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?