Monday, May 31, 2021

How Brick Store Pub Endured the Pandemic

 Article by Owen Ogletree

Photos courtesy of Brick Store Pub and Jim Smith
L-R: Brick Store owners Tom Moore, Mike Gallagher and Dave Blanchard.
1997 saw the American craft beer movement just starting to take hold. Three buddies from Athens, Georgia (Dave Blanchard, Mike Gallagher and Tom Moore) had decided to open a specialty beer pub on a slightly downtrodden block in downtown Decatur, Georgia. Many people thought the three guys were nuts. No one predicted how the Brick Store Pub would help change the face of craft beer in Georgia, bring new life to the area and become one of the nation's best craft beer bars. 
The Brick Store's front door leads into the atmospheric and welcoming main bar that's loaded with delectable craft beers, while the stairs to the left of the bar take patrons up to the atmospheric Belgian Bar that pours an exceptional range of hand-picked Belgian beers from taps and bottles. The pub's indoor areas have been impacted by the COVID pandemic, much like other bars and restaurants. The creative and resourceful Brick Store owners adapted and kept the craft beer, tasty food and genial fun flowing without hesitation. 
The pandemic has undoubtedly changed life for the owners and staff of Brick Store. Tedious details, constant attention to keeping surfaces extra sanitary, preparing more take-out food, dealing with limited indoor seating and managing a large beer garden leads to long hours and anxiety among the staff. Mike Gallagher says that what is at the core of the Brick Store has not changed. "We continue to offer wonderful food and drinks, welcome people into a great atmosphere and offer the highest level of hospitality. Overcoming anxiety and indecision while trying to protect our families, our staff, our customers and our business has been challenging."
Challenges During COVID
Regular Brick Store patrons know that the owners and staff run a top-notch establishment with strict attention to detail. Customer safety during COVID has not been an exception, and strict guidelines were implemented that include masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing and a "one guest at a time limit" in the bathrooms. Dave Blanchard notes, "Our workers are serious about these measures, and we know these guidelines have worked extremely well so far. We love getting daily compliments from our guests regarding our attention to safety."
Along with increased sanitary practices and social distancing, the Brick Store owners continue to monitor ever-changing safety updates and recommendations. Mike Gallagher adds, "We put in an air purification system and do frequent filter changes on our HVAC system. We always have doors open and windows cracked for airflow. Training our staff and holding each other accountable for being vigilant with these procedures have been important."
What's Old is New Again
Patrons who have not visited the Brick Store in a few months will be surprised by the changes since COVID hit. In February, renovations for the entire pub began with new furniture and fixtures, updated kitchen equipment, an overhauled beer system and new booths and seating arrangements downstairs. The cozy upstairs Belgian Bar has been temporarily closed since the initial pandemic shutdown, but the owners hope to find a safe way to reopen it within a few weeks. 
Brick Store has set up QR codes around the pub that allow customers to point cameras to view the menus. Customers are encouraged to keep visits to 90 minutes or less, and opening hours have been shortened. "We still have a great seasonal food menu and killer beer list, and we're selling more cocktails than ever," notes Gallagher.
A Light in the Darkness
Lessons learned by Brick Store's staff during the pandemic revolve around patience, open-mindedness, creativity and digging deep. "We’ve put new emphasis on listening to staff, guests, science and our community," Blanchard declares.
When asked if anything positive has come from this pandemic experience, the Brick Store owners answer with resounding positivity. "Aside from extra time to accomplish many renovations, we've been able to reconnect with the pub, the staff and the guests," Blanchard explains. "It's been an unforgettable 'we're all in this together' type of experience, and we haven't worked this hard since we first opened. We've come up with new ideas that will benefit us forever. Our exterior 'stroll through' window and beer garden are two prime examples of ideas that would have never happened if not for the pandemic."
Brick Store even opened a type of "soup kitchen" back in early March that served the staff and community. Free food gave the pub a chance to open its doors for those in need, and the owners all admit that this felt really good. Blanchard says he is "counting down the days until we can show everyone all we've done and how good the Brick Store Pub will be for the next whole bunch of years."
The establishment of a new beer garden to the rear of the pub formed a significant epiphany for Gallagher. "Our staff pushed the idea of a beer garden, and it has worked out so well that I imagine it will always be there," he says. "It has been a special and magical place for staff and guests to gather safely, and it has enabled us during this pandemic to continue to feel like we are a hub for our community."
Emerging from the Pandemic
Where does the Brick Store go from here? What does the future hold? With a passionate desire to keep the pub on the public's radar as a world-class craft beer destination, the owners never seem to rest on their accomplishments. This goal involves remaining true to their original vision, making the most of each situation, keeping the staff employed and earning trust and dollars from guests. "I think it's been huge for us to be able to buy from small local farms, breweries and distilleries," Gallagher notes. "If we want to still have these small businesses around on the other side of the pandemic, we need to continue to spend our money this way. This fills our hearts and allows us to offer the best and freshest beer and food while supporting our friends."
The Brick Store owners would like to thank all their loyal customers for the overwhelming support and positive feedback during the last few months. Readers looking for a safe pub can rest assured that the Brick Store has all the bases covered. Blanchard adds, "Our hearts are full from all the love and support we've received, and we hope to return this love to everyone for a very long time to come." 
Gallagher tears up as he describes the amazing support shown by the community. "From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone who donated to our GoFundMe for our staff, ordered food to go and enjoyed our beer garden, pub and front patio. We absolutely would not be here without your support - and this includes not only dollars spent but also the good wishes, the cheering us on, the letters and all the small gestures of encouragement."
Blanchard, Gallagher and Moore have established long-term, deep and meaningful friendships over the years through their pub. Brick Store patrons won’t be surprised to see everyone at the pub wearing a mask, but the owners hope that everyone will sense the smiles underneath.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Hippin' Hops in East Atlanta Village

 By Owen Ogletree / Photos courtesy of Hippin' Hops

Editor's Note: This article was first published in Southern Brew News when the brewpub was under construction. Hippin' Hops is now up and running in East Atlanta Village, so pay them a visit soon.

What do funeral homes, a couple of popular North Carolina restaurants and Georgia's first African American-owned brick-and-mortar brewery all have in common? The answer is entrepreneur Clarence Boston and his wife Donnica. The couple is currently in the construction phase of Hippin' Hops Brewery & Oyster Bar in East Atlanta Village (EAV) at 1308 Glenwood Avenue SE inside the former Eastlake Pharmacy.

Clarence and Donnica sold their largest funeral home in Charlotte, moved to EAV and figured that the historic Atlanta neighborhood would be an ideal place to make their dream of owning a brewery come true. Clarence is a long-time, talented homebrewer whose fascination with craft beer was reinforced during visits to Oktoberfest in Germany and beer halls in the Czech Republic. "We also have a great deal of experience in working with brewery reps and picking craft beers for our restaurants in North Carolina," notes Clarence. "I really enjoy flavorful, classic beer styles, and we want to focus on these at Hippin' Hops. We'll open with IPAs, traditional ales and lagers, porters and stouts, with some trendy things thrown in for fun."

The Bostons considered opening their brewery in North Carolina but could never find a perfect location. Being an enthusiastic businessman, Clarence would often drive around various areas of Atlanta, scoping out available business spaces. "I saw the 'for rent' sign in the window of the old pharmacy building, and the vibe, location and reasonable rent seemed perfect for Hippin' Hops," he recalls.

The Bostons quickly realized that opening a brewery is an entirely different ballgame than starting up a restaurant. "My wife and I filled out all the applications and paperwork by ourselves," recalls Clarence. "This was our first time with brewery paperwork, and it was rigorous. The City of Atlanta wanted this brewery to happen, and they were helpful and made the process not too painful. Then we tackled parking agreements, architect contracts, blueprints and legal matters. It was a complex process that we approached a day at a time. It'll be a lot easier when we start planning our second brewery."

Being next door to Holy Taco and just across the street from Sabbath Brewing will make this block of EAV a hot destination for craft beer lovers and foodies. Both Hippin' Hops and Sabbath Brewing plan full openings around the same time this fall. Clarence is thrilled to have partnered with Sabbath Brewing in the purchase of a mobile canning line that can be rolled between the breweries to produce packaged beers for sale on-site and in retail marketplaces. Clarence notes, "The guys at Sabbath have been great to work with, and it will be handy to help each other out with technical issues and buying ingredients in bulk."

Hippin' Hops' tanks and equipment are now in-house and ready for installation. Taking delivery of the three-barrel brew system and five-barrel unitanks was a great day for Clarence that filled him with pride and a sense of accomplishment. Unitanks allow the brewer to efficiently carbonate beer in less than 24 hours, precisely monitor pressure and then perform a pressurized and closed transfer to a serving vessel, keg or canning machine that minimizes oxidation significantly.

Clarence wants delicious beer to be the star at Hippin' Hops. He plans on overseeing brewery operations but wants to hire a talented brewer who can create a wide range of technically accurate styles. Anyone wanting to apply for the brewing position should email

Hippin' Hops will be able to accommodate around 60 people outside and at the s-shaped bar and additional interior areas throughout the space. The Bostons are also planning a cozy rooftop patio. Wanting the place to fit in with the vibe of the EAV neighborhood, Clarence visualizes Hippin' Hops as a contemporary brewpub with funky art and old-school hip-hop music in the background. "I think it will be a groovy spot," he says. "For its size, I expect the place to be really busy. EAV is known for its hippie-like, rustic look, and we are sticking to that."

Hippin' Hops' kitchen will be led by Chef Jamarius "J" Banks, who came extraordinarily close to emerging victorious on the Food Network TV show Beat Bobby Flay. Jamarius has made his culinary mark on several popular restaurants in Atlanta - including The Optimist on Howell Mill Road. Seafood, raw oysters and amazing po'boys will be part of Jamarius' jam at Hippin' Hops.

Until the Bostons were informed by the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild; they had no idea that Hippin' Hops would be the state's first African American-owned, independent, in-house brewery. It's an honor that they are proud to possess. "We love diversity and want everyone to enjoy our beer and patronize our brewery," says Clarence. "Everyone matters to us. We have been a part of EAV before moving to North Carolina and even worked at a funeral home in the neighborhood. We love how this community has evolved and become such a vibrant part of Atlanta. Hippin' Hops is going to fit right in."

Friday, April 2, 2021

Atlanta's Three Taverns Imaginarium Brewery & Taproom

 By Owen Ogletree

Photos 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."

Monday, February 1, 2021

Georgia Craft Beer Reviews


Tucker Brewing Company

I like the German-inspired lagers and ales at Tucker Brewing, and the brewery's dark wheat ale ranks as one of my favorites. Expect a brown color, 5.4% ABV and appropriate flavor notes of clove, allspice and banana. This underappreciated style takes me back to Munich with its dark caramel character, toasted wheat notes and hints of bubblegum from the Bavarian wheat yeast. 
Tucker Brewing Company
Sir Doppelbock
Tucker hit it out of the park with this popular strong bock that boasts a gorgeous brown hue with ruby highlights. This magnificent lager packs impressive notes of toasty Munich malt and European dark malts. There's no trendy BS with this classic brew, and elegant malts provide a slightly sweet finish with nuances of roasted nuts, toffee and floral noble hops. Head to the brewery's patios to enjoy this amazing lager before it's gone. 
Wild Heaven Beer
Saint Dolly Blonde Bock
Brewed with Zuper Saazer hops, this wonderful addition to Wild Heaven's "Exploration Project" pays tribute to national treasure Dolly Parton. I love a great Bock lager, and this one from Wild Heaven offers a smooth, clean, malty German lager experience that's reminiscent of toasted bread crust and light honey. Pair it with apple strudel. 
Wild Heaven Beer
High Hopes Mango & Plum Sour Ale
This beer forms a part of the brewery's intriguing "Innovation Sour Series." Look for mild tartness with earthy complexity from smoked mango and black plum. This unique wild ale also boasts papaya-like fruit notes and an peaty, smoky, ashy profile in the finish. Head to either Wild Heaven locations to score a rare bottle. 
Three Taverns Craft Brewery
Transcendo IPA
Double dry-hopping with Citra, Mosaic and Loral hops provide an earthy, citrusy, fruity character to this complex and delicious IPA. Loral hops impart herbal, dank fruit notes reminiscent of mango and tangerine that linger into the pleasant, spicy finish. Try a Transcendo alongside Mexican cuisine. 
Three Taverns Craft Brewery
Cush IPA
Talented Atlanta brewer Neal Engleman made the move from Bold Monk to new head brewer and wood cellar manager at Three Taverns, and he's excited to get creative with a line of new brews and tweaked classic recipes. Neal's first new beer at Three Taverns is Cush - a fantastic double dry-hopped hazy IPA with lactose and 8.5% ABV. A powerful nose of citrus and tropical fruit notes follow through into the soft, creamy mouthfeel. 
Rightside Brewing
Citrus Wheat
Rightside Brewing is a new Georgia company focusing on producing a line of flavorful and complex non-alcoholic "near beers." Launching with an IPA and a Citrus Wheat ale, the company hopes to provide customers with exciting, flavorful beverages that are just as satisfying as beer styles containing alcohol. Rightside's hazy Citrus Wheat offers tasty notes of cereal grains, orange peel, spice and a hint of banana complexity. 
Southern Brewing Company
Midnight Train Southern Porter
This crisp, coffee-like dark ale from Athens, Georgia comes in at 6% ABV and paints a landscape of roasted and chocolate malts on the palate, followed by an elegant, mild hop bitterness. Midnight Train makes for a wonderful session ale to enjoy with friends and sip alongside grilled oysters or clam chowder. 
Terrapin Beer Company
Vanilla Chai Latte Wake-n-Bake
Need a caffeine boost with your beer? Check out Terrapin's new-fangled Wake-n-Bake that comes in at 9.4% ABV and 50 IBUs. This bold imperial stout contains vanilla, lactose and chai spice that all meld with Jittery Joe's Wake-n-Bake coffee to create an extraordinarily thick and warming oatmeal imperial stout. The extensive malt bill includes two-row, crystal 85, flaked barley, flaked oats, chocolate, black malt and roasted barley.
Creature Comforts Brewery
Life in Flux
Life In Flux, Creature Comforts’ flagship barrel-aged imperial stout, emerged from the brewery's barrel cellar recently. Creature's spin for this year's 500ml bottles includes two limited-release variants of the main blend - Life In Flux with vanilla and coffee and Life In Flux with coconut and cocoa nibs. "Life In Flux is a blend of straightforward barrel-aged stout that represents the core philosophy of our spirits barrel-aging program," says Blake Tyers, director of Creature Comforts’ Wood Cellar & Mixed Fermentation Program. "The exquisite depth created from the simple combination of the barrels, beer and time makes it a do-not-miss blend."