In December 2016, I opened my annual year-end roundup by declaring that “it was the biggest year for craft beer in Georgia since I first started writing this column some 16 years ago.”
But as anyone who’s been paying attention knows, 2017 easily surpassed 2016 because a new state law finally allowed Georgia breweries to sell beer directly to consumers at tasting rooms.
And that, as they say, has made all the difference, as more breweries opened, many expanded taprooms, and most are now producing a variety of new, limited edition in-house beers.
“Some great small batch beers that would otherwise rarely see the light of day are being released,” says longtime Atlanta brewer John Roberts of Max Lager’s, who is set to open a new Belgian-inspired brewery called the Bold Monk on the Westside in 2018.
“A huge number of new breweries are in planning or actively opening, including a lot of existing breweries reinvesting in their facilities, and in second facilities,” Roberts adds.
The most prominent second brewery and taproom project is the Garage, the new facility for sour and barrel-aged beers Monday Night opened in September along a recently completed section of the Atlanta Beltline in the West End.
Several new brewpubs opened OTP in 2017, including Hopstix in Chamblee, From the Earth in Roswell and Good Word in Duluth. Each is impressive in its own way, combining sophisticated takes on food and drink, with selections of their own beers.
Two brewpubs associated with veteran Atlanta brewer Crawford Moran closed in 2017. Five Seasons Northside, which had been open in Alpharetta for 11 years, was sold to another restaurant group. And Slice & Pint, which had been open in Emory Village for nearly five years, shuttered when its lease was up.
Of course, that begs the question: Will all the new brewery growth around Atlanta result in more closings in 2018?
“Rapid growth in any industry is going to lead to competition,” says Scott Hedeen, the founder of Burnt Hickory in Kennesaw. “I do believe the industry here is wet, not flooded, but the creek is rising.”
Certainly the most anticipated new brewery of this year (or any other year in my memory) is New Realm, the combination brewpub and packaging brewery from a team that includes former Stone Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele.
Unless something changes, the state-of-the-art facility located on the Beltline near Ralph McGill Boulevard won’t open until early 2018. But after taking a tour with Steele recently and tasting many of the beers that will be featured during the debut, I can tell you, it will be worth the wait.
“New Realm will be great to watch,” says Hedeen. “I think they have a great location, hype and money to get their name out there. I know the beer will be good.”
Of course, the trend toward smaller neighborhood breweries continues, and that may be key to the traffic-congested Atlanta scene, too.
“As more breweries and brewpubs open in the greater Atlanta area, people are sticking with their new community options,” says Ron Smith, co-author of “Atlanta Beer” (American Palate, $19.99). “They will frequent their community brewery and get to know the beer and the staff. Only on weekends and/or special occasions will they venture out to other venues.”
In the larger world of craft brewing outside of Georgia, the Brewers Association has doubled down on its war with big beer and buyouts of craft breweries, launching the Independent Craft Brewer seal, and a tongue-in-cheek campaign to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Finally, at the end of the year, craft brewers won a huge victory, as a long fought for recalibration of the federal excise tax on beer was passed as part of the sprawling Republican Tax Cut and Jobs Act.