Creature Comforts Brewing Company: Supplying Georgia’s Growing Demand

From the Source by | Sep 2015 | Issue #104

Photo by Blake Tyers

In 2011, just a few weeks after joining Twain’s Billiards and Tap as its new head brewer, 28-year-old beer obsessive David Stein made a bold proclamation to Atlanta’s alternative weekly newspaper, Creative Loafing. “I plan to make the best damn beer Atlanta has to offer,” he said, responding to a question about his plans to revamp the brewpub’s beer program. “We deserve it.”

At the time, it ruffled a few feathers in a Georgia beer scene that was just beginning to flourish. Then again, maybe they needed ruffling. Longtime Peach State beer advocates wondered who this brash young man was, and wondered if his brewing talent could keep up with his mouth. Some of the naysayers even quietly hoped it would.

Four years later, he’s matured quite a bit. “Yeah, if I could go back, I’d likely say that a bit differently,” Stein says. “I’ve learned my lesson on making statements like that.”

Time has a funny way of correcting moments like this, but in the case of Stein’s new brewery, which opened in Athens about a year and a half ago, the prophecy came true, in a way. Creature Comforts is making some of the most raved about beers in Georgia.

Finding the Right Team
Stein started homebrewing in 2005. About five years in, his beers were getting better, and his job at the legendary Brick Store Pub afforded him the opportunity to sample them out, soliciting valuable feedback. So in 2010 he decided to give his brews a name. Creature Comforts beers started mysteriously showing up at beer dinners, bottle shares, and events run by people in the know.

Adam Beauchamp, who was working for SweetWater Brewing Company at the time, remembers hearing about Creature Comforts. “David was homebrewing and telling anyone who would listen about his idea for a brewery,” Beauchamp says. “I caught wind of it as I was beginning to feel a bit stifled at SweetWater. I sent David a message, we met up, shared some homebrews, and decided there was something there. But we needed a clearer vision and some backing.”

Stein decided he needed to work for a brewery before running his own, so he did a short apprenticeship with Scotland’s BrewDog, ending up back in Georgia at Twain’s Brewpub afterward. When Top Chef alum, Athens resident, and Georgia restaurateur (Five & Ten, Empire State South) Hugh Acheson connected Stein with a group of investors who wanted to open a brewery in Athens’ downtown Snow Tire building space, he jumped at the opportunity.

With Stein and Beauchamp as co-owners and -brewmasters (Stein is now director of innovation and procurement), they brought on a talented homebrewer and photographer, Blake Tyers. He started in the cellar, filled in on brew shifts when needed, and did all of the brewery’s photography and much of its marketing and social media. He has since been promoted to head brewer.

“I basically decided I wasn’t going to give these guys an option to hire anyone else,” Tyers says. “I started reading a lot, shared some beers I was proud of with Adam and Dave, and just kept myself in the conversation.”

Next, they needed a business brain. Chris Herron had worked his way up from a Miller Brewing Company intern to nine and a half years at Diageo where he’d held roles in distributor management, pricing strategies, and commercial finance. He’d also been writing a brewery business plan of his own, so he happily moved his pregnant wife and two children from Connecticut back to his home state of Georgia to serve as Creature Comforts CEO.

Supplying the Growing Demand
Creature Comforts brewed around 2,000 barrels in the eight months it was open in 2014, and will likely top 10,000 barrels in 2015. Just before hitting the half-year mark, it brought home a bronze medal in the American Style Brett Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival. Its other barrel-aged selections have been the talk of recent Georgia beer festivals and competitions while its dialed-in core lineup—a Pilsner, an Amber, an IPA and a Berliner Weisse—are not easy to find.

“We can’t keep enough Tropicália in the restaurant, it sells so fast,” says Paige Lane, bar manager at Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall in Atlanta, Creature’s top draft account. “Our guests ask for it by name. It’s truly amazing what [Creature Comforts has] built in such a short time in Athens.”

Creature Comforts isn’t just making popular beers, though. “They preserved an iconic building and made it current,” Acheson says of the refurbished Snow Tire space. “They are giving a mature angle to beer and attracting a lot of people who wouldn’t really have gone downtown [in Athens] after dark in the last few years.”

That iconic building feels more like one of Acheson’s hip restaurants than a brewery. Reclaimed wood lines the walls around two rows of taps on either side of a giant room filled with tables. Copper light fixtures hang over the bar, and a garage door opens onto Hancock Avenue, letting in the sights and sounds of the University of Georgia. The Athens farmers market is held there weekly.

Georgia Craft Brewers Guild executive director Nancy Palmer says that Creature is “very involved with nonprofits and community programs in a way other breweries could learn from. They’ve set the stage to become a brewery that is intimately involved in their community and set a wonderful example for the type of corporate citizens brewers can be.”

They’re actively involved in the Guild, too, working to change Georgia’s restrictive beer legislation. Tyers says he gets “extremely hopeful” when he visits states that have better beer laws and more robust beer scenes as a result.

“To see how integrated breweries are into neighborhoods, support for ultra-small breweries and all the interesting and new ideas that are viable in the marketplace, these things give me hope that Georgia can get there,” he says. “That’s largely what fuels my involvement in the Brewer’s Guild. It’s my way of helping turn this state into what it should be.”

In a couple of years, the brewery may make an even bigger statement if Georgia’s laws don’t improve. Beauchamp says Creature will max out its Athens space by 2017. The partners have already begun the site selection process for their next location, which will likely be a large production facility, freeing up the original space for more experimentation, one-offs and barrel aging. Beauchamp thinks the state stands to lose out on a lot of money if things don’t change.

“As much as we’d like to keep the new facility close to home, there is a strong pull from other states that have less restrictive laws and regulations,” Beauchamp says. “If Georgia continues to push back against our budding industry, it will lose out to our neighboring states.”

30-barrel brewhouse
1 30-bbl fermentor
4 60-bbl fermentors
2 120-bbl fermentors
1 30-bbl bright tank
2 60-bbl bright tanks
1 120-bbl bright tank
2 15-bbl Brett fermentors

On Tap
Cosmik Debris Double India Pale Ale: A big, dry, double IPA brewed with Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra and Columbus hops that’s as exciting as the 1974 Frank Zappa song from which it takes its name. 8.9% ABV
Bibo Pilsner: “An enormous amount” of Czech Saaz hops and a bit of Motueka make this year-round Pilsner a dry, refreshing beer with notes of pineapple and black pepper. 5.5% ABV
Tropicália India Pale Ale: The runaway hit so far, Tropicália features loads of citrus aroma and fruit flavor, eschewing the hop-bomb bitterness that can often come with the style. 6.5% ABV
Reclaimed Rye Amber: Hoping to change how Georgians feel about Amber Ales, Creature used French oak and rye to help round out this beer, adding notes of spice and vanilla. 5.5% ABV
Athena Berliner Weisse: Taking its name from Greek goddess of wisdom, this crushable German-style wheat beer pairs a pillowy soft mouthfeel with a subtly tart, lactic acid bite. 4.5% ABV
Koko Buni Milk Porter: This cold-weather seasonal is built on a profoundly smooth blend of toasted coconut, vanilla beans, cacao nibs and coffee that pairs well with winter’s first snow. 6.8% ABV