I have a quick quiz for you: Moe’s or Willy’s? BW3s, Buffalo’s, Wild Wing Cafe, or Taco Mac? Coke or Pepsi? Braves or Cubs? Well, as Atlantans, we are used to the outside coming in. Since Sherman, the growing Atlanta boom has drawn in northerners and westerners. When this process was sped up by William Carrier’s invention of Air-conditioning, Atlanta boomed. In the century since, the Metro Area has increased tenfold, from 522,442 to 5,729,304. This is coupled with the expansion of the Interstate System and the creation of the busiest airport in the world. This begs the question: what is truly Atlantan?
As prohibition ended and the interstates brought in fast food and chain motels, Americans lost sight of their local brands and started seeking out national names in order to make sure they found something familiar. As this happened, the conservative south clamped down on alcohol laws. This amalgam let the local breweries die, never to return, while the big national beers grew. It wasn’t until 1993 that another brewery would even open in Atlanta. It was too expensive and the forms were too complicated. Since then, as the beer scene has struggled for life, the brewers in the city were grappling with the prevailing beer tastes and environment that had been crushed in the decades of bland macro-brewers.
This philosophy of transitioning and locality is prevalent in the Jailhouse Brewery. Based in an old jailhouse in Hampton, GA (yes that is where their name comes from), this local brewery is fighting to introduce its neighbors to the joys of good beer. They first introduced the Slammer Wheat, Dudeletter’s It’s Too Damn Hot! Welcome to Atlanta! Award Winner. The idea being this would be a transition beer. So they invited out the neighborhood to try their new beer. Wheats are good transition beers (complex lingo I know) because they have no harsh flavors that challenge the unrefined palate. Since then, they have grown to two additional regular beers, Mugshot IPA and Breakout Stout.
Jailhouse Brewery’s birth was a mixture of sweat and serendipity. An eight year homebrewer, Glenn Golden made the plunge into commercial brewing by signing up for the American Brewers Guild correspondence course, which in six months and a five week internship with Yahoo Brewing in Nashville, TN made him the professional Brewmaster he is today. The incredible nature of this is impressive. Most breweries, like Wild Heaven and Terrapin Beer Company, etc., start by contract brewing. Melissa Golden, Glenn’s wife and business manager, thanks Linus Hall of Yahoo Brewing especially for getting the business off on the right foot as well as training Glenn. “He made sure we thought about things that we never would have thought of otherwise.”
However, continued luck was needed. The Goldens were able to purchase their brewery equipment at incredible discount from an abandoned brewery in the city: the now defunct Buckhead Brewers. They found people in Hampton willing to help them sell beer by setting up a distributer; without which, because of the three-tier-system, they could not sell beer outside beer tastings at the brewery. Finally, as with most brewery stories in the city, they had their first fermenters ready to ship just as the paperwork came through.
As their beer became known, Jailhouse has expanded. They are entering the Athens, GA market by the fall thanks to Savannah Distributors. They have released their newest seasonal beer, an American Amber called Conjugal Visit, the first seasonal bottled. If you haven’t seen or heard of them before this piece, seek them out and try them. They are small, but growing; until last week, they were bottling every bottle by hand, just the brewer and, at most, two part time workers; hundreds of thousands of bombers (22 oz bottles) by hand. However, they received their first bottling machine from a local machine shop last week.
As the brewing community in Georgia grows, the collegiality grows too. “We were suspicious at first,” Melissa remembers, “but everyone wanted us to succeed. Terrapin especially, wanted the Georgia brewing community to grow.” She continued “Sweetwater shared a cask with us so we could compete in their competitions.”
Just as the community helped them, we, the beer drinkers, need to as well. Their local effort is noble, but it only works if we support them. So purchase experimental or seasonal; it encourages new styles of beer. Buy local; it encourages a local flavor and community. Finally, don’t buy the macro-brewers, it only encourages them.
P.S. By the way, the correct answers are Willys, Taco Mac, Coke and Braves. Duh