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Beer Town: The year in craft beer 2011

It’s been another big year for craft beer and as 2011 draws to a close, it’s time to look back on the some of the stories that had Atlanta beer lovers buzzing.

Sunday Sales — For many, this was the biggest story of the year. In April, the General Assembly finally approved legislation enabling Sunday alcohol stores sales in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill and in November, the first wave of shoppers began hitting beverage stores. Sunday sales won approval in over 80 percent of cities where it was on the ballot. Sales in the City of Atlanta will begin Jan. 1, just in time for the Super Bowl.

Growler Sales — Until 2011, growlers — glass jugs filled and refilled with draft beer — couldn’t be found anywhere in Georgia. In fact, most beer geeks and beverage store owners figured growlers weren’t legal here. But early in the year, the first Georgia growler shop, the Beer Growler, opened in Athens. By April, Hop City began filling growlers in Atlanta, followed by several more shops, including Ale Yeah in Decatur, and a number of metro Whole Foods stores.

Sweetwater Expansion – This year, the company that’s become synonymous with Atlanta craft beer embarked on an ambitious expansion project that will create the capacity to compete with some of the country’s biggest breweries. A new building, with a new bottling line, packaging hall, lab, offices and event space, plus a new warehouse are all part of an impressive push into the future. In 2012, Sweetwater will add a new 250-barrel brewhouse, with the capacity to produce up to 500,000 barrels of beer a year.

Craft Growth — Sweetwater’s growth tracks the overall growth of craft beer everywhere. While craft beer still only accounts for 5 percent of the overall beer market, some analysts think it could reach 20 percent by the end of the decade. But growth comes with growing pains. Dogfish Head, which has been wildly popular in the Atlanta market, had to pull out of some other markets because it couldn’t keep up with demand. And many seasonal and special beers are in such short supply that beer geeks are grumbling increasingly about favorites selling out on arrival in metro stores.

New Brews — Monday Night Brewing, a new Atlanta craft beer company, debuted with two beers (Eye Patch Ale and Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale) made under contract at Thomas Creek Brewing in Greenville, S.C. The Wrecking Bar brewpub opened in Little Five Points, offering a wide array of styles, including the Victor IPA. Marietta’s Red Hare Brewing joined Sweetwater, Terrapin, Red Brick and Jailhouse as Georgia’s fifth packaging craft brewery, with Long Day Lager, Gangway IPA and Watership Brown available on draft at bars and at growler stations.

Longshot Beer — Atlanta’s Richard Roper was one of the two grand champion winners of the 2010 Samuel Adams American Homebrew contest. As a finalist in the nationwide competition, Roper won $5,000 and a trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. His Friar Hop Ale was brewed and bottled by the Boston Beer Co. in 2011 and in April, he was finally able to taste and share his beer at a special launch party at the Fred in Sandy Springs.

West-Southeast — The Southeast is the fastest growing region in the country for craft beer sales. In 2012, look for California’s Sierra Nevada and Colorado’s New Belgium to confirm longstanding rumors and reveal plans for new breweries close by, probably in Tennessee or North Carolina. As many observers are sure to note, Georgia was never in the running because of its much more restrictive laws.

What do you think were the big beer stories of 2011?

24 comments Add your comment

Will

December 22nd, 2011
11:31 am

I think a huge story from 2011 is Wild Heaven who is currently building a small brewery over in the Avondale/Decatur area. They have some amazing brews with their Ode To Mercy and Eschaton. I think Sweetwater is a great story for 2011, their expansion is huge for the city as they continue to grow in popularity across the U.S. They are truly brewing up some amazing beer over there and I can’t wait to try the newest Dank Tank – Hopped Up 420 IPA.

Steve

December 22nd, 2011
2:44 pm

We will be celebrating the opening of our new space, and our 15th anniversary on Feb 18th, 2012 from 2 – 6. write it down, and come on out to kick the tires, wander around, drink some tasty brews, and raise a toast with us to 15 years of heady beers

Steve Farace
SweetWater Brewery

pooperscooper

December 22nd, 2011
8:47 pm

The “extra cold” notfication Coors Light added to their cans.

Bert Grant

December 22nd, 2011
8:54 pm

2nd (when you are number 2, you try harder)

Hard to say but in Georgia the growth of startup breweries in spite of the restrictive laws is a big story. Places are starting to jump on the beer wagon. A new burger place opens in Morningside with 25 taps. They may not be sure why they have them but they know it will have people knocking on their door. So much going on in Georgia we can’t fit it all in one column.

Moe Sizlack

December 22nd, 2011
9:21 pm

There are a lot of good beers mentioned here and I am glad Atlanta has so many quality microbreweries that are doing so well. However, I would LOVE to get hold of Pliny The Elder beer. I sure wish someone in Atlanta sold it!

Homer Simpson

December 22nd, 2011
9:34 pm

Hey Moe, I can get you a bottle, $25 each.

Hindu Elvis Pimp

December 22nd, 2011
10:48 pm

I agree with most of the above…….I don’t think Sweetwater’s expansion should be a big deal. Their focus is on selling beer to the average college kid(SchWeat, Blue), more than making really good beers. If you ever had to deal with anyone from Sweetwater, you realize what jerks they are. I’m happy to see a local, non contract brewed brewer do well…I just wish it wasn’t the money grubbing Sweetwater group.

Yeah Steve…..We’re talking about you.

The Keith Stone advertising

December 22nd, 2011
11:01 pm

Russ

December 23rd, 2011
12:54 am

You can get Pliny online for $10 all day long.

Let’s not forget the additions of Intown and GX markets, both now with tap walls flowing. It’s a great time to be in Atlanta for sure.

Bill

December 23rd, 2011
8:27 am

Good article but you forgot about the excellent local Wild Heaven beers

Lords of Sapelo

December 23rd, 2011
9:03 am

You failed to mention that The Lords of Sapelo consumed a record 2556 beers this year, Bob – but we certainly feel we can do better in 2012!!! Cheers!

Jonathan Baker

December 23rd, 2011
10:12 am

It’s been a good year for Atlanta, for sure. Here’s to an even better year for craft beer in 2012!

Buuuuurrrrrp

December 26th, 2011
12:38 am

Um, where’s Wild Heaven? They continue to make some fantastic beer including the new one, Eschaton I think… Perhaps not a big story but worthy of mention.

Jake Williams

December 26th, 2011
7:40 am

What about Terrapin selling to MillerCoors just so they could keep the doors open? How a previously great brand with supposedly growing sales could be so mismanaged would be an interesting read.

goski99

December 26th, 2011
10:20 am

Wild Heaven is an interesting “case of beer”! Supposed to be local, but craft brewed in SC now. will they ever get the actual brewery up and running near Decatur? It was my understanding that was the goal.

FMFats

December 26th, 2011
11:15 am

Wild Heaven is supposedly about a year away from getting up and running in the Avondale Estates space. Looking forward to Burnt Hickory getting rolling soon, too.

kp

December 26th, 2011
2:50 pm

I reached 10,000 ratings on RateBeer yesterday. Is that a top story of 2011?

Ben

December 26th, 2011
8:47 pm

Jake Williams, how do you figure they were mismanaged? Investors wanted to sell their share so they did. MillerCoors only has 25% of the brewery. It can only mean better things for distribution. How are you supposed to stop someone from selling when they don’t want to be in the beer business. Some just are in it for the money. Not sure how that translates to being mismanaged. They’re one of the most successful young breweries in the South. I’m not a huge fan of their year rounds but I like the experimentation they’re doing with seasonals and one offs.

Ben

December 26th, 2011
8:49 pm

goski99, lots of new, small brewers contract with other brewers until they can do it themselves and meet demand. They were distributed only in Atlanta and in the state of Georgia for the first year or so of their existence. Not sure how that doesn’t make them “local”. This stuff takes time to build. Regardless, really enjoying what they’re doing.

Ben

December 26th, 2011
8:53 pm

Lastly, Sunday Sales was certainly HUGE for us here in GA but I think the biggest story of the year in craft beer was the sale of Goose Island to InBev. Many feel they were one of the best “micro” breweries in the country. There were all kinds of opinions on it, good and bad, but one things for sure, it signaled that craft beer is not going away and will be a force in the future and the Budweisers and Millers know it.

On the other hand, it also was sad to see a great brewer give up that much control over such a beloved product. If you get a chance, try their stuff. It’s fantastic. Love the Bourbon County Stout and the Pepe Nero.

Jake Williams

December 26th, 2011
9:15 pm

Ben – You know nothing about what you are saying. The investors didn’t want to get out of the beer business, they just didn’t want to be in debt up to their eyeballs with an incompetent CEO. They had no way to fund expansion and the brewery is very inefficient. Without tour cash flow, it would have died a few years ago. Also without a short term loan from Miller Coors in addition to the funds used to triple the initial investors money, they would have been in dire straits. It is a private company, you have no idea what the real terms are, only what was stated in the press release.Think about it, it is in both MillerCoors’ and Terrapin’s best interest to paint it all as nicely as it can be. Tenth and Blake wants to keep buying stakes in distressed brewers with good brands, and Terrapin wants to be seen as not Blue Moon, when really they are. And that large line of credit mentioned in their press release to expand, they don’t even have that yet. All this from a friend who worked for them and from a distributor, I think they know.

Ben

December 26th, 2011
10:14 pm

Ahh I see. So you have no idea what the real reason or terms are either. Only from “a friend who worked for them”. So basically you “know a guy”.

Sounds credible.

btownsend

December 29th, 2011
9:27 am

Thanks for all the good comments and interesting pseudonyms.

I’ve been out of town and away from a computer (thankfully), but wanted to jump in now that I’m back at my desk.

I think the Sweetwater expansion is huge, especially given the recent dedication to Dank Tank experimental beers, a program that spawned many awesome one-offs, including Crank Tank Rye’d Ale, one of my favorite beers of 2011. That Sweetwater will soon offer bottle-conditioned beers is an amazing step forward for brewing in the South, too.

When Wild Heaven hit the market in 2010, I wrote about that and included it in a year and round-up. Monday Night and Wild Hare are the new brews of 2011.

I understand that the Terrapin story has riled up a lot of conspiracy theories. We’ll see how that plays out in 2012, but right now I think it’s a tempest in a teapot — more an inside business story than a beer story. I know others will disagree.

That said, you guys do know that Sweetwater and Red Brick have investors, right? Do you know who those people are? How about the invisible hand of investors behind many prominent local bars and restaurants. There are a lot of stories to be told there. But not by me. That’s not what I write about.

Rest assured, when Terrapin starts dumbing down its beers or makes a new version of Miller Lite or Tenth and Blake grabs a majority share in a hostile takeover, I’ll be all over it. Until then, I’ll leave it to smarter business writers and the conspiracy geeks.

Here’s a link that explains the Tenth and Blake story from the Terrapin owners POV:
http://terrapinbeer.com/faq/

Here’s a pretty good argument for the conspiracy side:

http://aleheads.com/2011/12/08/why-tenth-and-blake-should-scare-you/

Happy New Year!

btownsend

December 29th, 2011
9:28 am

Oh. Congrats KP. Let’s toast with a really good bourbon soon.