“Somebody cue the Ray Charles music because we’ve got Georgia on our minds,” Tomme Arthur, the director of brewery operations for the Lost Abbey and Port Brewing, recently posted on his blog.
“More specifically, we’ve got our beer in Georgia on our minds,” Arthur went on. “That’s right, boys and girls, as of January 1, 2011 the Peach State will officially become the 8th state in which our beers are distributed!”
Outside the craft beer community, Lost Abbey and Port aren’t exactly well-known names. But among beer aficionados, Arthur’s beers, which are produced in a small brewery in suburban San Diego, are revered, sought out and sometimes collected like boutique wines.
Beyond California, Lost Abbey and Port can only be found in Arizona, Colorado, Washington state, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Last week, Arthur planned to be in Georgia for a series of events to celebrate the arrival of his beers here, but the snowstorm kept him in San Diego. When I telephoned him at the brewery, Arthur said he would be in Atlanta from Jan. 18 to 20, with appearances at the Brick Store, Ormsby’s, the Porter, Midway Pub and Taco Mac in Kennesaw. Here’s more of what we talked about:
Q. Given that Georgia is one of only eight places where Port and Lost Abbey beers are distributed, it seems we’re in rare company. What prompted you to come here?
A. The South has been growing as a beer culture, and we know there’s a demand for our beer. But we specifically wanted to come to the Georgia market because of Savannah Distributing. We seek great beer cities and great beer regions and great distribution partners.
Q. Since opening Port in 2006, you’ve quickly become a cult brewery. Is that a challenge?
A. We’re a very small brewery with a large reputation. When the reputation precedes the brewery it builds excitement and anticipation. We grew about 50 percent last year, and we still only made about 6,000 barrels of beer. People are always surprised how small we are.
Q. Could you give an introduction to Port and Lost Abbey beers?
A. We call the Port beers classic West Coast microbrewery beers, with bold hop character and big alcohol presence. All of our beers are unfiltered and bottle-conditioned. On the Abbey side, we like to call them Belgian-inspired beers, as opposed to Belgian-style. We’ve taken some great things from the Belgian brewing tradition, but we’ve also put our own American spin on it.
Q. What do you think ties everything together?
A. The commitment to flavor and big, bold expressive character, but done with pretty good balance. It’s easy to make malt bombs, and it’s easy to make hop bombs. There’s a degree of difficulty that comes in trying to marry the two together. We have a very successful oak barrel program. We have a range of beers that are bourbon- or spirit-barrel-aged that are really highly regarded, such as Angel’s Share and Older Viscosity. And our sour beers are really sought after.
Q. Is aged beer better?
A.There are two sides to the equation. On the Port side, the hoppy beers, our IPA and double IPA, which are our best-selling beers, are built for really fresh consumption. But the Abbey beers are meant to be aged. The flavors are going to mature over time, whether it’s time in a barrel or time in someone’s cellar.
Q. Some of your limited-edition and vintage beers have become quite collectible, to the point of commanding steep prices among beer traders. What’s your take on that?
A.The first tier for us is our front-line beers, which are our best-selling year-round beers. Then there’s our seasonal beers, which have a lower production. And behind that is the uber crazy rare stuff. When we got started, there was a movement within the craft beer community to put a premium segment in place. Beyond that, there’s a super premium level. On the wine and spirit side, there’s standard, premium and super premium. That’s going on with beer, but a $200 bottle of beer is still a very small segment.
Q. So what beers can we expect to see in Atlanta?
A.We’re bringing the full lineup. We produce over 25 different beers. The only things you won’t see on a measurable level are some of the sour beers. But we’re committed to bring everything else to the market. We have four year-round Port Brewing beers, six year-round Lost Abbey beers and all the seasonals. I know the brandy barrel Angel’s Share we just did is coming.
Q. Do you think you’re sufficiently prepared for the pent-up demand in Atlanta?
A. We’re scared, that’s for sure. The distributor ordered two trucks’ worth of beer, which is a lot of beer for us. But we’ve done a lot of work over the last six months to get our inventory levels up, and we’re excited — because we’d like to sell a lot of beer in the South.
— By Bob Townsend, Drink blog/ AJC Beer Town columnist