Atlanta, and the whole of the Southeast region, is seeing an explosion in beer culture, the pace and intensity of which is unmatched in the US. In bars and restaurants, BMC taps are finding themselves crowded by beers with color, beers brewed with discernable malt backbones and pounds of hops and exotic yeast strains. Better yet, local, handcrafted beers are leading this charge.
Look for Terrapin, the Athens-based brewery that’s winning national acclaim for experimental beers that use nontraditional ingredients and gleefully smash styles to create new, wonderful flavors. Or SweetWater, the Great American Beer Festival’s (GABF) 2002 Small Brewery of the Year, and Atlanta’s leading craft brewery. Or the Atlanta Brewing Company, the first brewery to introduce Atlantans to good, locally sourced beer, and a 2007 GABF gold medal winner.
These breweries, in turn, have helped create a vibrant new market for both coasts’ more established brewers, and for smaller brewpubs like Five Seasons and Twain’s. In 2004, Georgia lifted its ban on beers over 6-percent alcohol by volume (ABV), and now its capital is awash in Imperial Stouts and Belgians. It’s an exciting time. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss—Atlanta’s top beer destinations, as ranked by BeerAdvocate.com’s BeerFly users.
We’ll begin in Decatur, the city that plays Brooklyn to Atlanta’s Manhattan. It’s less dense and certainly less sprawling than its bustling neighbor, and its walkable neighborhoods have become magnets for small, hip, and proudly independent-leaning businesses and residents. Check out the massive outdoor Dekalb Farmers Market and the town square, which centers on the historic county courthouse and serves as the neighborhood’s hub of commerce. On October 18th, the square hosts the annual Great Decatur Beer Tasting Festival (tickets vanish quickly, so plan ahead). The Brick Store Pub looms over the square—both in fact and in reputation. With 17 taps and 75 bottles, plus eight rotating taps and 120-odd bottles in its Belgian Beer Bar, and a fanatically loyal customer base, the Brick Store rivals the best of what Chicago and New York have to offer. And it’s certainly a must-visit while in the area. Other worthy places close by include Twain’s, a pool hall that recently started brewing its own beers; the Thinking Man Tavern, a haven for thirsty academics; and the 5th Earl Market, a gourmet sandwich spot that pours a modest selection of ridiculously great beers.
Hop on Atlanta’s modern and reasonably efficient subway and head downtown. The area is home to CNN, the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park, an impressive shrine to Coca-Cola, and Atlanta’s massive convention center complex. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which houses King’s tomb, birth home, church and the center that bears his name, is a manageable walk eastward. The downtown area is also home to a number of drinking establishments that cater to the business/conventioneer/stadium crowd. Taco Mac, which pairs great wings and flat screen TVs with a massive beer selection, and Max Lager’s, Atlanta’s oldest brewpub, are two of the best. And a trip into Midtown, which boasts beer-soaked culinary greatness at TAP and beer-soaked rock ‘n’ roll madness at the Vortex, as well as spectacular skyline views from Piedmont Park, is well worth the effort.
SweetWater Brewing Company
What are aggressively styled West Coast ales doing in the Southeast? Leading a revolution, of course. The former GABF Small Brewery of the Year’s 420 Extra Pale Ale and Donkey Punch Barleywine are second to none.
Red Brick Brewing Company
A change of ownership and a new brewhouse have reinvigorated Atlanta’s oldest craft brewery. Longtime standby Red Brick Ale remains a malty thing of beauty.
Five Seasons Brewing Company
An upscale pub menu pairs with an adventurous, ever-rotating selection of house brews. It’s a hike from downtown, but there’s always a cask to comfort weary travelers. Keep an eye out for their new Westside spot, set to open next year.
Twain’s Billiards and Tap
Twain’s is a neighborhood pool hall that plunked a seven-barrel brewhouse inside the premises. Great idea. BeerFly readers rave about Mad Happy Pale, Hannibal Red and Captain Stormfield Abbey Ale (a 7.8-percent monster).
Max doesn’t overwhelm beer geeks with selection or extreme recipes. They are what they are: a downtown industrial brewpub that serves a solid Pale Ale and a burger to visitors requiring such services. Not a bad thing at all.
One BeerFly reviewer calls the brews at this incarnation of the German brewpub chain “pure, simple, and very well brewed, formulated and handled.” Are you looking for anything else in a pint?
The difference between a brewpub and, as TAP has crowned itself, a gastropub? A whole bag full of Mobil and Michelin stars on the chef’s résumé. The beer—roughly 20 each on the tap, bottle and reserve lists—more than pulls its own weight, too.
Beer, bikers and Atlanta’s best burger, and if you don’t like it, get the F out. The Vortex is loud and smoky and definitely not for everybody. But that just means there’s more of it left for us.
Reviews on the Midway’s food are mixed at best, but the pub’s space—an oversized patio, gorgeous barroom, stacked jukebox and Ms. Pac-Man console—and beer menu—several dozen strong, with sufficient attention paid to Belgians and American crafts—make it a welcome addition to East Atlanta Village.
Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under is a fish fry house that, thanks to its perch across from the Oakland Cemetery, trades in healthy doses of death humor. Plus, they’ve got 30 taps. That’s because fish plus beer plus dead people equals good times.
Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge
Good coffee, great beer, tasty sandwiches and free WiFi. No hard sell necessary.
Manuel’s is a 50-year-old-plus neighborhood joint full of professional drinkers—journalists, politicians and neighborhood types. They come for cheap beer and good company. As should you.
What started as a modest roadside beer-and-wings joint has blossomed into the Southeast’s most aggressive good-beer evangelist. The size of Taco Mac’s beer list is mind-boggling. And the Buffalo wings still kick ass.
Brick Store Pub
Simply put, one of the finest beer bars in the country. The Brick Store boasts hundreds of beers over two bars (one devoted exclusively to Belgians), and each one is poured with passion. This recent BeerFly post says it all: “Finally went here. It was entirely too long of a time coming.”
Fat-boy burritos are complemented by a thoughtful selection of local craft brews, which dominate the assemblage of 16 taps.
5th Earl Market [closed]
A takeout market and gourmet sandwich shop that stocks an audacious selection of bottled and draft beers. At press time, they had Mikkeller on tap. Enough said.
Thinking Man Tavern
The Thinking Man serves up 15 stellar taps, and 40 more bottles, along with books, board games and a loaded jukebox. Plus one stuffed cougar. Kitty likes good beer! ■