Photo Credit: Porter McLeod
Walk down Hancock Avenue, and you're likely to see gawkers peering into a window of the old Snow Tire building. What's going on in there? Beer, that's what.
Beer-lovers got a sneak preview at the Classic City Brew Fest Sunday, Apr. 13, and music and art fans got their first look at the industrial-chic space during Slingshot last month. (It features concrete floors, exposed metal rafters and two bars made of reclaimed wood stripped from the auto shop's dropped ceiling.) Two years and $2 million in the making, the craft brewery Creature Comforts is opening to the public Saturday, Apr. 26.
They'll be producing about 4,000 barrels to start, which will be available on draft at local bars and restaurants, during brewery tours at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and eventually in cans sold at retail stores as well, probably around August. Co-founders Adam Beauchamp and David Stein also envision the space as a community center that will host concerts, DJs and nonprofit fundraisers like the Good Food Good Beer Block Party, a benefit Saturday from 1–4 p.m. for the Athens Farmers Market's food-stamps-doubling program.
Stein, Beauchamp and brewer/resident beer nerd Blake Tyers recently sat down with Flagpole to talk about how they got together, what they're brewing and the restrictive state laws that are threatening to strangle Georgia's craft-beer scene in its cradle. (Stein and Beauchamp also recently hired a CEO, Chris Herron, from the beverage giant Diageo.)
The beer wasn't quiiiiiite ready during the visit, but our beer critic, Jacob Yarbrough, gave it a tentative thumbs-up. Look for a review in the weeks to come.
Flagpole: You started out as home-brewers, right?
Adam Beauchamp: I worked at Sweetwater for seven years and also home-brewed while I worked there. These guys were home-brewers for a long time. I have a little science background as well. I have a biology degree from UGA, went to Emory for a little while for a PhD program I dropped out of to start brewing beer.
David Stein: I probably brewed my first batch at home around 2005. It's really a hobby turned passion. I never brewed the same thing twice; it was always something new and different. Then I got a job at Twain's Billiards & Tap in Decatur and spent a year there, and pretty much brewed eight beers over and over again, just trying to perfect those eight beers...
We all went to UGA at the same time. Then when I was working at the Brick Store [Pub] in Decatur, Adam would come in, and we would talk beer. We both had dreams of starting a brewery. While I was working at Twain's, I met Blake. He would come brew with us at Twain's.
Photo Credit: Porter McLeod
Blake Tyers: I'm a photographer, and I was working in construction at the time. I started out at Turner shooting photos of movies and TV shows. I started reading a lot of books, taking online courses relating to brewing and listening to a lot of podcasts. So much information is just now coming out.
FP: Do you worry that, with Terrapin and Copper Creek and soon Southern Brewing Co., that the market for craft beer will get over-saturated?
BT: Not at all. I think we're about 46th or 47th in breweries per capita in this state, and we're in the top 10 in consumption. The law up until this point has made it very difficult to start a brewery. A lot of places you can start a brewery in a garage, build yourself up. [Here] you need massive capital, simply because we can't sell beer [directly to the public].
AB: The reality is, you can't do it without access to capital. This stuff is not cheap. There's attention on craft beer right now, so there's money out there, but in Georgia craft beer has been stifled, definitely, by the regulatory environment.
BT: Asheville [NC] is the same size town, and they have something like 30 breweries. Here we have two or three. In that sense, we're such an underdeveloped market.
AB: People are demanding better things, kind of reacting against this idea of yellow fizzy water. I think it's going to continue to grow overall.
BT: Pre-prohibition, there were several thousand breweries in this country with a much lower population. So it's kind of getting back to where we were after this 100-year hiccup.
FP: So the tours are basically going to work like Terrapin?
AB: Yeah. The glass that you purchase will be $12, and we'll be pouring samples after the tour. You get to tour the facility, you get to sample the beers. We do it that way, because that's the way the state of Georgia regulates it.
BT: Think of Founders, from Michigan. They have a brewpub. That's how they started. Sierra Nevada has a brewpub. Lagunitas has a brewpub. Stone has like a million brewpubs and a hotel now, and a farm. It'd be natural for us to let people in here and purchase our product.
FP: Other than opening the same weekend, what's the Twilight connection?
DS: We're the official beer of Twilight. Terrapin was the main title sponsor. Now it's the Athens Orthopedic Clinic. Terrapin, I don't want to speak for them, but I know they didn't renew their sponsorship. Savannah Distributing was approached about it. They're our distributor. We're going to be at the beer gardens, at as many bars and restaurants we can get our beer in.
AB: The timing lined up perfectly with us having our beer ready that weekend. It's a signature Athens event that we all loved for a long time.
BT: On a personal level, it's my favorite event of the year, bar none.
FP: Were you worried about cutting it too close?
DS: We were cutting it pretty darn close [laughter]. We had a drop-dead date, we had to get licensed on a Monday, and we got licensed the Friday before. It worked out, but trust me, we were getting a little concerned.
Photo Credit: Porter McLeod
FP: Tell us about the beers that'll be available.
AB: We're going to start with four brands. Athena is a berliner weisse, which is an ancient style. It's a gently tart, refreshing wheat beer. People who like ciders go crazy over it. Ours also has sort of a sauvignon blanc character to it. In Germany, there's also a tradition with berliner weisse where you stir fruit syrups into it. It's a cool idea, so we're going to play around with it and invite chefs to make syrups.
BT: Choose Your Own Adventure beer.
AB: Reclaimed Rye: We love rye malt, basically. We started there and said, "Let's go towards an amber." We had this turning point one day where we said, "Why don't we put a little bit of oak in it?" We tasted, I think, 12 different kinds of oak in the same beer and picked out this lightly toasted French oak. It gives it just a little complexity.
BT: It softens the beer. It kind of rounds it out. It adds this citrus/honey sweetness that's very subtle.
AB: Tropicalia. Gotta have an IPA. It's really what we like to drink. Ton of IPAs out there. We want to stand out a little bit. We don't want it to be overly bitter. That's not to say it doesn't have a lot of hop flavor, but it's not going to be a resinous, mouth-coating beer that you tire of quickly. This is more tropical fruit, mango, some funky hops in there.
BT: The other one is Bebo, our pilsner. It's something that kind of gets overlooked. It takes a little longer to produce, because it's a lager, but it was important to us to do a pilsner that's a little more traditional but put a little twist on it.
DS: The lighter the beer, the harder it is to make.
BT: We're trying to produce a lot of different beers, a lot of different styles, that are on tap here only. That's how we'll decide what gets released and brewed on a large scale. We want people to look forward to, "Hey, I haven't been to Creature Comforts this week. Wonder what they have on draft?"