This past weekend, Sandy Springs-based Pontoon Brewing celebrated its 2nd Anniversary of operations at their physical brewery. Pastry stouts flowed like water as Georgia started to feel winter weather for the time this season.
Years ago in 2014, brewery founders Eddie Serrine and Eric Lemus were standing in my kitchen holding bottles of what would be Pontoon Brewing’s flagship beers – an IPA and a Kolsch. One of the guys had broken his leg but despite crutches and a cast, he insisted on standing up and drinking as we talked. I respected the commitment.
Back in 2014, Georgia laws surrounding breweries were pretty strict. It was illegal to sell pints directly to customers, which basically forced Georgia’s breweries to drag visitors through a tour just to give them free beer samples. Not to mention, an expensive multi-barrel volume production operating model was your business’s only option to survive. Any brewery opening in Georgia was big news because you had to go pretty big to make it.
Pontoon Brewing, with its warm weather, outdoor lake life vibe was going to be a great fit for Georgia’s hot climate, but these introductory beers in front of me that day in 2014 sadly underwhelming. True, this sounds a little harsh even as I mention it in hindsight but these beers weren’t going to compete with the south’s burgeoning IPA scene. Despite that negative opinion, it was best kept to myself. Congratulations were in order and the brewery is young.
Within a few weeks, Pontoon Brewing hit distribution and shortly after that, seemingly vanished from beer conversation.
Fast forward to a warm day in the summer of 2016 during a collaboration brew day at Wild Heaven. Sean O’Keefe walks into the brewhouse holding 6-packs of Pontoon Brewing’s upcoming canned beers. Laying eyes on them was shocking to say the least, as I had all but thought the brand was basically defunct. Yet here is Sean, cans in hand, with a date his new brewery and taproom would be completed in Sandy Springs.
Pontoon’s return to the spotlight had already started.
It’s 2020 and a lot has changed in at Pontoon and in Georgia. The temperature is barely 40 degrees and the wind is whipping through the parking lot gale-force speeds. Despite this cold snap, Pontoon is quite busy on this second birthday of the brewery build. Any memory of those two underwhelming beers are a distant memory.
It’s barely 1 pm on a Sunday and hundreds are kicking back pastry stouts, hazy IPAs, and thick fruited Berliner beers one after the other. Inside there’s animal caretaker playing with rescued river otters (the brewery’s signature animal) and South American armadillos. At one point I found myself drinking a beer inspired by Samoa Girl Scout cookies snapping pictures of an otter eating a piece of fish. This is craft beer these days, not a weird dream.
Since 2014, Eddie and Eric each started families with months of each other and tapping Sean O’Keefe to run point for Pontoon. Sean has taken Pontoon in the hazy/milkshake/pastry direction which not only carved out a decadent niche for the brewery, but built a loyal following that has fallen in love with beers like Brownie Batter, and Snozzberries Taste Like Snozzberries. The stouts are sweet and boozy, the fruited beers are so thick they sometimes leave chunks on the glass.
This might be a complete departure from clear beers and big west coast imperial IPAs from 6-7 years ago. Industry veterans might wonder how craft beer got here. As for Pontoon’s fans this afternoon, every sweet sip is why they are here. “I know (our beers) can get a little weird,” says O’Keefe, “using things cookies, vanilla beans, fresh fruit, coconut and candy bars,” he adds. ‘I just think if you are going to do it, we are going to do it well.”
From kitchen to the taproom, Sean, Eddie, Eric, Earnest and the crew at Pontoon have defined their style and love of their fans. Shades on, Bottoms Up. Happy 2, Pontooners.
The hard seltzer industry is on fire, and about to get crowded at the top. Bud Light Seltzer launches Monday.
Hard seltzer was the clear winner in the beverage industry last year. The beverage segment, now worth in excess of $1 billion, saw historic and unparalleled growth from coast to coast. While mega-brewery Anheuser Busch already has two seltzers in the market now – Natty Light Hard Seltzer and Bon & Viv, a Bud Light branded hard seltzer headed to market absolutely predictable.
We expected an official release and marketing blitz leading up to summer 2020, but Bud has opted to debut Bud Light Seltzer ahead of the Super Bowl. ABI has already spent millions on 4 minutes of commercials during the game, dedicated to both Bud Light and the new seltzer line as well as Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Pure Gold.
Four flavors will be available on Monday – Black Cherry, Lemon Lime, Strawberry, and Mango. Each can is 100 calories and 5% alcohol by volume, but unlike Truly Hard Seltzer, Bud Light’s release has 2 grams of carbohydrates per serving. All four flavors will be available in 12-ounce cans, in a 12 can variety pack, as well as 25-ounce cans. (Think convenience store purchases.)
The category leaders at the start of 2020 are White Claw, largely own by Mark Anthony Brands, and Truly Hard Seltzer (Boston Beer Company). Pabst Blue Ribbon announced its own seltzer last year at 6% ABV, as well as Four Loko which is a whopping 12% ABV.
The hard seltzer segment grew 210% over the past year, according to Nielsen data. America’s craft brewers are releasing hard seltzers at a brisk pace too, including Avery Brewing, Schlafly Brewing, NoDa Brewing, Sockeye Brewing, and Atlanta’s Scofflaw Brewing.
All four flavors of Bud Light Seltzer should be on shelves nationally by mid-January. Now we wait to see what the Seltzer Knight looks like #FizzyFizzy.
Boston Beer Company’s Truly Hard Seltzer debuted in 2016 and has been on fire ever since. The flavored seltzers are one of the top 3 selling brands in the category in America. Building off that success, Boston Beer has announced their next creation in an already explosive category – Truly Lemonade.
Keeping with Truly’s “healthier” approach, Truly’s new Lemonade and family of flavors boast 100 calorie, 1 gram of sugar, and 5% alcohol by volume.
According to Casey O’Neill, Senior Manager of Product Development at Boston Beer says the Lemonade series has more flavor than the traditional hard seltzer.
“It really is the best of both worlds and brings together flavor and refreshment in a way that nothing else in the category does right now. Drinkers will have to taste it to believe it, but we’re confident they’ll love Truly Lemonade as much as we do.”
Truly Lemonade is available in Original Lemonade, Black Cherry Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, and Mango Lemonade in 12oz/12ct variety packs, 16 & 24-ounce single-serve cans, nationally starting in January.
Style: Hard Seltzer/Hard Lemonade Hybrid
Availability: 12oz, 16oz, 24oz Cans. Nationally
Debut: January 2020
PIC: Beer Street Journal
Oskar Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy will be available nationally again this month. This time around, the stout is getting a little packaging makeover.
It takes the better part of a year to brew and barrel-age Oskar Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy. 19.2-ounce cans of the imperial stout were first found in the brewery’s taprooms in fall of 2015. The demand was so high, Oskar Blues ramped up production and made it nationally available for the first time in 2016.
This month, Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy will be nationally available again, but this time in 12-ounce cans. Ten Fidy is aged in a blend of Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for at least 8 months.
“Ten FIDY is a complicated beer for our brewers but they really dig into the behemoth task of delivering a big-time stout. Barrel-aging ups the ante even further – ramping up the chocolate, coffee and roasted notes to the maximum.” Tim Matthews, Head of Brewing Operations
To celebrate this beer’s return, Oskar Blues is releasing variety 4-packs of barrel aged variants of Ten FIDY, including JAHvanilla, Salted Caramel, Chocolate Hazelnut Praline, and Java on November 29th.
Oskar Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy is available in 12-ounce cans and limited draft by mid-November 2019.
Bell’s Brewery is honoring veterans and active service military with a special beer release for Veteran’s Day. Bell’s Goin’ Dark debuts at the brewery’s Eccentric Cafe on November 11th.
Goin’ Dark is a coffee milk stout brewed with bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans. This beer was visualized, conceived, brewed and packaged by a team of 20 Bell’s employees that served in the military or currently enlisted or have families actively serving.
“It’s an honor to recognize the men and women in our military as well as their families and extend that celebration to those who make that sacrifice.” – Larry Bell, Founder & President
Additionally, Bell’s is working with Section Collection, a nonprofit that provides support for veterans in need.
Bell’s Goin’ Dark will be available exclusively at the Eccentric Cafe on November 11th, in 12-ounce bottles and draft.
Style: Milk Stout (w/ Coffee.)
Availability: 12oz Bottles, Draft. Brewery Release.
Great Divide Barrel Aged Yeti Imperial Stout is another one of the “old guard” in American barrel-aged imperial stouts. Additionally, it is among the most revered in the industry.
The year-round “Yeti” imperial stout spends at least 12 months aging whiskey barrels before it sees the light of day every November. The resulting beer is a big, bold 12.5% alcohol by volume beast of a stout.
The spirited aging process produces a hugely complex but mellowed Yeti, with its signature roasted flavors, hints of vanilla and oak, and a whiskeyed finish.
Great Divide Barrel Aged Yeti Imperial Stout is slated for 16-ounce cans for the first time in November 2019.
Maris Otter malt has a deep history in the beer brewing industry. This month, Atlanta based American Spirit Works highlighted it a little different way – in their latest whiskey.
The United Kingdom originating two-row barley was first introduced in 1966 by Dr. G. D. H. Bell, who created it as a cross between two older barley varieties, Proctor and Pioneer. Its low nitrogen content and desirable “malty” pale taste thrust it into great prominence among English brewers and has often called the “holy grail” of homebrewer malts.
American Spirit Works chose Maris Otter in their latest Ameireaganach Single Malt Whiskey Series. Each release is brewed in Scottish double copper pot distillation, with a “twist” of southern innovation- aging in American oak casks.
As the name suggests, this edition is distilled solely from Maris Otter malt. ASW’s Head Distiller Justin Manglitz spent more than a decade owning an working in his homebrew shop in Athens, Georgia. Post distillation, the whiskey was aged in Char 3 and Char 4 American White Oak casks.
This second entry in the young distillery’s Single Malt Series shows increasing flavor depth as the series grows. It’s fruit-forward, slightly sweet without being cloying, with hints of vanilla in a warming finish. If you find yourself intimidated by Scotch-style whiskey, you’ll find love in this glass that is distilled like Scotch but has a heart of bourbon. Drinkers of both beer and whiskey can appreciate everything that is ASW Maris Otter.
750-Milliliter bottles of ASW Maris Otter can be found at both of the distillery’s Atlanta locations, as well and local bottle shops in limited quantities this October.
Image: Beer Street Journal