A taste of
craft beer

Whether you’re new to the trend,
a seasoned hop-head or you want
ideas for what to serve guests,
local breweries have an
offering for you.

Right now in the U.S., there are some 4,400 small, local and independent breweries, and nearly 2,000 more in planning. Beyond the obvious success of regionally distributed beers from Georgia-based breweries such as SweetWater and Terrapin, that growth is reflected in the number of new breweries that have been springing up, often under the radar, around metro Atlanta.

With recent changes in state and local laws that allow more relaxed rules for tours, tasting rooms and beer to-go, these small community breweries have become social hubs, where people gather to hang out and have a good time listening to music and playing games. Below are some of my picks — something for just about anyone.

Avondale Estates' Wild Heaven Brewery offers tours, tastings and other regular events. Photo courtesy Wild Heaven Craft Beers.

11 year-round pleasures

Big Shanty, Burnt Hickory Brewery, Kennesaw — This big, bold imperial oatmeal stout is brewed with roasted malt, graham cracker flour and honey. The result is dark and very drinkable, hiding its 9-percent alcohol content in bittersweet layers of flavor, with notes of cinnamon and vanilla.

Dry Irish Nitro Stout, Eventide Brewing, Atlanta — The surprise of the portfolio of this tiny Grant Park brewery is an improbably tasty and true to style Irish dry stout served on nitrogen. Enjoy it cascading in the glass with classic roasted flavors and aromas and a super creamy mouthfeel.

Big Creek Kӧlsch, Jekyll Brewing, Alpharetta — A subtle hybrid style from the Cologne region of Germany, brewed the historic way, at cold temperatures with only barley, water, hops and yeast. The result is a crisp, pale beer with a soft palate, fruity aromas and flavors and bready notes.

Tropicalia, Creature Comforts Brewing, Athens — The biggest buzz beer in recent Georgia history is tailor made for people who think they don’t like hops. True to its name, it’s a slightly exotic, sensual IPA bursting with luscious tropical fruit before finishing with a touch of bitterness.

Misdemeanor Ale, Jailhouse Brewing, Hampton — This old-school amber ale is still a favorite, even if the once popular American style has fallen out of favor in recent times. Medium-bodied, with caramel and biscuit malt flavors balanced by earthy hops, it’s versatile and food-friendly.

Red Brick Hoplanta Red Brick Brewing, Atlanta— Atlanta’s oldest living craft brewery has sometimes struggled to find its identity. But this sturdy, hopped-up American IPA, named for the city of its birth, has become a flagship and steady best-seller, with nice notes of citrus and pine.

Prince of Pilsen, Three Taverns Brewery, Decatur — First brewed as a special summer beer in honor of the World Cup, this Euro-style lager, dubbed “a hoppy pilsner,” is dry-hopped with American Falconer’s Flight 7-C’s and features distinctive floral and citrus aromas and flavors.

Sweetwater IPA, Sweetwater Brewing, Atlanta — The South’s biggest brewery became famous for this unfiltered IPA that often can be had in a matter days after it’s kegged, canned or bottled. That’s the ideal way to appreciate the fresh, juicy panoply of American hops that billow forth.

Sound Czech Pils, Terrapin Beer, Athens — Originally part of a one-off series benefiting the Georgia Theatre, this new year-round offering is brewed with 100 percent Pilsner malt and Czech and German hops. It has a crisp, sophisticated essence worthy of an Old World lager.

Brewers add fruit juice to a batch of beer at Wild Heaven. Photo courtesy Wild Heaven Craft Beers

White Blackbird, Wild Heaven Brewery, Avondale — A complex Belgian-style saison brewed with pink peppercorns and flavored with Korean pears marinated in Chardonnay. The result is an earthy, fruity, spicy beer that still manages to be refreshing and exceedingly food-friendly.

Drafty Kilt, Monday Night Brewing, Atlanta — This tweaked example of the fairly rare Scotch ale style is as much of a kick as its name implies. It features the deep, surprisingly flavors of cherrywood-smoked malt, chocolate malt and roasted barley with a slightly sweet center.

Monday Night Brewing co-owner Joel Iverson tests out different yeasts while helping to produce a batch of Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale. Photo by Phil Skinner

4 seasonal treats

Transmigration of Souls, Orpheus Brewing, Atlanta — This highly rated, rare spring-summer seasonal double IPA is advertised as “irresponsibly hopped.” Its citrus, floral and bittering profile reaches through aromas and flavors of lemon and tropical fruit under a dryish malt base.

Happy Ending, Sweetwater Brewing, Atlanta — The name still riles some, but this award-winning American imperial stout remains one the most anticipated winter releases. It features a combo of complex dark roasted malts and bold hops in a big, warm ale that’s utterly drinkable.

W-n-B, Terrapin Beer, Athens — Formerly known as Wake-n-Bake, this winter release defines the robust style of coffee oatmeal stout. Brewed with a special blend of Jittery Joe’s coffee, it’s espresso strong, but with enough malt sweetness to bring everyone together for breakfast.

Inceptus, Three Taverns Brewery, Decatur — A limited-edition, spontaneously fermented wild ale started with yeast wrangled from the air around the brewery. Barrel-aged for some 18 months, it’s delightfully tart and complex, but very clean and completely drinkable.

3 insider tips

  1. Though Georgia law is notoriously backwards when it comes to breweries, a newish provision allows tasting rooms to offer a limited amount of beer-to-go, which is the best way the buy the freshest and newest offerings.

  2. Atlanta beer bars are go-to destinations for beer geeks from around the country, with the likes of Brick Store Pub and the Porter regularly topping best-of lists on rating sites such a Beer Advocate and Rate Beer.

  3. Though it wasn’t always so, most of Atlanta’s best restaurants now offer solid craft beer lists along with wine and spirits. And even sophisticated spots like Aria sometimes feature special beer dinners with pairings from a local brewery.