By Owen OgletreePhotos courtesy of Three Taverns
Richard Wagner once said, "Imagination creates reality." In this spirit, Brian Purcell and his team at Three Taverns Brewery were thrilled last October to open the doors of their much-anticipated Three Taverns Imaginarium at Memorial Drive’s Atlanta Dairies redevelopment. The Imaginarium forms an extension of Decatur’s popular Three Taverns Brewery and is equal parts laboratory, test brewery and tasting room.
"Following delays brought on by COVID-19, we are happy to finally have Three Taverns Imaginarium open to our Atlanta Dairies community," says David Cochran, president and CEO of Paces Properties. "As a well-known Georgia brewery with a successful flagship location in Decatur, Three Taverns has grown to become a prominent Atlanta brand. We are confident the Imaginarium will be welcomed with open arms by the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond."
How did the idea of opening a craft brewery enter the imagination of Brian Purcell, founder and CEO of Three Taverns? He recalls a fateful, beer-indulgent night in Brussels back in 1994 that introduced him to the beauty, complexity and elegance of Belgian Trappist ales. Brian and his friends enjoyed themselves so much that they almost got into trouble while driving across the French border later that evening. This one night formed a significant source of inspiration and creativity for Purcell's entrance into the craft beer business.
Brian Purcell and his wife live in Decatur and love having the original Three Taverns Brewery there. Still, a lunch date on the Atlanta BeltLine a couple of years ago gave the couple an exciting notion. "I saw a very different vibe than Decatur," Brian recalls. "We wanted heavy traffic from young millennials, so we started talking to our staff about a second location near a downtown section of the BeltLine. We could be more experimental on a new, smaller brewing system, but this proves difficult at our Decatur brewery, where we often bypass experimentation to produce enough of our flagship beers to meet demand."
While Three Taverns launched in Decatur in 2013 with an emphasis on Belgian-inspired beers, these Belgian styles now comprise less than 1% of annual sales. Three Taverns has now ventured well outside of Belgium, and the Imaginarium houses a ten-barrel pilot brew system where brewers invent and concoct ales and lagers with creative flavor profiles while also serving the popular standbys. Expect six to eight of Three Taverns' core beers on tap at the Imaginarium, along with a rotating list of 16 to 18 experimental beers comprising an impressive range of styles and brewing techniques.
Brian Purcell hoped that the Imaginarium could hold its own during COVID, but no one predicted just how popular the spot would quickly become. "After only two weeks of opening, the Imaginarium is at 125% in sales compared to taproom sales in Decatur. This is with 100% draft beer at the Imaginarium, versus draft and packaged beer in Decatur."
A great deal of thought and effort went into the creation of the Imaginarium. The vacant Atlanta Dairies location had graffiti covering the brick, and the yard was bare red clay. Still, Purcell focused on the developer's sketches and vision for the historic industrial site. A connected, multi-story deck offers plenty of parking. With condos nearby and a huge new music venue going in next door, the dairy location seemed perfect.
Brian Purcell's actor/artist wife Susie Purcell was not involved in the build-out of the original Three Taverns Brewery, so Brian wanted her to have a direct hand in the design of the Imaginarium. "She has a great sense of style, and she designed most of the interior," notes Brian. "I wanted themes of laboratories and apothecaries to highlight scientific experimentation. Susie worked with architect Square Feet Studios and interior designer firm Metaleaf Creative in making the place perfect."
The upper level of the Imaginarium features a terrace with outdoor seating and a cozy interior lounge with 12 beers on tap. All 24 beers can be sampled from the downstairs bar and beer window. There's also a downstairs patio and landscaped yard with picnic tables and firepits, and the Dairies complex will also be installing additional outdoor furniture, hammocks and heaters in the near future. Thanks to the Imaginarium's "open air" license, patrons can walk anywhere in the Dairy complex with Imaginarium beer in a plastic cup. Brian Purcell recalls, "The first Saturday we opened, the yard looked like a festival with social distancing, baby carriages and dogs. It was so exciting."
Those who are cautious of COVID can find comfortable spaces at the Imaginarium. Masks are required in all areas, unless patrons are seated and drinking. The host seats visitors inside and keeps social distancing in place. The outdoor patios and lawn areas also make spreading out quite easy.
With the Imaginarium's house beer list being so expansive and diverse, Brian Purcell finds it difficult to pick favorites. "I love the story behind our Bozie Jones beer," he says. "Bozie was a prohibition-era, African-American brewer who was busted in 1929 by the Dekalb police for operating his illegal brewery and still. He has to be one of Atlanta's 'OG' brewers. Our Bozie Jones brew is a pre-prohibition lager with additional hops. Due to the pandemic, it sat in the tank for an extra four months of cold storage and mellowing while we waited on the Imaginarium's license. Future batches will never be better than this one."
Cream Weaver orange creamsicle sour ale enjoys a crazy following and was the Imaginarium's number one seller throughout the first weeks of opening. Another crowd favorite, Dairies Milk Stout is made with a dose of lactose milk sugar. "The name honors our location," says Purcell.
Talented Atlanta brewer Neal Engleman recently made the move from Bold Monk Brewing to new head brewer and wood cellar manager at Three Taverns. Neal got his start developing mouth-watering beer recipes at Wrecking Bar Brewpub, and he's excited to now get imaginative at Three Taverns with a line of new brews and tweaked classic recipes.
Looking for food to enjoy with the beer? The Imaginarium works with Wonderkid restaurant that's located just upstairs to bring food down for customers. Heaps New Zealand savory pies can also be found in the warm display case at the end of Imaginarium's main bar.
With a name like Three Taverns, it seems that a third brewery location might make a superb future move. Brian Purcell has an idea for a barrel-aging facility and taproom called "Funkyard" that would house mixed fermentation and classic barrel-aged brews. "But we first need to get through COVID and let the Imaginarium succeed for a length of time," Purcell explains. "We are committed to Georgia, so this barrel facility will definitely be in the Atlanta area, probably close to our Decatur brewery to make it possible to transfer wort and beer easily."
When asked if a distillery or hard seltzers might be on the way, Purcell replies, "Nope. Three Taverns makes beer. I preach this to my employees all the time. When people visit the Imaginarium, I want them talking about our great beer. This makes me a happy man."