T he Augusta Beerfest has completed its No. 4 festival. Having outgrown their start in the Bell Auditorium 4 years ago they’ve been using the larger James Brown arena to handle the 45+ breweries and vendors.
I would estimate from the crowd photos I took there were around 1,200 in attendence. And sample beer they did as several of the breweries were out of their most popular brews by 5:30. And I noticed that people were sampling local. The lines were always longer with the Georgia and South Carolina brewers.
As in previous beer festivals I try and come up with a plan. When there’s around 48 breweries you can’t check them all out. So I decided to start with a Georgia brewery I had never heard of then ask their brewery rep as to what they would sample and then only go to that brewery and repeat the process. Kind of a pass it forward kind of thing. I also limited by visits to only brewers who had a rep in the booth who could tell me about their brews.
So, with that said I started with Arches Brewing out of Hapeville GA. As an old Griffinite I know about Hapeville. That used to be the little town you had to drive through to get to the Atlanta Airport back in the 60s. They also had a Carling Brewery way back then along I-75. I met up with Christian Myers, Customer Success & Marketing Manager. Now that’s a title.
Christian told me that their roots are homebrew sown. After 10-12 years of homebrewing the co-founder Jamie Adams decided it was time to get serious. When I referred to starting as basement brewers, he corrected me and said they were “porch brewers.” That’s because the Arches name comes from Adams’ 1930’s style house that features arches around the porch. The five arches in the logo represent the breweries five founders. Adams, he says, is a bio-chemist who still has his day job from 6-2 then helps brew from 6-8.
They’ve been on the market for 17 months, starting with a 3-barrel system. They’ve expanded and are up to a 20-barrel system. They are keg only now but should have their canning line up in October. And they have their new tasting room up and running with the passage of the Georgia allowing brewers to sell their brews on site. You can tour their new facility and have a drink at the end. They have 4 year round brews and a slew of seasonas and a few limited production brews you’ll probably never see outside the brewery like the winter release 9.4% Casked-Aged Russian Imperial Stout.
They had two brews on tap for the festival, their flagship Unseasonal Lager (5.4%) and their year-round 6.8% Southern Bel’.
Christian described the Unseasonal Lager to be a European/American hybrid. I could taste a bit of caramel on the start and some nice yeasty flavors. A little bitter edge sneaks up but just a bit. A nice easy to drink brew. He said the slight bitterness comes from using 100% noble hops. This is a really nice year-rounder.
The Southern Bel’ is not your daddy’s craft beer. They make a tea of sorts with some exotic Peruvian wood and add it during the aging. The oil from the wood adds some interesting flavors. I detect a every slight sourness but there’s enough sweet stuff going on with the Belgian trappist yeasts to keep it at bay. This is a Belgian style ale so it has lots of malty stuff going on with the Belgian candy sugar. A hint of vanilla and cloves. It might be the cloves I was detecting as that slightly sour edge I mentioned. Tastes darker than it looks.
Their website says “this deep Belgian pale with a traditional pilsner malt character and slight toasted biscuit notes. Dark fruity Belgian esters are complemented by exotic coconut, clove and vanilla captured from the introduction of exotic Peruvian wood. A subtle yet complex beer for the discerning palate.”
I like this brew. Can’t wait to see these come out in cans.
So I asked Christian who he thinks are brewers worth checking out. He said “Orpheus, Scofflaw and Coastal Empire Brewing.”
Next stop was Coastal Empire Brewing. There I met up with David Barker, Sales rep for Coastal Brewing. He was pretty busy talking brew with the folks in line. They were lined up to try two year-rounders: Inshore Slam IPA, and Southern Delight Praline Amber and summer seasonal Grapefruit Citrus Breeze.
These guys have been producing beer in Savannah for six years. They now have their tasting room ready and have added a small batch system to provide special limited run brews for the tasting room. Plus they have tours through the brewery. Their flagship brew is the Tybee Island Blonde, a Kölsch style ale.
The Inshore Slam IPA has a 75 IBU rating. I was expecting a bitter West Coast IPA. But this is an East Coast IPA. slightly sweet edge. Bitterness is not over the top. A bit smooth for an IPA.
The Grapefruit Citrus Breeze is a sour pale ale with a definite grapefruit flavor. One of the most citrus sour brews I’ve had. Nice supper sipper.
The Praline Amber Ale makes you think you’ve stopped at the praline store down on River Street. Tastes like it sounds. He said they add lactose along with the vanilla beans to make it more praline like. Their website says “brewed with a generous addition of Georgia Pecans and Madagascar vanilla. We also add lactose to accentuate the natural caramel flavors from the malt.” I have to say I wouldn’t mind a pint of this after long day at the office.
I asked him where I should go next and he said Service Brewing for sure. “Their anniversary ale is phenomenal.” I could see their tent so I headed that way.
I’ve reviewed their brews several times and have bumped into their founders, Co-owners Kevin Ryan and Meredith Sutton and sales rep Sam Graci several times in Augusta or at beer festivals. I met sales rep Nicolette Leesa who said that Sam was on vacation this week.
They were tasting their Rally Point Bohemian Style Pilsner and their 3rd Anniversary Ale, SBC3, a wheat-wine. She described it as being a close cousin to a traditional barley-wine but uses a wheat grain bill (more than 50%). It was released on July 22nd, their anniversary.
If you like barley-wines you’ll like this brew. Sweet and malty with a hint of sourness that tries to sneak up on your then fails. That’s probably the honey from Savannah Bee Company. Service has used their honey in several brews. Vanilla bean and milk sugar (same lactose that Coastal Empire uses) sweetens it up nicely.
So, I asked Nicolette. “Who’s next.” She sent me to Moon River where I met up with Sommer Godshall, who had just happened to stop by and say hi to Nicolette while I was at Service Brewing earlier.
At Moon River they had three brews: Slow-vannah IPA; Rosemary Swamp Fox IPA and Sweet as Sommer Sour Ale, which happens to be named after Sommer Godshall.
She was back in the booth and ready to talk about their brews. I tried the Slow-Hannah Session IPA first. At 4.8% I think I could enjoy more than one even if it is a session beer. Got some malt up front to me. She added it is dry-hopped like the their flagship Swampfox IPA. This is not an in-your-face IPA. Got some grapefruit going on. I checked out their site and it says “the laid-back little brother of Swamp Fox, Slow-vannah is sessionable and big on hops. Amarillo, Simcoe, and Centennial varieties used during dry-hopping adds a resinous, grapefruity flavor and aroma.”
Next was her namesake beer, Sweet as Sommer Sour Ale. This is a 5th anniversary colaboration with World Of Beer in Savannah. “It’s a play on sweet and sour” says Sommer. It’s a fruit brew with blackberry puree and lemon zest then uses a sour yeast to zing it up. Pretty zingy little brew. Definitely a “sommer” sipper.
I’m glad I saved the Rosemary Swamp Fox IPA for last. That’s because I had to grab some chips from Tin Lizzy’s to help clean my palate of the Rosemary. Don’t get me wrong, I like this brew. They dry-hop it with Rosemary. And it shows. This is not a year-round. It’s actually their Swamp Fox IPA , their flagship. She said that when they have excess Swamp Fox they make the Rosemary version. So you could call it a year-round limited brew. It’s 7% so it slows you down on the sipping. I would love to try this with Italian food… or just experiment with various Italian sausages and meats.
Where did she send me? She sent me next to Orpheus, one of the brewers that Christian originally mentioned.
At the Orpheus station I found Florian Sablowski. They were sampling Transmigration of Souls Double IPA, and Atalanta, a tart plum saison. These guys are out of Atlanta and have been brewing for 3 years.
The Transmigration of Souls at 10% ABV you want to slow down to enjoy. This beer looked unfiltered to me but Florian said all of their beer goes through a centrifuge. “It’s a big beer. Lots of flavor.”
You can taste this brew before you put it in your mouth, the aromatic hops are so strong. It’s got Azacca and Wakatu hops in there. I think it has one of the heaviest mouthfeel’s of any IPA I’ve every had, double or otherwise. Here’s what their website says: “Transmigration of Souls is an irresponsibly hopped Double IPA, bursting with life from an absurd amount of aromatic hops. You’ll experience a bouquet of orange, lemon, and tropical fruit sitting on top of a clean, dry malt body.”
Next I tried the Atalanta. This is a tart plum saison. They use a sour mother to give the beer the sourness. Very light color. “They add 2,000 lbs of fresh plums from a local juciery.” It has a very simple grain bill: Hallertau Blanc hops, two row barley, white wheat and flaked wheat. It has a very dry finish. “Almost like a champagne or a prosecco,” he added.
I think what’s most interesting on their website is their food pairing suggestions: “Atalanta is mildly assertive, fruity, acidic, and dry. Its acidity and fruitiness make it an ideal complement to most cheeses and oysters. Its dryness and only mild assertiveness means it can also be paired very well with poultry and delicate fish, but it has enough flavor to also be paired nicely with a strong curry.”
He then pointed me two stalls down to Steady Hand Beer Company where Randy Wise, operations manager was down to 1 brew on tap. They had two brews and one had run out by 4:30. Luckily they had poured off the last little bit into a growler, which I was lucky enough to taste. The second brew ran out about 20 minutes later… while I was talking to Randy. I got the last pour there as well.
I guess when you are popular you’ll go through some beer. They have been producing beer as gypsy brewers since January but just 2 weeks ago open their new 30-barrel facility in West Downtown Atlanta. They are tap only but will soon have a canning line, hopefully in September.
The first to run out was the Georgia Farm Saison. A grits brew. Wise said that founder and brewmaster Brian Sullivan moved from Wisconsin and wanted to use a local farm ingrediant. Grits is about as southern as you can get. He added that Brian is very passionate about his beer and puts his soul into it.
It’s a Belgian-style farmhouse ale and tastes like a farmhouse ale. “Sunny South in a glass,” said Wise.
As were talking about the Georgia Farmhouse Ale the Paradise Waits IPA started to sputter. I reached out my sample glass quick. I thought he said this is a double IPA but there’s no mention of that in the handouts or the website. This one has West Coast written all over but it does have a sweet edge. I can taste grapefruit and pine. Interesting little brew. I might call it East Coast if I had more than a 2 oz. pour.
With that he started to take things down to head home. But first he sent me to the next booth, Scofflaw Brewing. They were nestled between Orpheus and Steady Hand. Wedged might be a better description. They were a bit hard to find because they weren’t even listed in the beerfest handout.
I met up with Nathan Schieber, packaging manager for Scofflaw, who said he found out at the last minute they were at the festival so they didn’t even have the tap box. They were using a tap cooler from a local distributor.
They are out of the Upper Westside of Atlanta. These guys were basement brewers. Founder Matt Shirah and Brewmaster Travis Herman used a one-barrel system to perfect their recipes. He came up with the name because he was tired of brewing beer out of his mother-in-law’s basement. He wanted to start making it legally, not like some scofflaw.
They’ve grown their 15/30-barrel brewhouse into a 60/90-barrel facilty, installing the equipment themselves. Their one-year growth is 300%, producing 16,000 barrels.
They were featuring 2 brews today: Basement IPA and Hooligan.
Basement IPA is described as a juicy IPA. I think their website describes it best…. .also after about 8 breweries my notes were getting hard to decipher. “Shhh! Don’t ask about what was happening in the basement, where this juicy IPA was developed in our underground brewery… The beer that emerged pours a deep persimmon with fluffy khaki foam. The dank aroma emanating from this Basement is one of earthy tones, citrus and a hint of lemongrass all derived from Citra hops. It’s balanced with a pale malt body that carries hop aroma and flavor in every sip. There is a hint of alcohol heat on the way down for this hop-forward, Northeast-style IPA with characteristic unfiltered haze and a sweet finish. Beer geeks rejoice — but you have to leave your parents’ basement to get it.”
I liked this brew. I called it a East Coast brew but Schieber called it a “Northeast-style” IPA. I have to admit that since I don’t normally order IPAs I’ve never heard of a Northeast-style IPA. I’ll have to keep an eye open for any more brews that are described as such. This is juicy compared to a “juicy” West Coast IPA a few weeks ago where I struggled to get anything juicy out of it. It does have a hint of sweetness to it.
Last was the Hooligan. It’s an IPA as well but has a very different profile. It’s double dry-hopped. Schieber said this is hands down the employee favorite. He credits brewer Joe McIntyre for developing the recipe. This is a very floral brew. I wanted to describe it as rose-like. But doesn’t make it foo-foo. The passion fruit flavors stand out. Bitter on the very end but before that a hint of malty smoothness. Here’s what their site says about Holligan: If you can pin down a Hooligan, it will pour a golden yellow with a fluffy white head that dissipates slowly and leaves behind lace evidence. Hooligan brings big tropical flavor from the Galaxy and Mosaic hops — passion fruit, mango, and pineapple galore with just a hint of biscuit from pale malt. Including berry notes, the aroma keeps the hops forward. A full body and mild to moderate bitterness round out the finish. A complex and satisfying unfiltered beer experience unlike any other. An outlier – a Hooligan.”
With that I decided my interviews were pretty much over. It was getting close to final call. On the way out I stopped by Riverwatch Brewing to talk to Anne Sloan to see how things are going. She was sad to tell me that their Oktoberfest, which isn’t going to be released for 2 more weeks, ran out about 30 minutes before. Darn. Guess I’ll have to wait 2 weeks. She told me that someone from Germany stopped by and said it was an authentic tasting German Oktoberfest beer. She said they followed the German Purity Laws all the way on the way and it seems to have paid off.
Time to head home. Cheers.
Augusta BeerFest 4-Aug. 19
Author Dan Doughtie