Look across the front lawns in Athens, Georgia and you’ll see Corinthian columns supporting large front porches and university buildings. Always in groups of two, a single column cannot support these structures and neither can a single brewery support the thirsty drinkers of Athens.
The two breweries supporting this city down south are Terrapin Beer Co. and Creature Comforts Brewing Co.. The stories of these two breweries are rather different so I will begin with the brewery that started it all for Athens, Terrapin Beer Co.
“The Compass Always Points to Terrapin”
A brewery whose artwork and soul is inspired by the Grateful Dead takes just as much of an artistic approach to their beer. The story of Terrapin began during the .com boom. While Spike and John were working on finding money to support their dream it quickly became a realization banks and investors weren’t interested. This led to the two contract brewing at a variety of locations or what some today would call “gypsy brewing.” As Spike pointed out, it wasn’t cool to be hopping around looking for a stable place to brew. The moving brewers of today have a cooler title, but Spike would say it's, “the same shit, different name.”
The contract brewing would eventually lead to their current location in Athens. Over the years the space inside has shifted dramatically and now the brewery has several buildings creating a campus. Where the tasting room once stood now holds the current packaging portion of the brewery. However, one thing has remained, the hodgepodge of equipment purchased from a variety of other breweries like Sweet Water Brewing, Zuma Brewing Co, and more.
This patchwork of brewing equipment works in symphony where it counts. They have fine tuned styles on their system and have been able to produce not only exceptional citrusy piney IPAs, but also more subtle and classic styles like an elegant Czech Pilsner. The variety of beers produced at Terrapin shines in the Southeast and with new distribution to states like Kentucky and Ohio, more drinkers will be able to enjoy a beer like Rye Pale Ale.
Visiting Terrapin you get the feeling everyone has a sense of wisdom from working through the tremendous growth. Terrapin started as an idea in Atlanta and the journey is coming full circle with the new Terrapin Brew Lab in its construction phase at the new Atlanta Braves Stadium. Moreover, the growth has allowed the brewery to support the community and culture of Athens like never before.
Click to enlarge
Getting Tropical in the Most Unusual of Places
Listen for the sound of music and the smell of spent grain as you walk down Hancock Avenue. What you'll find in the skeleton of the old Snow Tire Company building is some Creature Comforts. The two-year-old brewery has been gaining some interest. Their distinctive orange and blue Tropicália can has grabbed attention on shelves, but more than this the beer itself is incredibly executed.
Started by David Stein, Chris Herron, and Adam Beauchamp, Creature Comforts pulled its brewing talent from Sweetwater Brewing and Twain's Billiards & Tap. Reclaimed wood, chalkboards, a DJ, and artwork on the walls are purposeful design aesthetics and it all looks great. You might mistake it for a fresh new Urban Outfitters, but thankfully instead of selling overpriced odds and ends, Creature Comforts deals in great beer.
Trying a variety of beer, it seemed the approachability for many of the beers had come first and developed into some of the more experimental styles. Over time it should be interesting to see where innovation takes this brewery with new beer and distribution.
The only familiarity I had with Creature Comforts prior was an article written on Good Beer Hunting. GBH in Residence — A Camping Coolship Adventure by CCBC Wood Cellar & Specialty Brand Manager, Blake Tyers.
Click to enlarge
A Healthy Tension
Terrapin was at one point the only brewery in Athens, GA. Spike and John helped create a beer culture in the little town of Athens, but it was the addition of a second brewery that helped create a scene.
When Creature Comforts was getting ready to open in 2014, Adam Beauchamp spoke with Nick Coltrain of the Athens Banner-Herald and talked about the beer ecology he wanted to complement. He talked about the two breweries working in a manner where they could help out one another and create a beer magnet for enthusiasts and travelers. In order to do this, these two would have to bring out the best in one another by making the best beer possible. They’ve done this in spades, but it has created a little healthy tension.
There are styles that overlap and beers that compete, but it is ultimately better for the people of Athens to see two incredible breweries coexisting successfully and supporting one another when necessary. There is no Athens beer scene without one or the other because remember, if Athens is that beautiful home nestled in the trees, these two are the columns making a statement for what lies inside.
Writing & Photography by yours truly.