Sunday, October 23, 2022
Sunday, October 16, 2022
Around two years ago, Dave Blanchard walked up the stairs of his popular and pioneering Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia. He glanced to the right at the small, non-descript seating area at the top of the stairs, and an ingenious plan popped into his mind. He thought, "Why not bring a tiny bit of England to this small section of Brick Store?" The journey toward the pub's beloved cask ale bar had begun.
Brick Store Pub opened its doors over 25 years ago with a mission of spreading the love for classic craft beer styles in Decatur and Atlanta. The laid-back main bar serves outstanding draft craft beers alongside a creative and eclectic pub food menu. Several years ago, the owners installed a beautiful Belgian-themed bar upstairs to the left and a vintage beer cellar room to the right that houses prized high-gravity bottles at a cool 50 degrees F. The pandemic then tasked the Brick Store with creating a lovely outdoor beer garden in the backyard that boasts a Bavarian-like setting. All that seemed missing was a little flavor of the British Isles.
Brick Store co-owner Dave Blanchard shared the idea of a small upstairs cask ale bar with business partners Mike Gallagher and Tom Moore. 10.8-gallon "firkin" casks could be stored in the chilled vintage cellar, with an insulated pipe running through the wall to supply cask ales to handpump taps on a compact bar in the seating area at the top of the stairs. Gallagher and Moore seemed not too optimistic about the success of this venture but agreed to let Blanchard give it a go. No one expected the impressive level of success that the Brick Store's cask ale bar would achieve since it opened almost a year ago.
Cask ale was not new to the Brick Store. Most days, the downstairs bar offered a cask ale, and many customers seemed interested and supportive. "When we started in 1997, the first cask we put on downstairs was Blind Man Espresso Stout from Athens, Georgia," notes Blanchard. "I've traveled to the UK several times and came across some beautiful beers. For me, it's more about the culture of the pub, how the beer is drawn, and the traditions involved. People now come upstairs to our new cask bar who have never seen an English-style beer engine handpump, and it's fun to explain the process. Once you've tasted a proper cask ale, you get hooked."
Blanchard was never thrilled with the former vibe of the seating space at the top of the stairs, and creating a cask ale destination there seemed like the perfect solution. "Before COVID, this area was a small dining space without the energy, intimacy and appeal of our Belgian bar," Blanchard explains. "I saw it as kind of a purgatory area. We talked about the vintage cellar providing a cool place to house the casks, and the idea of building a bar and popping the plumbing through the wall made lots of sense. We had to get the measurements down to within inches to install this cask bar and the new seating."
Once the cask bar was built-out, plumbed, and decorated like a classic UK pub, Blanchard began locating excellent quality cask ales from independent regional breweries. This task presented a bit of a challenge at first, but as soon as word began to spread about the unique vibe of the cask bar, local breweries began lining up to fill firkins. Blanchard adds, "We now have great relationships with many impressive craft breweries nearby."
Along with a bunch of new cask bar devotees, Blanchard now enjoys spending time in the new area. "The whole project has been fulfilling," he says. "The cask bar is centrally located where customers can look down into the restaurant. People love having English and European soccer on the television behind the beer engines, and the cask ales have been extraordinary. Most brewers love cask ale and want others to love it as well."
A challenge for local breweries making special, traditional brews for the Brick Store has been how to sell the remainder of the beer that doesn't go into firkins for the pub. Unfortunately, English mild ale, bitter, ESB and UK golden ale styles don't currently create a great deal of excitement with younger craft beer drinkers who frequent brewery taprooms. Blanchard notes, "The nearby Three Taverns Brewery made us three firkins of a delicious clone of the UK's Old Peculier Ale. Our firkins were consumed in only three days, but the rest of the beer on tap at Three Taverns took a while to sell out. Halfway Crooks brewery has a small test system to brew one-barrel batches, and they've used this to create some firkins for us a couple of times."
Other breweries supplying mouth-watering cask ales to the Brick Store include Wild Heaven Beer, Monday Night Brewing, Arches Brewing, Green Bench, Bell's and New Realm. Blanchard was pumped when Sierra Nevada in North Carolina agreed to keep the Brick Store stocked with casks of its exceptional unfiltered pale ale with Cascade dry-hops in each cask. Blanchard recalls, "A couple of Sierra Nevada brewers were in Atlanta for a meeting, and they stopped by Brick Store to check out the new cask bar. When they were impressed enough to immediately get on board, I knew our cask bar would succeed."
Neil Callaghan, beer manager at the Brick Store, has been thrilled with the public's reception of the cask bar. He notes that the contagious excitement for cask ale among the staff spreads quickly to customers. "The success of our cask bar shows that the consumer understands and appreciates the uniqueness of the program and how great cask ale can be," he says. "Our biggest challenges with the cask bar include planning ahead, coordinating between the different breweries, and keeping an inventory of firkins. We just can't look at distributor inventory sheets and order firkins like we do kegs. Casks are special."
Blanchard loves that some local breweries are now filling casks with fabulous UK beer styles made from ingredients on hand. Creature Comforts in Athens, Georgia, produced an exceptional clone of Timothy Taylor Landlord ale made with American hops and barley along with the classic Timothy Taylor yeast from the UK. The beer, known as Vujà Dé Landlord, inspired Creature Comforts to recently install its own UK cask cooler and beer engine in the Athens taproom.
Blanchard, Zaboroskie, and Callaghan
Sam Zaboroskie has served as Brick Store's general manager for two years. Her favorite aspect of the cask bar is sharing samples and educating customers. She notes, "In a typical week, I can share so much love of cask ales with our patrons. Customers seem to think more about what they are drinking while they sit in this intimate and cozy atmosphere."
Blanchard devoted many hours to ensuring that every little detail of the cask bar came across as perfect. The cask bar pays loving homage to English pub traditions, from the dartboard and hidden television that pops out for English football to the classic UK pub wallpaper and eclectic photos that adorn the walls. "The atmosphere of the cask bar is just so pleasant and authentic," Blanchard adds. "It's amazing that every time professional brewers show up, they head straight to the cask bar. This is the greatest validation for the project that I could ever hope for."
Monday, May 9, 2022
Brewers and the local Convention & Visitors Bureau in Athens, Georgia, teamed up in 2021 in the creation of an enjoyable short YouTube video called Beer: The Athens Way. The presentation showcases the welcoming college town and all six of its personable craft breweries.
Beer: The Athens Way began as an idea hatched by local craft beer retailer Sachin Patel and PR specialist Nerissa Rajcoomar. In Nerissa's mind, the early days of the Athens craft beer scene seem like a rock band or sports team going through struggles and learning how to succeed through passion and goal-setting. "I realized how special a time it was for the beginnings of craft beer in Athens in the early 2000s," she recalls. "Hearing stories from the brewers felt relatable and inspiring to me, and I thought it might do the same for others. Bringing these individuals together to create the mini-documentary video was the thing to do."
Inspired by the video, the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau came up with the scheme of an Athens Beer Trail where visitors check out each brewery and collect stamps in a printed "field guide." Field guide booklets are available at any Athens brewery or the Athens Welcome Center, and participants who get a stamp at all six breweries earn a branded Athens Beer Trail mug.
Hannah Smith of the Convention & Visitors Bureau notes, "Athens is many things: the birthplace of public higher education in America, home to hundreds of bands, center for top college sports action, and a diverse and vibrant arts and food scene. Athens has also quietly become the all-American beer town."
Athens' six craft breweries come in all shapes and sizes, with each location possessing its own personality, philosophy and vibe. Visitors should score a hotel room downtown and spend at least two days making their way to each brewery taproom by city bus, rideshare options or a designated driver.
Akademia opened its doors in 2017 and ranks as the city's only brewpub. Located on the busy Atlanta Highway just a few miles west of downtown, the full-service restaurant, brewery and event space has quickly become a top spot in Athens for people to socialize, hear live music and enjoy fabulous food and beer.
Akademia brewer Morgan Wireman sees the brewpub's location on the west side of Athens as a perfect spot to hit on the way into or out of town when folks are heading down the Atlanta Highway. "With our giant outdoor space, excellent restaurant and 22 taps of house beers, Akademia offers something for everyone," Morgan explains. "We try to mix in classic beer styles with more modern takes on beer. I do a lot of reading and research on different styles, and if I see something that sparks my attention, I'll obsess over it until I come up with the perfect recipe."
Athentic Brewing began in 2020 in the vibrant Normaltown neighborhood of Athens. Homebrewing sparked the interest of Athentic cofounders Paul Skinner and Mark Johnson back in 2011, and the two soon collaborated on the dream of owning a commercial brewery.
Athentic's motto of "crafting good times" seems a perfect fit. Kimberly Wise, taproom manager at Athentic, notes, "We pride ourselves on being a welcoming community meeting spot where the neighborhood and people from town can get together in a joyous, social manner. We feel that if you come to Athentic, it should feel like you are coming home to a great place where you can be yourself. Everyone loves that we specialize in beer-flavored beers and classic styles. We have so many different styles that it's easy to find something to meet your taste."
Photo courtesy of CCBC
As Athens' sole downtown brewery, Creature Comforts makes its home in the historic Snow Tire facility. Brewery general manager John Apostolik believes that the best way to experience Athens comes in supporting local businesses. "We believe that our curiosity, small-town tenacity and southern regionality brings a distinct approach to how Creature Comforts creates its beer," he declares. "Aside from having a wonderful and welcoming space in the heart of downtown and a diverse selection of quality beer, Creature Comforts believes that good companies are good neighbors. Creature Comforts has recently been awarded B Corp Certification and has committed to 1% of its revenue going to community efforts."
Housed in an old, rustic industrial complex just outside of downtown, Normaltown Brewing ranks as Athens' smallest and coziest brewery. The nanobrewery cranks out a fun range of eclectic beers in a friendly and sociable atmosphere. Co-owner Heath Yarbrough relates, "People love the size and intimacy of the brewery. Folks can come in, meet the owners, try all our beers and relax. We brew in small batches and have constantly rotating taps."
Normaltown's taproom manager Erich Fietkau adds, "I love working at Normaltown because of the beer and the people. I've been able to meet all the movers of the Athens craft beer scene, and this has been a blessing in terms of my beer knowledge. I also enjoy talking to customers and getting direct feedback that helps us tweak recipes."
SBC's co-owner Brian Roth worked in Athens for years as craft beer director of a local distributor. As his passion for brew blossomed, so did his desire to create a destination brewery of his own in his beloved home of Athens. Housed on several acres of land just outside downtown, SBC sometimes seems more like a blend of a brewery and a recreational green space. The casual, welcoming taproom's back doors lead to an expansive lawn space, outdoor game area and live music pavilion.
"SBC's large venue space allowed us to remain open and support local artists, musicians and charities during much of COVID," Brian says. "I'm really proud of our collaborative efforts with local businesses, breweries and organizations. We've enjoyed working with the University of Georgia on yeast research, and SBC now has 87 exclusive wild yeasts collected from the Athens area, many of which we have used in fermenting our beers. We always try to have at least 30 taps that run the gamut of an array of beer styles that we keep on constant rotation. Our beers are tasty, interesting and creative."
Founded by Georgia brewers John Cochran and Brian "Spike" Buckowski, Terrapin released its popular Rye Pale Ale at Athens' Classic City Brew Fest around 20 years ago. Shortly after, the beer was awarded a gold medal for best American pale ale at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Terrapin had made its splash on the American craft beer scene with an amazing beer and a simple plan of contract brewing long enough to raise funds for the construction of its 40,000 square-foot pioneering brewing facility in Athens.
Terrapin president Dustin Watts takes pride in the brewery's creative beers and environmental initiatives. "I think Terrapin is special for visitors to Athens," he says. "We have a beautiful taproom with around 16 different beers on draft. Visitors can also check out our huge yard, outdoor bar and beer garden, where families and dogs are welcome. We call it 'Athens' largest backyard.' Terrapin also has a test brewery at Truist Park in Atlanta, and its small-batch beers show up at our Athens taproom."
As a producer of Beer: The Athens Way and founder of Athens' popular Five Points Bottle Shop, Northside Bottle Shop and Westside Bottle Shop, Sachin Patel believes that beer is a gift from God. "Before we knew science and the process of fermentation, beer was considered magical," he says. "Beer provided sustenance and gave us the chance to engage, enjoy ourselves and bring communities together. Beer is the quintessential beverage of history. Athens ties in because of its organic vibe that nurtures the craft beer scene and allows it to flourish. Just as beer has been important to history and civilization, it is now an integral part of Athens."
First Published in:
Friday, April 1, 2022
Located in the up-and-coming Edgewood neighborhood near downtown Atlanta, Biggerstaff Brewing ranks as one of the city's newest craft breweries. Nope, the name doesn't mean what some people might think. Rather, Biggerstaff refers to a family name of co-owner Clay Davies' wife, Sarah. With beers named after current family members and the farming ancestors of the owners and brewer, a strong focus on family seems to make up a central philosophy of this welcoming brewery and coffee shop.
"A few years ago, we visited the Biggerstaff family farm in North Carolina," explains Clay Davies. "I immediately thought that this would be a great name for a brewery. Our beer names and farm-fresh food items with a southern slant are all inspired by family."
Biggerstaff's co-owner Clay Davies (left) and brewer Chris Collier.
Clay Davies' son Cole somehow became interested in homebrewing when he was only 13 years old and immediately got his father involved in the hobby. Cole, a world-class barista with experience in all the top coffee places in Atlanta, now runs the coffee program at Biggerstaff Brewing. The coffee counter located just inside the front entrance opens each morning, providing customers and neighboring business people with delicious wake-up beverages. Don't worry - the beer taps also open each morning around 10 am, making Biggerstaff an ideal start to an Atlanta brewery crawl.
John "J.R." Roberts of Atlanta's Max Lager's and Bold Monk brewpubs consulted with Davies during the early stages of purchasing and installing brewing equipment. When the time arrived for hiring an initial brewer, J.R. immediately thought of award-winning Atlanta brewer and beer judge Chris Collier who was instrumental in making tasty beers at North Carolina's Nantahala Brewing and getting Hopstix brewpub established in Chamblee, Georgia. "I met with Clay and Sarah just as the company where I worked closed its doors," Collier recalls. "It was good timing for me to help out with Biggerstaff. The pandemic prevented us from opening in a timely manner, so I just stayed on full time."
Biggerstaff brewer Chris Collier prepares a transfer in the brewhouse.
Collier has enjoyed assembling and learning the nuances of Biggerstaff's sparkling new 10-barrel Deutsche Beverage Technology brewhouse from North Carolina. He adds, "We also have 20-barrel hot and cold liquor tanks, five fermenters and seven brite tanks. I've been impressed with our glass lauter grant device that sits just off our mash tun and prevents compaction of the mash and allows access to runoff as the mash gets lautered and sparged."
Collier's Biggerstaff beers shine with impressive balance, drinkability and distinctive hops, and the initial recipes include two IPAs and two pale ales. Also, look for a smooth and flavorful kettle-soured ale, a California Common, dry stout and pilsner. " My goal is to have three or four hoppy beers on at all times. I've also done some kegged variations that include a Citra hopped pale ale dosed with our house coffee from Intelligentsia. The result was a nice light ale with a beautiful coffee backdrop and finish. I like to have some hazy beers on tap, but our West Coast-style IPA with 75 IBUs is also one of my favorites."
Biggerstaff's attractive facility includes a beer garden/patio out front, a coffee stand and an open and airy main seating room with the brewery visible through the glass windows behind the bar. With decor combining industrial with farmhouse, the modern walls of Biggerstaff's seating areas are decorated with antique doors and botanical designs.
The brewery offers a fully stocked coffee counter.
During the construction of Biggerstaff, Clay Davies met chef Ryan Smith from the award-winning Staplehouse restaurant next door. Since COVID, Staplehouse has transitioned into a provisions market, and Ryan Smith provided input and an extraordinary influence on Biggerstaff's food menu. Davis King, Biggerstaff's new executive chef, has valuable experience at acclaimed Atlanta restaurants The Optimist and Bacchanalia. "Davis makes the ideal chef," notes Clay Davies. "He is upbeat, charismatic and passionate about food, and we are so proud of our menu at Biggerstaff."
Patrons can pair Collier's exceptional beers with Biggerstaff food items that include smoked Vidalia onion rings, pumpkin soup, roasted oysters, smoked brisket sandwiches, slider burgers, honey butter ribs and shrimp & grits. The owners want the food to be just as good as the beer. "Biggerstaff takes a crossover/marriage approach between the kitchen and brewery," says Chris Collier. "The kitchen reduces our beer down to use in some recipes, and our amazing onion rings have a batter made with our pale ale. We even produce our own malt vinegar. Our dry stout reduced down with some maple syrup makes a delicious flavoring for our coffee, and the kitchen added a yuzu fruit dish to pair with our special yuzu sour ale."
Of course, COVID formed a frustrating obstacle that prevented Biggerstaff from opening on time. It was June of 2021 and the city office that handles permit approval was understaffed, slow and backlogged. "September 15, 2021 was supposed to be our grand opening," Collier recalls. "The license finally came through the morning of our opening - just in time. We also waited forever on our brewing license that arrived less than a month before our opening, so we brewed for five straight days. It was a crunch that didn't allow time to reflect on the first batches - we just had to get the tanks filled."
Davies and Collier both agree that their hard work and patience while weathering the challenges were well worth it. Biggerstaff ended up better than both of them imagined, and the entire staff enjoys being a part of the exciting growth and development happening in Atlanta's vibrant, revitalized Edgewood neighborhood. Area residents and neighborhood business owners constantly come into the brewery and thank Davies and Collier for choosing Edgewood as the home for Biggerstaff.
Davies adds, "The most rewarding thing for me has been talking to customers about our beer and being honored by everyone's responses as they enjoy the beer, food and vibe that makes Biggerstaff special. People really get happy and love our beer."
537 Edgewood Ave SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
This article appeared originally in Southern Brew News.