hint of red wine coming through. Southern doesn’t want their sours to peel away your palate like some in the industry have a tendency to do. My next target was the Wild Ale that was aging in the sixty barrel oak Foeder. Southern is the first in Georgia to incorporate a Foeder into their brewing repertoire. The Wild was another delicious beer, some of which will go into barrels with the rest going into kegs. Before calling it a day Mark pulled a bit of their Double IPA out of a tank for me to try. Another style and another beer that was pretty damn impressive. Unfortunately, due to a combination of the breweries hours and the wedding timeline my short window of time had come to an end. I had to order an Uber and head back to the hotel to change for the wedding. Everyone I came into contact with at Southern made me feel as if I was a regular and not just another tourist. You’ve heard the term ‘Southern hospitality’ thrown around, but you really don’t know what it means until you’ve experienced it.
Merch: Southern has a large assortment of shirts ranging in price from $20.00 to $30.00, hats for $12.00, and glassware from $2.00 to $6.00. All of these plus patches, stickers, bottle openers, etc. can be found in their online store or when you visit the brewery.
Membership offered: Sign ups begin on June 12th for Southern’s inaugural Barrel Society bottle club. For $250.00 you get a club shirt, glass, two members-only events, and ten to twelve barrel aged beers from across the spectrum of styles. From the beers I had the opportunity to try I would have to imagine the offerings would consist of saisons, imperial stouts, Berliners, and/or sours. There will only be space for 100 members. I would certainly be signing up if I was a local.
Best days or time of year to go: Saturday is the busiest of the three days they are open. Saturdays are the time to be there from the looks of the turnout. There was a party atmosphere with a band playing out back, but it also had a very family-friendly feel with kids running about. If you’re looking for a quieter atmosphere both Thursday and Friday would be your best bet.
Regular Hours: Thursday: 5:00pm – 9:00pm, Friday: 4:30pm – 9:00pm, & Saturday: 2:30pm – 7:30pm
Happy Hour: With the way the laws are set up there is no happy hour.
-In their first year, Southern produced 24 beers on their production system.
-The walk-in cooler was owned by a mortuary, SweetWater Brewing, and then the Terrapin Beer Co. before being purchased by Southern Brewing.
-Everything that comes into the brewery is reused, including the pallets which were used to create the new serving bar.
-Southern is the only brewery in Georgia to completely build their own building.
-There are plans in the works for a building that would house their sour program and for a 1,500 seat amphitheater. With 14 acres of property, the possibilities are endless for Southern. They seem to be aiming to become a must visit destination in the future for not only craft beer drinkers, but also music loving folk.
-All spent grain goes to a local pig farmer who in turn provides a pig, fed by that grain, for a pig roast at Southern.
-They are hoping to begin canning in August or September of this year.
-Southern had four amphorae made, using Georgia clay, to age their beer. Amphora are ceramic barrels that date back 9,000 years to the Neolithic age. They offer an earthy mineral character to the beer and were first used by the Brasserie Cantillon in Belgium.
Overall Rating (1-5): I am grading Southern a well-deserved 4.75. If I was a local this is one of those breweries I would visit weekly. Consider yourself lucky Athens. The Southern Brewing Company will be doing big things in the future!
What was missing: Nothing at all. Not only was there a porter on tap, but also an imperial stout! Color me happy! If not for all the wedding stuff (Congratulations again Catlin & Cameron!) I would have spent much more time enjoying not only the beer but the company of the staff as well.
Thankfully the wedding brought us to Athens. Otherwise, I doubt I would have ever discovered The Southern Brewing Company. Split between two days I was on-site for probably three hours. I don’t know when I’ll be in Athens again, but I will most definitely be visiting Southern one way or another in the future. If you’re heading to Atlanta do yourself a favor and head east to Athens and enjoy what Southern has to offer.
Did I leave anything out or is there something else you would like to know about The Southern Brewing Company? Please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below.