The Best Breweries in Atlanta Right Now
Remember when craft beer wasn’t really a THING in Atlanta? It wasn’t that long ago. We had a few local spots, but until the early aughts they had to keep ABV percentages (alcohol by volume) in the lower ranges. But that’s all rapidly changing. Today craft brews -- and breweries -- are booming, turning everyone in town into willing experimentalists ready to sip their way into new discoveries, styles, flavors and food pairings.
And though there are many others to try that we couldn’t quite fit on this list (Eventide, Wild Leap, Gate City, Second Self, and many more coming later in 2018 like Steady Hand), if you had to pick the 15 most dominant Atlanta-area beer-making businesses, you’d end up with the great ATL breweries below. So grab your favorite koozie and a cold glass; it’s time to locally beer yourself stupid with ATL’s best of the best.
The folks who made your favorite IPA
Sure, Athens is not Atlanta, but miss me with that “technically” bullshit. We’re claiming Creature Comforts, because A) there is no Thrillist Athens, and B), everything they make is the greatest beer ever. We’ve all thirsted for their first two beers (Tropicalia and Athena, which sparked IPA and sour movements statewide), and now Bibo, the extra-refreshing pilsner with a tiny taste of honeydew from Huell Melon hops, is also easy to find at Publix, and they’ve got seasonals like the 8% ABV Cosmik Debris double IPA and the ridiculously balanced Koko Buni milk porter, which you’ll never see on shelves for too long. Visit the brewery on their anniversary (or any other special event) and you might find yourself drinking a sour made with apple cider vinegar that’s somehow completely delicious, or one of their collaboration beers with Run The Jewels, including the hazy-fruity Stay Gold IPA and Legend Has It pilsner, whose European version has weed in it. We’ve got great breweries in Atlanta proper for sure, but the reality is that everybody in the state is chasing CC for the beer belt championship. So again, we’ll just claim them. Cheers!
Trippy sour-forward beer near Piedmont Park
Other than hiring the actual New Orleans rapper (and if you’re considering that, be sure to watch yourself), It’s hard to get more mystical than Orpheus, whose strange can art (made by local creatives like R. Land and Dosa Kim) and fantasy-themed beer names takes drinking to a new, tarter dimension. Standouts include the ridiculously sour Atalanta tart plum saison, and the “irresponsibly hopped” Transmigration of Souls double IPA, which unlike other Orpheus beers, they generally suggest pairing with another beer instead of food. They’ve got high gravity delights like the Abandon All Hope stout (13.9% ABV), and lower-range sessionable sippers like the barrel-aged wild ale Noise and Flesh, always on tap at the brewery. They’re strange, weird and good, which makes them uniquely ATL.
The neighborhood-splitting brewpub for the real aficionados
Founded in 2011 on the basement floor of a Victorian home just south of Little 5 Points, Wrecking Bar has maintained a solid reputation as an innovative brewpub that continues to outdo itself with its beer -- and has simultaneously served fantastic food. Your best bet is to check their website for always changing PDFs of the current tap list, which could include fruity, hazy IPAs from their Juice Willis series, or your not-everyday oak-aged English ESB (Extra Special Bitter) and other rare casks. They also have separate event space options, from the casual outdoor biergarten to The Cellar, for intimate indoor get-togethers. And then there’s The Marianna, made to hold up to 250 guests, who presumably like gathering with other beer nerds in architectural marvels sitting right between the rich people and the blue-haired weirdos. That’s as ATL as it gets.
Atlanta’s oldest brewery feels 21 again
Formerly known as Atlanta Brewing Company (all the creative names were apparently taken back in 1993), Red Brick has outlasted several come-and-go breweries by holding steady with longtime fan favorites like the Laughing Skull amber ale, white ale, and craft lager, and Hoplanta IPA. During hotter months the Hibiscuwit wheat beer is great, and they’ve got a Fruited Gose that is a dead ringer for Creature Comforts Athena Paradiso (normally this would be considered swagger-jacking but it’s too good to be mad at anybody). With historic bragging rights and a glass-walled taproom sporting a copper-topped bar, this is Old Atlanta and New Atlanta in a single pint glass.
The little Tri-Cities brewery that could (and does)
Having started from the bottom (of the perimeter), Arches is a Hapeville-based operation whose brewmaster came up with the original recipes from his East Point Colonial home. He then spent the next ten years using playful chemistry to mix Old World Belgian and new-school American styles of beer to come up with 30+ recipes. Inside the brewery’s tasting room that was built by the owners inside a renovated NAPA Auto Parts shop (and open Thursday and Saturday afternoons), Arches has several year-rounds available -- try the Southern Bel' blonde ale, which has “biscuit notes” -- as well as seasonals and limited-releases like the twice-per-year Rough & Ready double IPA, and a winter-only aged Russian imperial stout.
Amazing beer from a music magazine publisher and horticulturist
Emergency Drinking Beer almost seemed too ironic to be taken seriously at first. And then you drank it, and realized it was stupendously refreshing -- the kind of beer blend (think pilsner-meets-gose) that you can drink while cutting your grass or meeting new friends at your local bar. Speaking of which, there’s a lot of talk about who created what comes out of that no-frills yellow and black can; some say the folks from Victory Sandwich Bar, others say the guys from Ticonderoga Club were involved. Either way, the founder of Paste magazine and a horticulturist from Athens are the two Georgians that make it all possible. The brewery hosts all sorts of great community events (Bend & Beer Yoga, anyone?), and has gained mad acclaim for Belgian beers like the malty golden ale Invocation, and White Blackbird, a saison brewed with pink peppercorns. They’re soon joining Monday Night and ASW Distillery in the Lee + White development on the BeltLine; until then meet them in the Eastside town that looks like a wild Tudor heaven, and enjoy the hipstery-looking beer that took the city by storm.
Belgian-inspired beer from the Eastside
Founder Brian Purcell got the brewing bug from a road trip through Europe with friends decades ago, which evolved into homebrewing and became a passion and business prospect run from a Decatur warehouse with a brick and wood interior. They’re famous locally for their A Night On Ponce IPA, and gained plenty of new fans with their sours, including the year-round Rapturous (raspberry), and seasonal Lord Grey (earl grey tea) and Enchantress, a cranberry sauce sour that should be served at every ATL-area Thanksgiving dinner. For Thelonious-level monk-style beers, try something from their New Monastic lineup, like the bottle-conditioned Quasimodo quadrupel, available during autumn and likely to make you put a hump in your back, coming in at 10% ABV.
This baseball field brewery is harder to beat than The Braves
Even now that Athens-based Terrapin is mostly owned by MillerCoors, the turtle-worshipping brand is still beloved by people who can’t get enough Hopsecutioner (and they are legion). But Terrapin was smart enough to stay connected to Atlanta’s growing brewery scene and local sports by getting a prime location inside SunTrust Park. The result is ATL Brew Lab, a five-barrel brewhouse where exclusive beers are made and served, alongside a few Terrapin standards. From collaboration beers with Chipper Jones (the CJ10 kolsch) to strangely named experiments like the Bru Bru Lemon farmhouse saison (“the yoga pants of beer”), they keep the Terrapin Taproom -- which also serves Fox Bros BBQ -- awash in deliciously dank suds.
Serious beer science slams your tastebuds
Already vying for the fictitious award of “most bravely named brewing company considering Georgia Blue Laws,” this science-heavy brewery started with two guys. One guy who walked away from his corporate job dealing with debt-straddled businesses, and a friend in pharmaceutical development who decided to study beer and went on to brew for big names like Russian River in CA. Their niche is the cultivation of local yeast strains to make an Imperial American wheat called Sneaky, a West Coast IPA called Westside, the Slim pale ale and their go-to Basement IPA, with Citra hops that give it an earthy tone with lemongrass hints. And by the way, the only viable excuse for not tasting the phenomenal POG (Passionfruit, Orange and Guava) version of Basement is if you’ve been locked away in one.
The Atlanta standard that keeps reinventing
If the city has a default beer, it’s SweetWater 420. You see that iconic bottle featuring the floppy fish at office parties, backyard barbecues, and everywhere else people should or shouldn’t be drinking, but the folks behind the beer aren’t resting on past successes like their blueberry wheat ale or the IPA (nor should they be with so much great beer popping up all over town). They’ve recently opened The Woodlands, a nextdoor facility where they’re barrel-aging and souring beers of all sorts, and they continue to be one of the most consistently patronized breweries in town, even when that hole in I-85 made it hard to get to the taproom. They’ve also kept creating new pourables, in the Hatchery series (the black lager and chocolate milk stout are standouts), and through limited releases like the wonderfully hazy and unfiltered Fresh Sticky Nugs double IPA. Keep coming in, ATL -- the ‘Water’s still fine and keeps getting finer.
Beer that made Cobb County worth visiting
Where were you, and how hot was it outside, when you first had SPF 50/50 (Red Hare’s India Pale Radler)? Sure, the Delk Industrial brewery had a couple early hits with Long Day Lager and Gangway IPA, but the juiced-up sessionable SPF became an instant classic, especially for anybody that likes drinking on Atlanta rooftops during the summertime (read: you). With that success, they’ve noticeably shifted towards a fruitier disposition overall, with strawberry and peach versions of their Berliner weisse, and the hazy tangerine-tinged Soft J IPA. Fortunately for anybody unwilling to brave Cobb Parkway or I-75 traffic, their beer is now widely distributed in Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama.
The big beer company born in Bible study
One of the first stories ever published here at Thrillist was about a group of guys who met in Bible study and decided to brew beer... and then let randos like you and I taste it as they pushed toward the goal of opening a brewery in a year. That was 2009, and a different can (the silhouetted suit-and-tie dude throwing up a fist). Now, with a second facility on the Westside Trail of the BeltLine coming this fall, they’ve built on the success of their beloved Drafty Kilt Scotch ale and become known for great new rotating brews, including Han Brolo pale ale, Dr. Robot blackberry sour, and Blind Pirate blood orange IPA. But they’re particularly astute at making stouts: the Tears of My Enemies imperial milk stout and Situational Ethics are damn-near perfect, and even more perfectly named. They’ve also become formidable with hazy IPAs, particularly Archipelago from their limited edition Black Tie Series, which will make IPA-haters love IPAs. If we’re talking actual-ATL breweries, you’ve gotta put MNB at or near the top.
Way-OTP creative brew from a co-op crew
It’s a restaurant, brewpub, and live music venue that puts out its own fantastically creative, always rotating tap juice, from the Half-a-Brain Pina Colada Shake Style IPA (yes, wow), to the salivatingly-sour Cherry Limeade Berliner Weisse, which you can also find canned in finer beer shops. Is it worth the drive to Cumming? Yes. Is it worth the drive to the new Halcyon development? Yes. Look; get a hotel room for the night and go beer adventuring way-OTP.
ATL’s buzziest north-OTP brewery
If you’ve been hearing the news out of Roswell, there’s a brewery owned by a native of the area that’s kicking all kinds of liquid ass. From their modern industrial brewery they pour four all-year beers, including the slightly tart Valerie Anne farmhouse saison, but it’s their seasonal brews, like the 9% Brain Haze double IPA (it’s hazy as hell), and special editions from their Variant series (Overslept 11% ABV coffee/vanilla imperial stout; passionfruit/lychee GalapaGose collab with Chattanooga-based Heaven & Ale Brewing) that keep long lines of fans spilling out from the front door. Seriously, their Splodey boysenberry gose sold out before the brewery had even opened for the day. It’s like a Chick-Fil-A... but better and with beer. Get on their mailing list to make sure you’re there early next time.
Serious beer-lovers get an instant landmark on the BeltLine
Brewmaster Mitch Steele came from legendary beer company Stone to run New Realm, and when you get that level of talent you do like… um, other sports cities -- who know how to keep talent -- and make them comfortable. And in New Realm’s case, Steele got a huge new building right on the Eastside Trail of the BeltLine, with its own restaurant, lots of event space, and enough tanks to pretty much do whatever he wants. So far that’s included year-round releases like Hoplandia IPA (also available canned in local groceries), Euphonia pilsner, and the special release Radegast triple IPA, which they opened with in January, and which will be available again the same month of 2019. Add the street cred of a brewing god, quality product and prime location (which includes incredible views of ATL’s skyline from its rooftop), and you’ve got a new major player challenging everybody in town with a brew tank.
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