- Blake Guthrie For the AJC
Covering all of the Georgia breweries and brewpubs outside of Atlanta would be impossible in one article given how the craft beer scene has exploded over the past few years, but here’s a select offering. On the wine front, North Georgia is home to vineyards producing fine vino on par with Europe and California. As with the breweries, there are many more wineries to discover in the state than the ones covered here.
Note: Current Georgia law doesn’t allow breweries to sell beer directly to the public, only provide samples. For all tours and tastings listed here, you pay for the souvenir glass and get a brewery tour ($12-$17 depending on the type of tour) and 36 ounces of sample beer. The law will change on Sept. 1, allowing direct sales of beer to consumers.
River Watch Brewery (1150 Fifth St., Building 61, Augusta. 706-421-7177, www.riverwatchbrewery.com) is housed in a restored warehouse on the enormous grounds of the Augusta State Farmers Market. It’s the first brewery to open in the Garden City since Prohibition. It’s also notable for having the only mother-daughter brew team in the nation, an all female- and veteran-owned operation. Tastings and tours are on Fridays and Saturdays.
Not far away, Savannah River Brewing (813 Fifth St., Augusta. 706-426-8212, www.savannahriverbrew.com) is the latest addition to Augusta’s craft brew scene, opening last year. There must be something about the city that attracts immediate family members to go into the brewery business together because SRB is owned and operated by two brothers. Tours and tastings occur Thursdays-Sundays. Along with a sizable taproom, there’s an outdoor patio and beer garden.
Beyond the breweries, there’s a lively bar scene downtown. Don’t miss Hive Growler Bar (215 10th St., Augusta. 706-836-3661, hiveaugusta.com) with more than 70 beers on tap.
The best craft beer destination in Georgia besides Atlanta is also the closest to the city. Athens contains three breweries — Terrapin Beer Co. (265 Newton Bridge Road, Athens. 706-549-3377, terrapinbeer.com), the Southern Brewing Co. (231 Collins Industrial Blvd., Athens. 706-548-7183, www.sobrewco.com), and Creature Comforts Brewery (271 W. Hancock Ave., Athens; 706-410-1043, www.creaturecomfortsbeer.com) — as well as one brewpub, Copper Creek Brewing Co. (140 E. Washington St., Athens. 706-546-1102, www.coppercreekathens.com).
All are within a few miles of one another, have taprooms and offer tours. Hours and days vary, but they’re all open on the weekends and welcome kids and dogs. Southern Brewing has a large grassy outdoor area for relaxing, with food trucks on site and live entertainment. Beer geeks will love the small batch, barrel-aged brews here. Creature Comforts hosts the Athens Farmers Market from 4-7 p.m. each Wednesday during the market season. The outdoor area here is more like a patio space, but inside is larger and inviting with its high arched wooden ceiling, communal tables that bring strangers together in conversation, and two long bars to ensure there’s never a long wait for a pour even when the place is packed (which is often the case). Terrapin, the oldest and largest facility of the three, has a large outdoor area with a stage for occasional music concerts that draw big crowds.
Plenty of chain hotels exist in town, but a better bet is the Graduate (295 E. Dougherty St., Athens. 706-549-7020, www.graduatehotels.com/athens/), a hip boutique property at the edge of downtown next to the Foundry (295 E. Dougherty St., Athens. 706-549-7051, http://thefoundryathens.com/), a popular music venue. From the hotel, it’s a short walk to Creature Comforts, Copper Creek and everything else downtown has to offer, which these days is a lot more than student hangouts.
A 40-minute drive south of Athens will land you in tiny Greensboro. The town was never on anybody’s beer radar until last May when Oconee Brewing Co. (202 N. West St., Greensboro. 706-920-1177, oconeebrewingco.com) opened in a historic warehouse building. Since then, Georgia’s newest microbrewery has been drawing people from around the region, especially Athens folks and those vacationing on nearby Lake Oconee. They come to taste the four inaugural brews (including an adventurous habanero pale ale), listen to live music in a large event space and get an authentic taste of small-town America where patrons share the gravel parking lot with farmers getting supplies at the feed and seed store next door. There are a couple of B&Bs in town, or you could spring for a room at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds (1 Lake Oconee Trail, Greensboro. 706-467-0600, www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/georgia/reynolds) on the lake 15 minutes south of the brewery.
Dahlonega Wine Trail
Expect award-winning vino that tastes like it could’ve come from California or Italy on the scenic Dahlonega Wine Trail. You won’t find muscadine wine at these six wineries, all offering a wide selection of wines (tasting flights start at $12-$16).
Cavender Creek Vineyards and Winery (3610 Cavender Creek Road, Dahlonega. 706-867-7700, cavendercreekvineyards.com) is the newest and smallest winery on the trail with a 15-acre property containing 4 acres of vines.
Frogtown (700 Ridge Point Drive, Dahlonega; 706-865-0687, frogtown.us) has received more awards in U.S. competitions than any other Georgia winery. The tasting room is housed in a beautiful, high-ceiling timber-frame building overlooking 22,000 grape vines on 42 acres.
Montaluce Winery & Estates (501 Hightower Church Road, Dahlonega. 706-867-4060, www.montaluce.com) will have you feeling like you’re in Tuscany with its architecture and a hilltop setting with sweeping views of the vineyards. It also has a full-service restaurant, a rarity along the trail.
Three Sisters Vineyards & Winery (439 Vineyard Way, Dahlonega. 706-865-9463, www.threesistersvineyards.com) is more laid-back. At any time, there may be live music on the patio called the Crush Pad, a reference to the crushing of the grapes that takes place nearby, and there’s always a collection of Southern folk art on display.
Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery (180 Wolf Mountain Trail, Dahlonega. 706-867-9862, www.wolfmountainvineyards.com) has won over 150 medals in U.S. competitions, including Georgia’s first-ever gold medals at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.
Kaya Vineyard and Winery (5400 Town Creek Road, Dahlonega. 706-219-3514, www.kayavineyards.com) marks the rebirth of Blackstock Vineyard and Winery, one of the first and largest vineyards in the Dahlonega area. If you’re looking for spectacular long-range mountain views to go with your wine tasting, this is the place.
You can also take the Dahlonega Wine Walk. Stop in at the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Visitors Center on the town square to purchase your glass, get walk info and experience the best of Georgia Wine Country on foot at downtown’s many tasting rooms.