The Most Essential Craft Breweries in Atlanta
You’ve got your work cut out for you.
We can all feel the loss of humidity, which is always a good time that there’s beer to drink before we spend November through December raking leaves. And maybe it was the push of COVID-19 to innovate, or maybe it’s just a great year for Atlanta’s ability to meet beer-thirsty mouths where they are, because some of Atlanta’s best and bubbliest breweries are bringing everything they can to autumn, and the results are just waiting to warm up your insides this October and beyond. Here are our recommendations for beers to pick up now that summer is over and beer-drinking season has really begun.
Halfway Crooks Beer
With tallboy cans sporting labels printed to resemble old-school paper printouts, Halfway stands out spectacularly by not doing too much. Their Belgian-style lagers and ales are remarkably drinkable, and they’ve gained a devoted following that you don’t always see so quickly, especially for a brewery that opened only a summer ago. And sure, everybody’s been on a lager and seltzer kick for the past two years, but HC’s German and Italian pilsners, American and Belgian pale ales, and other specialty projects prove that you don’t always need a head-knocking high-ABV beer.
The Sanguine Belgian pale ale and the Decimals kellerbier are so simple they’re impressive.
Second Self Beer Company
It may just be the simplicity of Game Night IPA that makes this new and flavorful India Pale Ale so special. It could also be the Nintendo NES controller designed into the can art. But like its fellow newcomer La Fria Carribean lager, it is an extremely versatile sipper, which sets you up to try some punchier, two-hopped hazy IPAs via the New Contender series, which is in its third round and is pitting Lemondrop hops against an Idaho "Stone Fruit" 7. It was just released at the end of September, and the last round was at the beginning of the pandemic, so it’s a good time to see how COVID might’ve made it as different as we all are now.
Bold Monk Brewing Co.
Does your other favorite new brewery also have its own library? If not, you can still support them but you’ll have the best chance to put those brain cells back in place at Bold Monk. The 8.5% ABV dark doppelbock lager Ressurrector is also a strong pull for fall season. Or keep going up with the also dark 10% Indominus Belgian quad. The Shared Spirit IPA won’t steer you wrong either, but why not match the beginning of autumn with the kind of beer that matches the season?
Steady Hand Beer Co.
Steady Hand is moving slowly but surely into the top tiers of being people’s champs of Atlanta beer. The Circles of the Sun toasted coconut blond stout is one of several always-on, always-available brews, but the brewery also just released a new fall seasonal amber beer -- a Sweet Potato Farmhouse -- that’s very smooth, slightly spiced, and made with actual sweet potatoes, in time to also start a new tradition: enjoying fall to the fullest.
Fire Maker Brewing Company
They’ve only been open since March, which was exactly around the time people probably started needing a little more beer (if only we knew), but Fire Maker has become quite the westside star, which wasn’t an easy feat considering its proximity to several impressive breweries on this list. Having taken over a huge warehouse building on Chattahoochee, they already have some bold standouts like Space Dragon: Mission 1, a very drinkable imperial IPA, and the double dry-hopped Chattahooch-Tea lactose IPA, which is sort of a beer inspired by an Arnold Palmer, without going too far on the Sprite-like Lemondrop and Motueka hops, or the two different teas used in brewing.
It’s not that Eventide didn’t make good beers since selling their first brews in 2014. The Kölsch has always been solid, whether consumed in its normal fruited version or the honeysuckle Arbor Ale rendition. But the Pair of Kings double IPA, at 8.3% ABV, is what you deserve in these difficult times. It’s a head-knocker for sure, but while there’s a slightly boozy heft to the hoppy citrus notes, there’s also a balance that keeps the higher alcohol-by-volume level tamed in terms of taste. It also comes in a sexy matte black and orange can.
There was a time when Arches Brewing only did beers that represented a hybrid of Old World Belgian and new-school American -- not that anything was wrong with that. But since head brewer Justin Ramirez joined the team, there’s been a noticeable upshift in adventurous deliciousness. The stellar Low Viz IPA and instant-classic Mexican Empire Vienna lager are still prime picks, but among the best of the newer brews is Turbulence, considered “a lightweight version” of Low Viz, mixing Citra, El Dorado, and Amarillo hops to achieve a soft mouthfeel. But don’t let Turbulence be your only choice. The fruited peach kettle sour Everything is Peachy is remarkable for simply tasting like an actual peach, in sour beer form. Get that, and be sure to ask if they still have cans of Cold Smoke available -- it’s their new smoked lager that is basically the best thing you can possibly drink this grilling season.
Monday Night Brewing
MNB’s West Midtown Hop Hut has established itself as a dependable place for really good, super-fresh IPAs that you won’t find outside the brewery. This is where to go if you want to try some of brewmaster Peter Kiley’s more experimental stuff, like white chocolate coffee IPAs and whatnot. But the Garage is where to find the funk, whether you’re interested in a mixed culture sour that drinks like a beer/wine hybrid thanks to those fancy wine grapes (the current offering in its Vinology series is a riesling-meets-grenache blanc), or the ninth anniversary beer, the 13% ABV Tie 9 On, which is a barrel-aged, vanilla-beaned strong ale with hints of raisin and toasted marshmallow.
Early October brings Imperial Trop Haze, which is the advanced, older, handsome DIPA grad school cousin of Creature’s famed IPA Tropicália. It clocks in with a higher ABV (8%), and takes the tropical citrus vibe up a notch in terms of body and hop. If you’re looking for something on the thicker and sweeter side, grab a large bottle of Awaken, My Love, the all-Gambino, never-Childish, 12.0%, imperial stout made with cinnamon and Guatemalan Hunapu coffee from Athens-based 1000 Faces Coffee. Sure, the company may be opening a new location in LA, but the brilliant brewery hasn’t gone Hollywood.
It feels almost unfair that Roswell has a brewery as good as Variant, until you learn that a Roswell native founded it, and you forgive him for being selfish on behalf of an ATL suburb that, well, certainly can afford to be. East Cobb jokes aside, it’s worth calling ahead and ordering a curbside crowler (orders must be placed in advance), because when you get home and pour sips of that low-gravity Dark Alchemy oatmeal stout, or fun creations like Baseboss and Blue Boss, which are both imperial cream ales clocking in at 8%, you might find yourself looking at a second apartment near Canton Road. Definitely don’t leave without one of their New England IPAs — they’ve got several, including Parallax, a floral, citrusy and melony hop ride.
Three Taverns Craft Brewery
It’s been quite a stellar streak for Three Taverns, the Decatur-originating brewery that made its bones with the A Night on Ponce IPA with a brick and wood interior. You’ll remember the year-round Raputurous (raspberry), and seasonal Lord Grey (earl grey tea) and Thanksgiving-approved Enchantress cranberry sauce sour. But while you can still find it, stock up on Saporous, the passionfruit and guava lactose sour that if more people tried would demand it as their new brunch drink. They also have a pretty crushable Japanese rice lager called Ukiyo that you thought would be weird but it’s just good.
Wild Heaven Beer
Now that Emergency Drinking Beer has watermelon and other renditions, you might as well move into other new territory being charted from the taproom at Wild Heavens’ two locations also. They’ve really ramped up production of new releases, including the Next Big Thing IPA series, in which they use hops they predict will blow up like the legendary Citra hops, which undeniably changed the entire craft beer game. Those get released weekly, so be there on Fridays to see what’s coming out of the canning line, and pick up the 2020 Fest Bier, WH’s fall seasonal German-style Märzen.
SweetWater Brewing Company
There’s always something good at SweetWater, including good-ol’ 420. But these days you should really try something new, because they’re pumping out plenty of it from those tall barrels peaking over at traffic on 85N. And these new beers are damn good, between the funked-up sours coming out of their barrel-aging Woodlands facility down the street from the brewery (the golden sour Cambium American wild ale with stone fruit tartness is a great one), and the continuing weedy genius they’re putting into the 420 Strain series of hemped-up brews, particularly the most recent Jack Harer Harvest Ale, a hoppy red IPA brewed in collaboration with the late cannabis activist’s son Dan, which launched in mid-September.