Red Brick Brewery has quite a story. It began life in 1993 as Atlanta Brewing Company and is the oldest, continuously brewing beer company in the state of Georgia. It has endured copper thieves who stole the wiring out of a box that serviced the brewery’s chiller, nearly ruining a rather large amount of precious beer, and hard times that nearly closed its doors. But, the company, known as Red Brick Brewing since 2005 when current President Robert Budd took over the reins, flourishes regardless of what fate throws at it.
On a sunny and hot Atlanta Saturday afternoon we visited with Budd at the brewery tucked into a warehouse district near Atlanta’s Midtown. After just a few moments it was apparent that we were in for a treat and some very interesting stories. Our conversation ran the gamut of beer, from history to modern practices. And Budd had a story for it all. Budd, you see, is an excellent storyteller.
“We (Americans),” he began. “Were a beer-centric society since the first white man appeared here.” And, indeed that is true by most historical accounts. It has been documented that beer was the beverage of choice on the Mayflower due to unsafe drinking water. The South has a 330 year tradition of brewing beer, and Budd is not about to let that be forgotten. “We are proud of our traditions as a Southern brewer,” he says. But, beer is not always given its due as the social catalyst that it has been. As patrons began arriving for the Saturday afternoon brewery tour, filling the tap room and tables set up in a roped off area of the brewery, that fact was definitely not apparent.
Conversation turned to the subject of beer in Georgia. “Georgia is home to three of the four largest breweries in the South,” Budd said. And with over a third of the nation’s population one would think that Georgia would be leading the pack as far as beer production. But, because of antiquated laws, Budd says that is not the fact of the matter. And it is for that reason that he teamed up with Freddy Bensch of SweetWater and John Cochran of Terrapin to form the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild in 2010. Since forming the Guild, the three have mentored seven breweries in Georgia and look to work with many more.
The local craft brewing community in Atlanta is a tight-knit one Budd says. “We regularly pool our resources to get to the Great American Beer Festival. Usually with SweetWater marshaling the efforts.” This year Red Brick will be entering six beers in the competition; a double IPA, Wee Heavy, their anniversary ale called 17, Laughing Skull and amber ale, their Blond, and HopLanta. In the past Red Brick has been very successful and has procured numerous awards that are proudly displayed on the wall of the tap room.
After sitting and chatting in the tap room for a while, Budd offered a fresh beer and a tour of the facility. Further urging was not required.
The tap room is an airy space with a high ceiling, a glass wall looking into the brewery at the far end, and a bar near the glass wall. The room was filled with laughing and chatter as eager patrons piled in to taste the brewery’s beers and await the tour later that afternoon. We stopped for refills at the bar and headed through the door into the brewery.
Red Brick looks very much like many other breweries, they have huge stainless steel tanks for fermenting and a few that are wood-clad. They also have a mash tun and brewhouse. But, it is what they do with these tools of the brewing arts that sets them apart and earns them the medals hanging in their tap room. Sipping on the beer provided by Budd, it was apparent that great care and effort has been put into getting things just right.
Over the past few years, red Brick has become known for their anniversary ales and barrel-aged beers. One of note right now is the brewery’s 17th anniversary brew simply known as 17. Before we moved into the brewery, Budd had slipped a couple of these gems into the refrigerator behind the bar and brought them out for us to taste. The brew is an Imperial Brown Ale aged in Jim Beam barrels for a boozy, Bourbon kick that is unmistakable and unbelievably delicious. Dubbed the Brick Mason series, Red Brick’s barrel-aged brews also include Vanilla Gorilla, Old Stock Ale, and their Double IPA.
As we sipped our 17, Budd related another story of the first anniversary ale the brewery produced. The story wound through the back roads of Kentucky, to the streets of New York City, and the freeways of Los Angeles. Along the way there were persnickety Bourbon distillers, Hollywood movie stars, and down home receptionists. Telling the story here just would not do it justice. Suffice to say, the barrels used to age Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon found a home with Red Brick.
After spending an hour and half with Budd, it was time to say goodbye, but not before one last story. Budd spun a story of what his father told him one day, “Son,” he began, “When you get ready to retire, make sure you live close to a brewery.” With a sly smile Budd added. “I did that one better.”
Indeed you did.