Beer’s Roots

When beer changed in Georgia


MARIETTA, Ga. – Since its humble beginning, beer has evolved from ale to lager to specialty brew, spawning the explosion of the craft beer industry.

American history is brimming with tales of beer and its place in the growth of a nation. Journals found on the Mayflower indicate the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock because they were out of beer and needed to make more.

The first permanent structure to be built in the new world was a brewery and Americans have been brewing beer ever since — even during Prohibition.


Georgia’s Hoppy History

Georgia’s brewing history began in 1738, six years after the state became the last of the 13 colonies. Originally, the Peach State was a colony of debtors. Yup, debtors. James Oglethorpe, a British general and member of Parliament, had a good friend who died of smallpox in a debtor’s prison in England. After the Prison Reform Act of 1729, spearheaded by Oglethorpe, many debtors were released from prison adding to the unemployed throngs in England.

Oglethorpe approached King George II with a proposal to establish a colony for debtors between the Spanish in Florida and the English in South Carolina. In his proposal, Oglethorpe explained that debtors would work off their debts, the unemployed would have work and there would be a military buffer between Florida and South Carolina. The king granted permission.

A major hurdle in the new colony of Georgia was hydration. Initially, there was a ban on alcohol (as well as gambling, slavery, lawyers and Catholics) so the only source of hydration was the water supply. Colonists began dying of dysentery. While Oglethorpe left for England to ask the king’s permission to change the “no alcohol” rule, Major William Horton took control of the helm and eliminated the ban after a bloodless revolution by the colonists.

When Oglethorpe returned, he was furious but realized no one was dying. For saving the lives of those remaining, Horton was lauded a hero and given control of Jekyll Island. Horton established a farm that grew crops to supply the troops at Fort Frederica. Two of his crops were barley and hops – the key ingredients in beer making.

In 1738, Horton founded the South’s first brewery on Jekyll Island. Thus, beer became integrated into the colonial way of life in Georgia.


With the advent of commercial refrigeration in 1860, automatic bottling, pasteurization in 1876 and railroad distribution, the modern era of brewing began. In the latter part of the 19th century, brewing was a big business. Beer surpassed distilled spirits in 1890 and became the main source of alcoholic beverage in America.

The U.S. beer industry continued to grow into thousands of breweries until Prohibition in 1920. The 18th Amendment prohibited the making, transporting, and selling of alcoholic beverages. Advocates believed that alcohol was harmful and caused many social problems including crime and corruption. Breweries either closed their doors, converted to soft drink factories or turned their manufacturing process to malt extract, advertising it as a product for “bread making”. The real reason people bought it, though, was to make their own beer known as homebrew.

In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition. After 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, and 32 minutes, Prohibition ended with Franklin Delano Roosevelt commenting, “What America needs now is a drink.”

Birth of Craft Beer

 By the late 1970s, marketing campaigns had changed America’s beer preference to light, low-calorie lager beers. The traditions and styles brought over by immigrants from around the world were disappearing. Enter homebrewing.

The homebrewing hobby took off because it was the only way a person in the United States could experience the beer traditions and styles of different countries.

“I think it (craft beer) became popular because people were sick of the same five choices for decades and decades,” said Zack Mulazzi at Total Wine & More in Kennesaw. “After the big uprising of craft beer in the mid- to late-‘90s, it became a fight to see who could brew the best tasting beer.”

From these roots sprouted the craft brewing industry.

By definition, an American craft brewer is small, independent and innovative. Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients as well as non-traditional ingredients allowing each brewer to put their own twist and signature spin on their product.

Craft Brewing in Georgia


Georgia’s craft beer takes up four sections at Total Wine & More. Photo by Claudette Enners
Georgia’s first craft brewer, Red Brick Brewing, was founded in 1993. Originally called Atlanta Brewing Co., its trademark ale was going to be named after the long-time brew master John J. Bips. Instead, the brewery elected to use its own name for Red Brick Ale in 2010.

The Red Brick name was derived from a speech given by Atlanta’s mayor in the disastrous wake of General Sherman’s march through Atlanta, stating the city would be rebuilt “one red brick at a time.”

Today, the craft beer industry is thriving. Statistics gathered by the Brewers Association indicate that in 2016 there were a total of 5,301 U.S. breweries, of which 5,234 are categorized as craft breweries. Craft breweries include regional craft breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs. Georgia has a total of 58 craft beer breweries.

Restaurants statewide offer local and national craft beers. Moxie Burger, with three locations in northwest Georgia, is one of them. Co-founder Jordan Pearl believes the industry is very competitive based on the variety of craft beers available.

“I think people like to drink and people like new things,” said Pearl. “This relatively new market has a cult following because there is constant change and improvement in the quality and selection available.

“People like to boast that they have had something that their peers have not. A lot of the seasonal beers are made in small batches that are hard to get. This drives demand and word of mouth marketing. Although that specific beer isn’t always available, the brewery is.”

Economic Impact

As of 2016, Georgia’s craft breweries produced 392,000 barrels of beer contributing to positive economic growth in the state. Overall figures from 2014 indicate small, independent craft brewers contributed $55.7 billion to the U.S. economy.

moxie burger
The original Moxie Burger is at Paper Mill Village in East Cobb. Photo by Claudette Enners
Many factors contribute to calculating economic impact. The most obvious is the direct impact craft brewers have on employment but indirect impacts are included in the calculations. Some examples include: suppliers who provide raw materials and equipment to make beer, construction companies who build the facilities, distributors and wholesalers who provide their services, as well as indirect sales on food and merchandise in restaurants and brew pubs.

The bottom line is more employment means more disposable income which means more spending which positively impacts economic growth.

In his article, How Beer Single-Handedly Saved the State of Georgia, Michael Lundmark concluded that because beer saved Georgia (referencing the hydration dilemma colonists faced) we should honor Georgia’s history with a commitment to consuming beer for our health. With the majority of Americans living within 10 miles of a brewery, that shouldn’t be too hard.


When beer changed in Georgia


Georgia is a tough market for craft breweries. A three-tier distribution law is used, which means that breweries have to sell to distributors, who sell to retailers where the customers can buy their favorite cold ones.

This made it hard for breweries to start up in Georgia because in order to make sales, a brewery must get their beer sold in retailers, which is not an easy task for a new brewery. All of that changed however when Senate bill 85 was passed into law.

The law allows breweries to sell their beer on-site to customers in a capped quantity of 3 million ounces, which equates to about one case per person per day. It also allows the breweries to have restaurants on-site as well.

Here, Matt Krengl is giving a tour of Red Hare Brewery. Before the new law passed, breweries were legally required to give tours and were very limited on how much beer that they could let customers sample. Photo by Brianna Reid

This law has been a long time coming. Because of Georgia’s three-tier system, distributors in Georgia make a lot of money due to the laws protecting their position. With that status being threatened, their push back through lobbying played a heavy role in keeping Georgia behind other states when it comes to brewery laws.

“Getting anything is a plus,” Jekyll Brewing brew master and co-owner Josh Rachel said. “In some states breweries can sell kegs on site, but we are lucky to get what we got.”

Public opinion is that the fight between the lobbyists and the breweries is an all-out brawl between the two parties. However, that isn’t necessarily so.

“The vote to pass Senate bill 85 was unanimous,” Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association Assistant Director Martin Smith said. “It actually has been a very collaborative effort between both parties. Every lobbyist was outspokenly for this bill. The reason it took so long is because we didn’t want to pass a law that wasn’t perfect or created problems. Good legislation takes time.”

The law had to work for both the breweries and distributors alike. Breweries get to sell direct, but the cap protects the distributers, which is a good thing. Distributers aren’t the enemy of craft breweries. In fact, they are actually good for them.

“The distributors actually help us a lot,” Rachel said. “They helped us get here, and I have relied on them for support. I don’t have a fleet of trucks to distribute with, so it actually helps us get our product out there.”

The desire to sell direct to consumer however is not completely diminished. The ability to sell direct gives breweries more business opportunities to pursue that they wouldn’t have if they couldn’t sell direct.

“Being able to serve on-site creates another revenue stream,” he said. “It’s the ability to expand our portfolio in house and offer a larger variety of beers in smaller quantities that you can only buy on-site.”

This bill is good for the industry on both sides of brewing and distributing. The patrons of these breweries also benefit because brewers now have more ways to amplify their experience.

“It’s good for the whole industry,” Smith said. “It allows the brewers to grow and provide a better experience for their customers, and if the breweries grow then the distributors benefit too. They are all partners to make sure the industry thrives.”

It’s hard to say what will come next for this journey of the beer industry in Georgia, but this law was very much a step in the right direction for both parties involved.


Reformation Brewery From the Ground Up


WOODSTOCK, Ga. – Since its establishment in October 2013, Reformation Brewery has grown much more and much faster than expected.

Nick Downs, co-founder and head brewmaster, doubles as a Delta Air Lines pilot.

“I fly international and I was flying to Western Europe mainly,” Downs said. “I’d bring beer back and Spencer Nix, our CEO and other co-founder, and I would sit around and solve the world’s problems and drink beer.”

He changed planes and no longer went to any good beer destinations: “I went to Africa and the Middle East, and places that don’t have any beer,” he said.

Therefore, Downs and Nix decided they would start making their own beer.

Reformation Brewery started in Downs’ backyard. As he and Nix started making their own beer, they would produce about five gallons at a time. This was more than two people could drink, so they invited a few friends over. This happened on the third Thursday of the month, which turned the third Thursday of every month into brew night.

Over about a three-year span, brew night went from four people the first time to over a hundred people toward the end.

“It was just a big event, you know, once a month at my house,” said Downs.

They liked the social dynamic of what they were doing. People liked their beer and encouraged them to keep going and start a brewery, so they did.

They centered their brewery on six core values: acceptance, story, authenticity, moderation, humility and humor. Every value is important and they all take center stage when it’s appropriate.

“You know when you start a brewery you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, so humor comes into effect a lot because if you’re not laughing at yourself and the mistakes you make then you’re not gonna make it,” said Downs.

The namesake of their brewery comes from Reformation Day, which is a religious holiday in remembrance of the Reformation celebrated among various Protestants. It takes place on the same day as Halloween.

“Spencer and I are both kind of theology geeks, and we’ve both been to seminary,” Downs said. “We liked the way that beer united people and created moments, and community and so I think that’s our thrust. Set beer free is what we say.”

Their motto, “set beer free,” means to set beer free from a lot of things.

“There are lots of people that say don’t drink at all,” Downs said. “There are lots of people that want to drink as much as possible or as quickly as possible. There’s the yellow, fizzy beer that is bland and uneventful. So some of those norms are what we would like to set beer free from and try to create a community and an environment where beer is not always the center of conversation. It’s the genesis of conversation. It’s not the conversation, it’s not why you’re there, but it’s a reason to come.”


Nick Downs working in the brewery with the High Efficiency Brewing System. It is the only system of its kind in the Southeast. (Photo by Wes Blakey)

Their overall goal is to find that middle ground between not drinking at all and getting inebriated. They offer 22 ounce bottles that they call Commons as opposed to the traditional Bombers. The reason they are called Commons instead is because people are encouraged to sit down and share that 22 ounce bottle to have something in common with somebody else, not just drink it by themselves and get bombed.

Reformation Brewery is located in Woodstock, home to the Etowah Watershed. The Etowah Watershed is known for having some of the cleanest water in the Southeast. Downs and Nix utilize this natural resource for their brewery. The city of Woodstock and Cherokee County supported them starting up their small business about a mile down the road from downtown.

Reformation has partnered up with the restaurants downtown such as Pure Taqueria, Salt Factory Pub, Reel Seafood and Freight Kitchen and Tap.

“We encourage people to go into downtown Woodstock with our many partners and eat after they enjoy their evening here,” said accounts relations manager, Ryan Morely-Stockton.

This has caused restaurants in the area a 20 percent increase in revenue on nights that the brewery offers tours.

Ryan Morley-Stockton with the Small Business Rock Star Award (photo by Wes Blakey)

Reformation Brewery is open for tours on Thursdays 5:30-8 p.m., Fridays 5:30-9 p.m., Saturdays 1-9 p.m. and Sundays 2-4 p.m. It also offers other events such as BREWHAHA, Books and Brews, Game Night and Industry Night.

BREWHAHA is on the third Thursday of every month, just like when brew night was hosted at Downs’ house.

Industry night plays host to those who work and support the food and beer industry as it offers half off of all tours from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Economic Developer’s Association recognized Reformation Brewery as a Small Business Rock Star as early as Tuesday, Feb. 16.

“It was pretty exciting,” said Morley-Stockton. “It was already an honor to get thrown in the mix, but to actually win it and be included in one of the five businesses that won that award attests to everybody here and what they’ve done. The hard work is paying off.”

To go along with that honor, Reformation recently made Yahoo’s list of 50 Best Breweries Worth Traveling for.

Five years down the road, the Reformation Brewery owners hope to have the same core values intact. Downs sees the brewery staying in Woodstock and believes there is going to be an international component to their beer as he travels so much.

He is still a pilot and pokes around on his layovers to see if he can’t turn up a little business. He said they plan to send some beer to South Africa, China, some Scandinavian places and maybe the United Kingdom as well.

Beer Jobs Bill gets watered down


KENNESAW, Ga. – Members of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild made some strides during the last legislative term toward loosening up sales restrictions between breweries and their customers, but the efforts they made still fell short of their expectations.

According to Thomas Monti of Schoolhouse Beer and Brewing, the new law will allow breweries to charge customers for a tour which allows them to take a six-pack worth home as a souvenir. The law will also call for brewers to be able to bump up the amount of free samples they can give out on site for consumption from 32 ounces up to 36 ounces.

Despite the bill being passed into law, brewers remain angry that much of the bill’s legislation was changed throughout. The brewers want direct sales to the customers, but the Senate would not allow it. Georgia is behind on its brewery laws, and many in the industry thought it was finally time to change by implementing direct sales.

Owner of Schoolhouse Beer and Brewing, Thomas Monti, said the new law affected his business “a little bit.”

Thomas Monti, Brewing professor at Kennesaw State University and owner of Schoolhouse Beer and Brewing.
Thomas Monti, brewing professor at Kennesaw State University and owner of Schoolhouse Beer and Brewing.

“We started to see less and less of the rare beers coming from the Georgia breweries, so they’ll start to only sell them at the breweries alone,” he said.  “However it has opened a lot of people up to come into bottle shops, and I’m starting to see a lot more home brewing.”

Monti said he thinks the law will easily help out the state of Georgia.

“If you look at other states like North Carolina, where there at 3 billion dollars in tax revenue each year on craft beer, compared to a couple hundred million in Georgia, it will definitely help out the state, and we will see a huge influx of breweries coming in because there’s less breweries to compete within the state,” he said.

Georgia lawmakers worked hard to protect the three-tier system of alcohol sales, in which the manufacturers, distributors and retailers are all separate and distinct. With that system in place, many big distributors did not want the bill to go through, because it could potentially hurt their three-tier system. The brewers’ guild argues that Georgia is only one in five states left where a brewery cannot sell beer directly to the consumers. This makes Georgia one of the lowest in the country in terms of the economic impact from breweries and providing possible jobs for the state.

Brewer and Kennesaw State University’s professor of beer culture, John Isenhour, said he thinks brewers will eventually have more freedom.

John Isenhour, brewer and beer culture  professor at Kennesaw State University.
John Isenhour, brewer and beer culture professor at Kennesaw State University.

“I think it will gradually relax once you get the legislation passed. People will find out the world’s not going to end and their businesses aren’t going to collapse and society won’t go into chaos and then they will loosen it up even more,” he said.

“It’s only been fairly recently that we broke the 6 percent rule and then we started allowing sales on Sundays, so Georgia is a bit little less progressive than other states, but there’s steady progress, it’s just a slow and hard one.”