Where to Drink in Atlanta, Georgia

Destinations by | Aug 2013 | Issue #79

Illustration by Sam Brewster

Until a few years ago, there were only a handful of Atlanta brewpubs and breweries offering an alternative to macro beer. Breweries like SweetWater Brewing Co. (now tied with Full Sail as the nation’s 24th largest) and bars like the seminal Brick Store Pub in Atlanta’s next-door neighbor, Decatur, were few and far between in part because it took Georgia until 2004 to raise the statewide alcohol-by-volume cap from 6 percent to 14 percent.

While Atlanta may not have decades-old craft breweries like San Francisco, Portland or Denver does, it’s a melting pot. People move there from all over the world to work at institutions like Coca-Cola, Delta and Turner Broadcasting—making up for the lack of brewing history with an ever-growing craft-passionate population. And 2004’s game-changing legislation has encouraged new brewers as well. Seven Atlanta-area craft breweries opened between 2009 and 2012, with Burnt Hickory, Jailhouse and Monday Night being some of the best of the batch.

Atlanta’s beer-happy suburb to the east is Decatur, and its downtown area is a delightfully walkable, family-friendly strip filled with stellar restaurants and beer. With more than a dozen breweries in the works in 2013 (including the much-anticipated openings of Creature Comforts in Athens and Three Taverns in Decatur), it’s the perfect time to schedule a trip around Atlanta’s rapidly growing beer scene.

Twain’s Billiards & Tap
Expansive and often teeming with sport-loving locals, Twain’s has been holding it down since 1996 (and brewing since 2006). Among the pool, darts, shuffleboard and videogames, they serve up excellent house-brewed ales (try the Berry Tart if it’s warm out, the Obscenity Oatmeal Porter if it’s cold). They also just hired a new brewer, so their selection is bound to expand (former Twain’s brewer David Stein is about to open the much-anticipated Creature Comforts Brewing Company just an hour north of Atlanta in Athens). Twain’s is also walking distance to Three Taverns and BlueTarp breweries.

Brick Store Pub
Brick Store Pub has been serving the Atlanta metro area for 16 years. On top of the 21 mostly domestic taps downstairs, eight Belgian-only taps upstairs and around 300 bottles, they’ve got an unreal rare-beer hoard—housed in an old bank vault beneath the pub—that currently has several thousand bottles aging (no joke), with 900 in the upstairs “cellar” next to the Belgian bar. Better-than-average pub grub and oft-played late-night punk rock on the speakers are but a couple of non-beer reasons to visit. BSP’s sister establishment, Leon’s, is around the corner, and serves up some of Atlanta’s finest cocktails and gastropub fare, not to mention a smart beer selection too.

Victory Sandwich Bar/Paper Plane
340 Church Street, Decatur
Victory offers tasty sandwiches with a modest stable of standby craft beers, like Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Rasputin and Bell’s Two Hearted. Hang a right after the ping-pong table, push through the unmarked door that looks like it leads to a closet, and you’ve found Paper Plane, the super-small restaurant run by the Victory team. Celebrated Atlanta bartender Paul Calvert presides there, making beer cocktails with 21st Amendment’s Bitter American, Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye, et al.

5 Seasons
This Westside brewpub—one of three 5S locations in the Atlanta metro area—is run by local craft-beer veteran Crawford Moran, who founded one of Atlanta’s first craft beer brands, the now-defunct Dogwood Brewing. He serves up a wide variety of beers, including an impressive selection of cellared and barrel-aged beers. Located next door to a great bottle shop (Hop City) and just up the road from a new brewery (Monday Night Brewing), 5 Seasons is the centerpiece of Atlanta’s Westside beer scene. Moran is currently busy opening a new spot, Slice & Pint, featuring house-made beer and pizza.

Cypress Street Pint & Plate
This off-the-beaten-path pub is a rare oasis in Midtown Atlanta’s relative craft beer desert. Their much-loved Beer Geek Tuesdays include weekly brewery features, occasional tap takeovers and speakers, and plenty of beer advocates. Try the Sublime burger, a half-pound of beef commingling with cheddar, caramelized onions and bacon, the whole mess sandwiched between two sugary, fried slabs—as opposed to a traditional bun—from local joint Sublime Doughnuts. If your arteries survive that experience, SweetWater IPA is only $3/pint, every day.

Manuel’s Tavern
To call Manuel’s Tavern an Atlanta institution is an understatement. Housed within the building of a delicatessen purchased by the “Godfather of Georgia Democratic politics,” Manuel Maloof, in 1956, the bar is modeled after the English taverns he frequented during his World War II service. The walls are rich with history and liberal leaders, but all are welcome here. Likewise, Manuel’s sports more than a dozen craft taps and more than 40 bottles, as well as “Good, Cheap Beer” like Miller High Life. Enjoy your beverage with their unbelievable nachos, and start up a conversation with one of the characters at the bar. There are plenty.

The Porter Beer Bar
An unassuming watering hole tucked among a wall of noisy storefronts in Atlanta’s alternative district of Little Five Points, The Porter Beer Bar’s menu reads like a who’s who in US craft brewing, with a smattering of imports from Europe and South Africa. Aside from an ample, gorgeous vintage room (where they also host dinners) and a charming space that’s convenient to music venues like Variety Playhouse and other excellent bars (see Wrecking Bar below), The Porter’s 45 taps and two casks are some of the most exciting in town.

Wrecking Bar Brewpub
In a scant two years, this phenomenal Inman Park brewpub has tapped more than 120 different beers. Offering a new wood-aged brew every Wednesday, a new cask selection every Friday and a rotating tap lineup of 10-15 often-superior beers all made in house (the Hop Noggin Imperial IPA and Siberius Maximus Imperial Stout are standouts), Wrecking Bar has recently expanded its brew space and begun distributing to select bars and retail shops in Atlanta, Athens and Savannah. With an on-the-rise cocktail program and a revamped menu (the house burger and Three Little Pigs appetizer are must-orders for meat lovers), Wrecking Bar is an Atlanta craft beer legend in the making.

The Midway Pub
The rare-craft-heavy bar that truly caters to everyone, East Atlanta’s Midway Pub boasts an array of TVs inside and Atlanta’s best (and dog-friendly!) patio, covered with gorgeous vegetation, outside. There are two-dozen taps and an expansive bottle list, sure, but they’ll happily serve you a PBR if the mood strikes. As it’s spitting distance from two of Atlanta’s best rock venues (529 and The EARL), it’s a great spot for pre-show drinks or eats. Try their indulgent grit cake stack, the overwhelming Sandtown Trail Burger, or a hot dog from local charcuterie The Spotted Trotter. If you end up drinking there late when the kitchen’s closed, head a block over to Octopus Bar, which opens at 10pm and serves Atlanta’s finest late-night grub.