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Beer Town: Port and Lost Abbey brewer sets sights on Georgia

“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.
tomme-arthur
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.
barrel-room
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

22 comments Add your comment

Mark

January 17th, 2011
9:51 am

Nice article. I’m excited to see these guys coming!

Jonathan

January 17th, 2011
10:12 am

Great read. Having small, high-end brewers enter the state is a harbinger of more better beer to come. If only GA’s lawmakers would revamp the state’s laws so that GA-owned breweries were encouraged, instead of tripped up at every step.

RolkaNation

January 17th, 2011
11:10 am

Being mainly a west coast beer it appears, I’m a little unfamiliar with their lineup outside of the name.

For those familiar with these beers, which would you recommend one seeks out first….especially on the Lost Abbey Side?

Novice

January 17th, 2011
11:11 am

I’ve not yet tried any of these beers, but I’m excited to give it a shot. I’m always glad to see additional diversity in beers.

hdhd

January 17th, 2011
11:23 am

Great to see more breweries coming to GA. Great to see GA on the top of the list on the east coast for breweries to add distribution. Every Lost Abbey beer I have had has been excellent. I would recommend getting one of anyone you can get your hands on. I am, however, sad to hear that the sours won’t be making the journey (maybe a keg here and there?), the Cuvee de Tomme is an excellent beer.

thirsty

January 17th, 2011
2:46 pm

I don’t think the breweries are coming here, which is disappointing, since that was my first thought from the headline. Jobs for Georgia, not just more beer.

Get It Right

January 17th, 2011
2:49 pm

Good to see more options coming to town. How about a little write-up about a local brewery in Hampton, Jailhouse Brewery.

Matty D

January 17th, 2011
3:24 pm

Relentless

January 17th, 2011
4:39 pm

You should consider establishing your brewery in Forsyth County in a beautiful setting on Lake Lanier. We have a great labor force and low taxes. See you Soon.

Henry County Redneck

January 17th, 2011
4:40 pm

Tea Party Meber

January 17th, 2011
4:58 pm

Nuttin beats an ice cold Bud Lite!

Sid

January 17th, 2011
5:41 pm

looking forward to trying these! I think Georgia can hold its own in the beer world – Red Brick’s offerings are all great (I still hold out hope they’ll bring back the wheat they made in late 90s) & I’d put Terrapin’s lineup up against anyone (PLEASE make the Moo Hoo permanent!)! of course, we did suffer that loss when Glen Sprouse left 5 Seasons a few years back but you never know…

Doc

January 17th, 2011
6:00 pm

Eeeek! You mean these beers are Bret infected? That’s a serious flaw in wine. Even when its desired in ultra funky barnyardy Rhones, its an acquired taste. I can’t imagine what it makes ales taste like.

DaveDawg

January 17th, 2011
6:16 pm

It’s clear this guy hasn’t been here – interchanging Atlanta with “the South” – but best of luck to him anyway. I’m sticking with the local brews, Terrapin and SweetWater, but I’m sure he’ll do quite well here.

jd

January 17th, 2011
7:02 pm

Hmmm… so is this where the new commissioner for economic development is gonna spend all that research money he just took from the cancer centers and the research alliance (almost $21 million!)… guess beer brewing is biotech

FalstaffAnyone?

January 17th, 2011
7:05 pm

Come on you guys. Beer is just beer. Remember Falstaff? If not ask your dad. Pure horse xxxx but still alcohol. Same with this stuff. Don’t get too excited. You’ll get a buzz regardless. Just don’t be fooled into overpaying.

Mark (another one)

January 17th, 2011
7:07 pm

From their website, ‘In Illa Brettanomyces, Nos Fides’ roughly translates to “In the Wild Yeast We Believe” (okay, for you purists it technically means “in this place we have faith in British fungus”, but that’s nowhere near as cool sounding).

I am not a fan of the flavor termed Bret in wine as it means spoiled or turned, but with Belgian beer making, it is common , and it is fine as long as it is balanced properly.

Vick=Dog killing Thug

January 17th, 2011
8:15 pm

I’d like a glass or two right now! I imagine it’s expensive?

Andre

January 17th, 2011
8:18 pm

Could that picture not get any larger?

*That* Donna

January 19th, 2011
11:34 am

Sprouse may have left 5 Seasons, but they got Kevin McNerney (formely from Sweetwater). If you believe beer is just beer, that’s fine….it leaves more for the rest of us! (But saying beer is just beer is like saying a computer is just a computer…so enjoy your Schlitz while typing away on your Commodore 64.)

Deadelvis

January 21st, 2011
4:10 pm

Was there at TMAC last night. Beer was GREAT! Nice people too. Try the Mongo and get a Tomme while you can (they were going fast). They are selling it below retail.

Horsetoothedjackass

January 23rd, 2011
1:50 pm

Things are looking up locally in terms of local craft brewers. Wild Heaven has bought a building in Avondale Estates in which to build their brewery (They’ve been contract brewing their brews via Thomas Creek.) and plan on it opening some time in the first half of 2012.

http://wildheavencraftbeers.com/a-building-for-a-brewery/

New breweries distributing here is a good thing locally, as they sometimes inspire the local craft brewers to come up with something outside of the box. They also help tax revenues, as higher gravity beers are taxed at a higher rate (this was part of the legislation that ended the 6% max and raised it 14%).

For a metro area our size, we have a dearth of local craft brewers and a lot of can be pinned on the State of Georgia’s alcohol laws, in particular, the three tier distribution system (brewery/distillery/winery to distributor to retailer). While a number of other states also operate in this manner, they make easier to switch distributors than they do in Georgia. It’s very hard for a company to break their distribution agreement, and about the only way to do so it to go out of business. Case in point, Dogwood Brewing. They picked a distributor that lacked experience in the beer market and support from the distributor was very minimal and Dogwood couldn’t get the similar amount of shelf space as fellow locals Sweetwater and Atlanta Brewing. They even had issues getting their distributor to return empty kegs to them. It’s hard to resupply bars with new kegs of product if you don’t have any kegs because the distributor has yet to return them.

The three-tier system is also why we will never have the luxury of going to a brewery or brew pub and getting a growler or a keg to-go. I would love it if more cities would allow places like Athens’ The Beer Growler.