The name of Atlanta’s newest beer company comes from the R.E.M. song “Near Wild Heaven.”
That isn’t exactly surprising, given that Wild Heaven Craft Beers President Nick Purdy also is the founding publisher of Paste music magazine.
Like Paste, Wild Heaven is based in Decatur. But currently, Wild Heaven beers are brewed under contract at Thomas Creek Brewing in Greenville, S.C.
So far, there are two Wild Heaven beers available on draft around metro Atlanta.
Invocation is Belgian-style strong golden ale, 8.5 percent alcohol by volume, with a complex, mildly sweet and spicy presence that invites comparisons to Duvel.
Ode to Mercy is a distinctive, creamy imperial brown ale, 8.2 percent alcohol by volume, that’s brewed with dark roasted malts and coffee from Athens’ 1000 Faces Coffee.
Both recipes were created by consulting brewmaster Eric Johnson, the founder of Trappeze Pub beer bar in Athens.
Purdy said the goal was to come up with beers that would stand out in a craft scene crowded with pale ales and IPAs.
“The last thing in the world Atlanta needs is another pale ale,” Purdy said. “Sweetwater does a nice job with 420, and there are other options beyond that. But we’re only going to release things we think add to the conversation about beer.”
As to the relatively high alcohol content of the Wild Heaven beers, Purdy said, “The alcohol content is never the goal, the flavor and complexity is. Our beers are all-malt, and we’re not using adjunct sugars to boost the gravity. It’s why our 8 percent-plus beers drink a little lighter and finish a little drier.”
Purdy had been dreaming of building a brewery in Decatur for a long while. But financially, the time just wasn’t right. With Johnson’s help, he decided to go ahead and launch Wild Heaven as a startup with contract-brewed beers now in hopes of getting to concrete and steel later.
“At the beginning of a business like this, when you’ve never sold your product, and you have no idea what the market is really going to say about it, it’s not the smartest thing to go spend a million dollars on a brewery,” Purdy said. “We cut our startup expenses by 90 percent. There’s a good business case to be made for that.”
Purdy is aware that contract brewing carries some stigma in the proud DIY craft beer business. But he likes to compare Wild Heaven with Terrapin Beer Co., which endured under the contract system for many years before finally building a brewery in Athens.
“Right now, it’s a bummer of a story for us,” Purdy said. “Because everybody wants to know, ‘Where are you?’ But at least we can point to Terrapin and say it’s kind of like what they did. They told everybody they were an Athens company and beat the drum that they’d be there as soon as they could. We’re going to do that in Decatur.”
Purdy plans to continue rolling out the two Wild Heaven beers on draft for the remainder of 2010, then launch them in bottles by Christmas or early next year. He said it’s very possible there will a third beer soon after, and maybe even a fourth beer in 2011.
“The South has good breweries, and Georgia has good breweries,” Purdy said. “But there should be more. Per capita, Utah has three times as many breweries as Georgia. Without question, we need more breweries and more local beer in Georgia.”