Ask a savvy beer enthusiast to name the gift they most wished for but didn’t get this Christmas and they might offer a sly wink and answer, “A brewery.”
Homebrewer Glenn Golden made that wish come true for himself in late 2009 when he opened Jailhouse Brewing Co. in Hampton, joining the ranks of Sweetwater and Red Brick in Atlanta and Terrapin in Athens as the only four production craft breweries operating in Georgia.
The week before Christmas, Golden was crammed into a corner of the brewery, surrounded by a group that had gathered around a narrow entrance way that doubles as a tasting room during weekly Saturday afternoon tours.
“Everything here needs to do double-duty or be on wheels so it can be moved,” Golden said as he walked through the brewery and pointed out a compact Rube Goldberg-like bottling device.
Golden had it fabricated at a local machine shop and fitted with casters in order to accommodate the brewery’s modest budget and cozy confines. But when people see it’s meant to fill a single 22-ounce bottle, they usually react with head-shaking disbelief, he said.
Filling and capping bottles one-at-a-time is among the many improbable elements of the Jailhouse story.
The brewery once housed Hampton’s Mayberry-style jail. Golden bought the building in August, 2008. Construction to bring the space up to code and make it suitable for brewing took more than a year.
In the meantime, he acquired all the equipment secondhand from the former Buckhead Brewing brewpub location in Stockbridge, including the copper brewing kettle and steel fermentation tanks.
Finally, it took eight months to receive a brewing license from the state.
“The day I got the license in the mail, I fired up the boiler and started brewing beer,” Golden said. “That was in October 2009. In November, we sold our first keg to Slices Pizzeria in Griffin, and we’ve been adding accounts ever since.”
Golden, 36, grew up in Hampton and lives in nearby McDonough. Before Jailhouse, he worked at the mail-order business his family operates from a small storefront near the brewery. Golden still keeps an office there and credits his family for inspiring his can-do spirit.
“I come from an entrepreneurial background and I grew up in small business,” Golden said. “But I did a lot of research to know what I was getting into here.”
In addition to attending the American Brewers Guild brewing program in California, Golden worked for five weeks as an apprentice brewer at Yazoo Brewing in Nashville.
Jailhouse is not only the newest brewery in Georgia, it’s easily the smallest. Golden does all the brewing, one employee helps with packaging, while his wife, Melissa, works the business side and conducts brewery tours.
Golden has been too busy to worry about how he fits into the larger brewing community, but if he did stop to think about it, he said, he might get scared.
Brewing production is measured in barrels. Sweetwater ranks among the Top 30 U.S. craft beer companies, with some 65,000 barrels (more than 2 million gallons) in 2009.
Jailhouse produced about 400 barrels in 2009.
Jailhouse’s best-selling beer is the easy-drinking Slammer Wheat. But two others, the hoppy Mugshot IPA and the dark Breakout Stout, have attracted the attention of metro craft beer drinkers.
Taco Mac beverage director Fred Crudder was an early champion of Jailhouse’s draft beer.
“We started with eight locations, to ensure that the supply would be adequate,” Crudder said. “Sales were better than we predicted and we’ve added additional stores, a few at a time. One location that’s very important is the Taco Mac at Philips Arena, because we wanted to make sure visitors had the best variety and representation of local beers possible.”
Athens-based beer writer Owen Ogletree has touted both Golden and his beer.
“Glenn truly runs a one-man show with Jailhouse,” Ogletree said. “He’s made impressive progress in the short time his brewery’s been online. I’m extremely impressed with the Breakout Stout. It’s a rich, black, robust beer with earthy, fruity notes of cocoa and espresso.”
But Laura Hale, a recent college graduate who lives in McDonough and works at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, might represent the future of Jailhouse.
“I used to be a Bud Light drinker,” Hale said. “But I drink Jailhouse wheat now. I like the flavor and I like supporting a small, local business that’s new and creative and is putting a lot back into the community.”
Hale’s words are exactly what Golden wants to hear. In fact, they’re a pretty fair summation of the Jailhouse company motto: “If you believe in the little man, small towns and big flavor, you’re one of us.”
“Everybody always asks me, ‘How in the world did you open a brewery in Hampton?’” Golden said. “All I did was ask the city if it was possible, and I think they recognized that craft beer is a growing business with a lot of fanfare around it.
“There are business plans, but at the heart of craft beer it’s all about an identity. It’s being what you are and who you are. It’s a huge advantage for us to be one of only four craft breweries in Georgia, no matter what size we are.”
Jailhouse Brewing Co., 8 Cherry St., Hampton. 678-734-3202, www.jailhousebrewing.com.