Get your brews in Blue Ridge
For beer lovers looking for a getaway in the mountains of Georgia, there’s just one place to go: Brew Ridge.
More widely known as Blue Ridge — it’s the only town in the North Georgia mountains where you can get locally crafted beer and cider.
Blue Ridge is the gateway to the Appalachians for travelers coming up I-75/I-575 from Atlanta and points farther south. Though its full-time population is roughly 1,300, it is a part-time home to many others who have vacation houses nearby.
At one time autumn’s apple-picking and leaf-peeping season was the primary draw, but tourists flock to Blue Ridge virtually year-round now, says Steve Weber, co-owner of Grumpy Old Men Brewing. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railwaydeparts from downtown on its 26-mile round-trip tour through the mountains. And there’s plenty to eat, see and buy in local restaurants, art galleries and gift shops.
It’s a great place to visit that’s made even better by two breweries, a brewpub and a cidery.
The brewery with the funny name makes seriously good beer. It was founded by two retirees who started home brewing in an outdoor shower. Weber, who co-owns the brewery with Chipley McKnight, says they had no intention of working again, but their home brew was in high demand.
“It’s a hobby gone bad,” Weber said.
On a Saturday afternoon in June, the parking lot was close to capacity and the brewery was humming with a lively crowd. A corn hole game and playing children occupied the front yard. Chatting guests filled seats inside and out. Weber said in the fall during peak season, the brewery is packed with visitors and parking overflows to the narrow shoulders of the road and beyond.
Grumpy Old Men’s flagship beer, Grasshoppa Imperial IPA, is a classic American double IPA that is assertively hoppy (primarily with Citra) yet balanced without being sticky. Grumpy’s Aska Pale Ale is kissed with the grapefruit and floral notes of Cascade hops. Moon Over Blue Ridge, a witbier-style ale, is bright, soft and lightly fruity – very refreshing on a hot afternoon.
Grasshoppa, Aska, Tootla Creek Blonde Ale and Hell’s Holler Porter are available in cans. Other brews on draft are available in growlers or crowlers. The brewery doesn’t sell food, but local restaurants occasionally sell sandwiches and snacks, and visitors are welcome to bring their own food anytime.
Info: 1-5 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 1-6 p.m. Saturday. 1315 E. Main St., Blue Ridge. 770-331-8870, www.grumpyoldmenbrewing.com
If you’re seeking a beer with a keen affinity to what grows in Georgia’s mountains, Tom Fennell of Fannin Brewing has something for you.
“I try to make a lot of beers with real, natural ingredients that are local,” he said.
Hive Kicker wheat wine is made with Appalachian sourwood honey, blonde ale Red Headed Woman is made with strawberries from local Mercier Orchards, and Cartecay Sol, a wine-beer hybrid, uses grapes from Ellijay’s Cartecay Vineyards.
Three-year-old Fannin Brewing also veers from the norm by producing several German-style beers, like its popular Blue Ridge Lager, a sturdier than average lager with a light caramel sweetness and crisp finish.
Located in a lush industrial area near the heart of downtown, Fannin Brewing welcomes local musicians to its outdoor stage on Saturdays in the summer and fall. Picnic tables beckon visitors to stay and enjoy the tunes, and there’s limited bar-style seating adjacent to the small tasting room inside. The brewery doesn’t sell food, but guests are welcome to bring their own.
Blue Ridge Lager and Chief White Path, a white IPA with lime leaf tea and lemongrass, are available in cans. You can get a growler of other draft brews. Be sure to ask for Fannin’s seasonal offerings, like the delicious Hive Kicker or the pleasantly vinous Cartecay Sol, available in 22-ounce bottles.
Info: 4-8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday. 3758 E. 1st St., Blue Ridge. 706-258-2762, www.fanninbrewingcompany.com
Located in the heart of downtown, this brewpub is a great place to grab a burger and enjoy live music on a Friday or Saturday evening.
The menu at Blue Ridge Brewery is better-than-average pub fare, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. Burgers are the highlight of the menu, which also includes heavy appetizers, pita-pizzas, sandwiches and a handful of entrees. The Hawaiian burger is a nicely charred half-pound Angus patty with a fresh pineapple slice, guacamole, red onion, pepper jack, lettuce and tomato. You won’t find fries or onion rings on this menu — sides include roasted potatoes, creole slaw, seasonal veggies, salad or black beans and rice.
To wash it all down, you can choose from their in-house selection of six rotating taps, including their Hop-Apotamus IPA (which features Cascade hops) or Blood, an American brown ale. Or you can select from a list of draft and bottle beers from other breweries. Bottles/cans range from international picks, like Orval, to Georgia favorites like Creature Comforts Tropicalia. Seven taps are dedicated to outside breweries and the ever-changing list includes a good range of styles that tend to skew toward Southeastern producers like Terrapin and Good People. Wine and cocktails are available, as well.
Info: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. 187 Depot St., Blue Ridge. 706-632-6611, www.blueridgebrewery.com.
Hard cider is just a small piece of Mercier Orchards’ pie. The beautiful, 300-acre farm 2 miles north of downtown Blue Ridge offers U-Pick events from May through November for strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches and many varieties of apples. Its massive store showcases the fine products they make from their bounty and includes a bakery, candy shop, café and tasting area for Mercier’s hard ciders and fruit wines.
The farm was established in 1943, but the hard cider operation dates back just six years. Mercier Orchards ciders are all natural, mostly consisting of juice from local fruit fermented with a variety of champagne yeast. If extra sweetener is needed, Mercier may use juice concentrate, sugar or honey, but never corn syrup. The result is a series of clear, bright, lusciously fruity ciders.
Goldrush apples give flagship cider Old #3 (named for the markings on Mercier Orchards’ original farmers market crates) a full, crisp sweetness. Grumpy Granny, made from — you guessed it — Granny Smiths, is drier but perhaps not quite as tart as you might expect. Local honey plays a key role in Black Bee, made from Arkansas black apples, bringing a lingering perfume to the nose and playing a full note in the finish.
Other ciders are made from blends of different apple varieties and other fruits, including Rock Steady Red (various apples and strawberries), Pearody Pear (blackberries and pears) and Just Peachy, a hard peach libation that technically isn’t a cider because it contains neither apples nor pears. Beer aficionados should try A Cold Day in Hops, in which El Dorado hops add a layer of light bitterness and fruity complexity to a blend of apple varieties.
Select ciders including Old #3, Grumpy Granny and Black Bee are available in bottles and on draft. Growler fills are available for seasonal offerings and special releases.
Info: 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, but hard cider is not available before 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. (Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.) 8660 Blue Ridge Drive, Blue Ridge. 706-632-3411, www.mercier-orchards.com.