Drinking local has never been easier in Atlanta, whose craft brewery scene has exploded in recent years, offering a variety of tastes for beer lovers and novices alike. From the longtime SweetWater 420 standby to the newly-popular, yellow-canned Emergency Drinking Beer brewed by Wild Heaven, Atlanta beer is marked by community, camaraderie, and creativity. While the state’s craft beer industry struggles to gain legislative approval to sell their products on-site (help support these local businesses here), tours and tastings are an ideal way to mingle with friends over the great brews crafted by the dedicated staffs of these thriving purveyors. To wit, we’ve rounded up the city’s top 12 breweries.
Sweetwater Brewing Company
Perhaps the most recognizable Atlanta beer, SweetWater’s founders brought their Colorado beer training to the Peach State in 1996. Their current home takes up a whopping 25,000 square feet near the Ansley Park neighborhood, and during brewery tours and tastings, guests can sample some of their most popular year-round beers and seasonal rotations. SweetWater is best known for the ubiquitous 420 extra pale ale, but their full offering list is marked by a “something for everyone” range that includes the blueberry flavored SweetWater Blue, the Georgia Brown, and their Take Two Pils pilsner. Beyond the brews, SweetWater is committed to being a sustainable and service-oriented organization—their Beneficial Brews program works to support nonprofits in Atlanta, the city that gave the company its start.
Three Taverns Brewery
Nestled in Decatur, Three Taverns brews beer infused with Belgian tradition and New South innovation. On a European road trip in 1994, founder Brian Purcell was inspired by the brewing techniques of Belgian Trappist monks. When he was able to acquire Belgian Brewmaster Jordan Van Ginderachter, his vision was underway. Three Taverns consistently aims to “surpass the ordinary” in their techniques and flavors, and with a Belgian brewing heritage steeped in “complexity, experimentation, artful refinement, and openness to possibility,” they’ve put forth excellent beers in their New Belgian and Non-Orthodox beer collections. Local favorites include the A Night in Brussels IPA, A Night on Ponce IPA, and Feest Noel, the holiday quadruple ale. Stop by the tasting parlor to try their Sour Asylum series, including the colorful Raspberry Sour Asylum Rhapsody in Red, on draft only.
Wild Heaven Craft Beers
Just up the street from Three Taverns, Wild Heaven calls the Avondale Estates neighborhood home. The men behind the brews are a pretty fascinating pair. President Nick Purdy was the founding publisher of the nationally-syndicated Paste music magazine, and Brewmaster Eric Johnson’s eclectic background in horticulture and the restaurant business (he founded the popular Athens bar Trappeze Pub) eventually led him to the beer business. By adding an American twist to traditional European brewing methods, Wild Heaven aims to make a place for themselves in the Southern beer scene—“not simply creating our version of what everyone else is doing.” Most will agree that the must-try is the Emergency Drinking Beer, as popular for its unique packaging and killer name as it is for its taste (the hipster equivalent of Lite beers). The crisp tang of this pils-style session ale makes it a perfect poolside beer. On the darker side, Wild Heaven crafts the Ode to Mercy Brown Ale and Eschaton Belgian-style Quadrupel. For in-betweeners, the White Blackbird Saison or Invocation Golden Ale might be just right. When you visit the brewery, you can pick from one of three “Drink Here” tours that vary in their beer offerings: a flight and 12oz pour or three 12oz pours for $12, or a $15 option that includes four 9oz pours and a souvenir glass.
A great brewery for those who like beer that comes with a tart kick, Orpheus Brewing specializes in saisons, sours, and IPAs, the names and labeling of which are inspired by mythology. The company’s mantra reads “beauty, harmony, and something a little wild,” and you’ll taste all of these in their best-loved brews: the year-round Atalanta tart plum Saison (voted Atlanta’s 2015 best locally brewed beer in Creative Loafing); the Lyric ale; their IPA series, including Life.Death.Life.Truth; and their sour series, including the fig-infused Sykophantes fall beer. Neighboring Piedmont Park and the Beltline, the atmosphere at Orpheus is welcoming to beer enthusiasts, those just figuring out their beer palate, and even your dogs. Visit the “Musings” section of their website to read Brewmaster and President Jason Pellet’s expert beer thoughts and company reflections—he takes the science of being a brewmaster to a whole new level.
Monday Night Brewing
A brewery that blossomed from the comradery of a Monday night Bible study group, the mission of Monday Night is grounded in savoring good flavor and the time spent lingering over drinks with friends. Their “regulars”—all of which are accompanied by suggested food pairings—include the Nerd Alert ale, the Blind Pirate Double IPA, the Fu Manbrew Belgian-style Wit that includes a hint of ginger, the Drafty Kilt Scotch ale, and the all-American Eye Patch Ale. Variations of these classics crop up in the Clip-On Series, like the Blood Orange Blind Pirate. Meanwhile, the Black Tie Series is anything goes: limited edition experiments, like the Hipster Fresh Hop harvest ale. Wondering about all this talk of ties, and the well-known “Tie One On” wall featured inside the brewery? It’s another way to symbolize their “loosen your tie and have a good beer” approach to brewing and fostering community.
Second Self Beer Company
The men behind Second Self endorse a poetic, philosophical approach to making beer, believing that “layers of character and flavor can be built to be greater than the sum of its parts.” Beer Architect Jason Santamaria and Alchemist Chris Doyle bring serious attitudes and culinary, business and brewing savvy to their endeavor. A building expansions debuts Spring 2016 –don’t miss the return of their beloved Comedy Night. Their Red Hop Rye (the bronze medal winner in the "Out of Bounds IPA" category at the U.S. Open Beer Championship) and Thai Wheat are available in cans and on draft, and additional brews will make their return this spring and summer, including their Citrus and Summer IPAs, just in time for Georgia’s warmest months.
Red Brick Brewing
This brewery’s mission is as warm as its red brick exterior: “…we want to raise a glass to your thing: Your passions. Your triumphs. Your moments of pure, unadulterated greatness.” This warmth extends to a visit to Red Brick, where, depending on the day of the week, you’ll surely be able to pair a $12 beer tasting with some laid-back fun. Saturday features “daytime suds” for a little weekend day drinking, and during the week they offer “One-Off” Wednesdays (a chance to sample beers exclusively served in the brewery), trivia on Thursdays, and live music on Fridays. Red Brick’s best beers range from the Divine Bovine Chai Milk Stout to the Vanilla Gorilla Imperial Porter to the Hibiscuwit Belgian Wheat, a beer that features unexpected, sunny notes of hibiscus and citrus. For authentic Atlanta beers, try the Laughing Skull Amber Ale and Hoplanta American IPA.
Red Hare Brewing Company
Head up I-75 North to experience the OTP (“outside the Perimeter”) goodness that Red Hare offers. The first Georgia brewery to can its beers, Red Hare is the first brewery in the world to do so in every can, made from high-quality recycled aluminum. It’s likely that one of their four year-round beers will suit your taste, whether it’s the Long Day Lager (their first), Gangway IPA, Cotton Tail Pale, or Watership Brown Ale. Their Sticky Stout oatmeal stout, one of the three seasonal rotations, will likely help you survive the final weeks of winter until Whabbit Wheat hits the shelves. Brewery tours, which regularly feature live music, are open to all ages—and leashed dogs—and for those not old enough to sample the beers, Red Hare offers house-brewed root beer, the first in their line of craft sodas.
Eventide is the brainchild of a group of beer-loving friends who formed a brewery dream during their Georgia Southern University years. In addition to regular tours, samples in the tasting room, new brew release parties, and comedy nights, Eventide offers a variety of events for their followers. Check out the monthly Cellar Beer Program, which offers the chance to sample a cellar beer and learn about taste evolution. Collaboration Brew events celebrate Eventide’s regular partnerships with beer-making friends to bring new brews to the table. In conjunction with The Homestead Atlanta, Eventide’s Curiosity Club is a monthly lecture series by local craftspeople who share their skills and insider craft knowledge. All beers are currently only available on draft, and there’s a regular for everyone: the Kolsch, the Pale Ale, the Stout, the Citrus Grove Hefeweizen, the Highlander Scotch ale, and the Red Headed Haley red ale. Eventide regularly serves seasonal experimentations, too, so stop by the brewhouse to see what’s on draft!
5 Seasons Brewing
This high-profile brewpub, featured in both local and national press, has a simple and heartfelt mission to serve Atlantans great food (or “fine dining in denim,” as Chef David Larkworthy calls it) and great beer. Brewmasters Crawford Moran and Kevin McNerney (one of SweetWater’s founders) head the brewery side of 5 Seasons, overseeing the three metro Atlanta locations. During the free brewery tour, guests can sample three beers and, for $10, two small plates. The beer offerings reflect diversity and playfulness in both taste and name: the Humdinger Hefeweizen German breakfast beer, the Belgian-style Cartoon Brune, the Ale to the Queen English pale ale, the Munich Helles German pale ale, the Long Strange Tripel Belgian ale, the hop-packed Hopgasm IPA, and the Rev-Elation Coffee Milk Stout, born of a partnership with Rev Coffee Roasters in Smyrna, Georgia.
Inspired by none other than the South itself—fun fact: the first brewery in the South was founded on Jekyll Island in 1738—Jekyll aims for well-crafted beers enjoyed in a casual atmosphere. Visit their brewery in Alpharetta, a large metro-Atlanta suburb, on Thursdays for the JR Series Taproom, where co-owner and brewmaster Jason Rachel pours specialty brews served only in-house. Jekyll will recommend the Southern Session blonde ale as a beer for “all y’all,” and if you like your beer on the sweet and smooth side, go for the Cooter Brown American brown ale, named in honor of the Civil War pacifist who lived on the Mason-Dixon line. Doesn’t get more Southern than that.
BlueTarp Brewing Co.
If you visit this Decatur brewery, you will indeed find blue tarp banners hanging from the walls. Specializing in IPAs, this is Decatur’s first full-production brewery, where you can enjoy a casual atmosphere indoors or outdoors. From the beer garden to the adult-sized Jenga and cornhole setups, BlueTarp has a college basement hangout vibe. For those who aren’t the biggest fans of the IPA, rest easy: BlueTarp serves up the Last Place Stout, an ideal winter beer, the BantamWeight session ale, and the Fünk Weisse, their summer beer go-to.