The sun is setting over Wild Heaven brewery in Avondale Estates. It’s finally turning cooler in the south, which is perfect “beer and bourbon” weather. But then again, what weather isn’t.
This beer collaboration wasn’t easy to come by. Bulleit Bourbon barrels have never really been available to the broker market. You couldn’t broker a few barrels to age your beer of choice. The whole project exists thanks to industry networking, planning, discussions with the distillery, and of course, your PR push. Remember, beer is as much sales as it is an art form.
There’s Bulleit/Beer cocktails and food from Chef Shay Lavi cooking outside, but I’m here for the beer.
Drawing on something I said in part one of this series. Years ago, possessing a bourbon barrel-aged beer in your cellar meant you were winning. Being good at brewing barrel-aged beer meant understanding where the beer and barrel came together in a unity of amazing flavor. That means making sure it and doesn’t fall flat with no barrel notes, or worse the barrel overruns it. “Not enough barrel aging” was the “too hoppy” 1-Star rating on Untappd of a decade ago.
That’s not the case with Wild Heaven 95 Shilling. It’s the balance of toasty caramel, and rich vanilla oak that blend together in a greater sum of the parts of the process. Exactly what it should be. This beer is an instant reminder of the well-made classics that got so many addicted to craft beer in the first place. Beer meets barrel extremely well with fresh Bulleit barrels for the win.
Josh Franks has been brewing at Wild Heaven for years. In my head, I’ve always thought of him as a quiet creative. A talented brewer that has neither a beard nor a cocky attitude. Franks worked hard creating 95 Shilling, and you can just see the pride beaming through his persistent humility as we talk about this new beer. “I can’t believe how this turned out,” he tells me, trying not to smile mid-sentence. “I was just shooting for it to be good.”
“For me, this is one of the more rewarding parts of what we do,” says Executive Vice President Sarah Young. “The more we can spread Wild Heaven around in front of more than just beer people, is always something we look for.” The list of local partnerships nearly doubled in just 2020 alone. To date they have worked with Atlanta icons like Giving Kitchen, Mercedes Benz Stadium, The Fox Theater, 680 TheFan radio station, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Big Peach Running Co, CURE Childhood Cancer, Stuckey’s Corporation and more. Basically, Young has been busy.
One thing I can tell you for certain. Not every bourbon barrel makes great barrel-aged beer, but after trying Wild Heaven’s and Bulleit barrel collaboration, Bulleit definitely does.
Standing here drinking this beer at the brewery’s bar, campfire smoke heavy cold fall air whips through the open garage doors. For a second it feels like a fun dream after the year we’ve all had. The excitement about beer releases has returned to me. I’ve missed this.
Wild Heaven and Bulleit created a great beer here, with a second creation just a week away. Not everything in 2020 is terrible.
Nearly 10 years ago, the craft brewing world was just a fraction of what it is now. IPAs were see-through and the more bitter they were, the better. Beer style guidelines were still very much a thing, and barrel-aged beers were gold. “Bourbon Barrel-aged” was all you needed to emit a Pavlovian-style response to the thirsty beer geek. It proved your street cred.
A lot has happened since those days, besides the obvious 10,000 brewery swell from coast to coast. IPA has gone through quite a few phases. Sour beer has made a big name for itself. Food and candy now have a near-permanent home in many brew kettles. Barrel-aged beer never went away, but feels a bit like it’s not the cool kid in school anymore.
At Wild Heaven in Atlanta, barrel-aging was never a trend, it’s something brewmaster Eric Johnson just did. Quite artfully, I might add. Hell, the brewery was at least 3-4 years into operations before releasing their first IPA because Johnson wanted intention as well as science to have roles in the beer’s creation. Not some trend mandate. Simply stated, doing something just to do it isn’t in his vocabulary (unless it’s drinking).
A Bourbon Opportunity
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey has become a household name in Kentucky Bourbon over the past decade. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bar that doesn’t have Bulleit on their shelf. If you were a brewer hoping to snag some wet barrels to throw your imperial stout into, you were out of luck. Years ago, founder Tom Bulleit told Beer Street Journal almost all of the distillery’s wet barrels were shipped to Scotland. Frankly, the idea of aging beer in Bulleit barrels seemed foreign to him at the time when we asked about it. Over the past year, that mentality has changed.
The distillery and the brewery incidentally share the same distributor in the Peach State, Georgia Crown. GC brought the barrel opportunity to Wild Heaven who eagerly agreed.
Other than collaborations with Guinness in 2019, this Bulleit and Wild Heaven creation is just the second barrel-aging collaboration that Bulleit has done (that we know of).
It’s 2020, and you COULD throw everything from chicken wings to gummy bears in a Bulleit barrel, rip off some throwback 90’s cartoon artwork, and call it a day. Again, that’s not Eric Johnson’s style, and probably not Bulleit’s either. “I wanted to go with beers that would really compliment the wood and the original spirit,” Johnson says.
Two beers are born out of this collaboration, using both Bulliet 95 Rye and Bulleit Bourbon barrels. Each one a classic beer style crafted to express what beer and bourbon can create together. “I liked the idea of pairing a big Scotch ale that featured dried dark fruits, smoky peaty notes, and hints of molasses with the warm spiciness with the Rye barrels.” The original bourbon barrels were home for months to an imperial stout that leans hard into rich chocolate and coffee.
“That one drinks like vanilla chocolate milk and is just downright dangerous,” Johnson adds.
The first of the two releases is 95 Shilling, aged in Bulleit Rye. 16-ounce cans and very limited draft debut this week.
437 Miles South Imperial Stout (the distance from the brewery to the distillery), aged in original Bulleit Bourbon debuts in December.
This is part one of a two-part series on collaboration. Image: David Cone Films
Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing Company has been acquired by Aphria Inc., a cannabis company. The deal is expected to close by the end of 2020.
The “420 Strain” brands are the central focus of Ontario based Aphria, which started with 420 Strain G13 IPA. This acquisition is Aphria’s first venture in the United States.
Rumors have circulated around the Atlanta beer scene for years about a potential SweetWater Brewing sale. The fact it’s ultimately a cannabis company involved in the acquisition is surprising to many.
Founder Freddy Bensch had been in town from his home in Telluride, Colorado this week. Most employees were not informed of the acquisition until the press release hit the newswire.
According to Aphria, SweetWater’s management team will remain in place, along with 125 brewery employees. Bensch will remain CEO of SweetWater, reporting to Irwin D. Simon, CEO of Aphria, Inc.
Aphria, Inc (Nasdaq: APHA) is a leading world medical cannabis company, founded in 2013. According to the company’s 2019 annual report, Aphria has cultivation licenses in 10 countries, including Canada, Italy, Germany, and South Africa. The acquisition marks Aphria’s effort to capitalize on the burgeoning U.S. cannabis market. As of market close on November 4th, the company’s stock price is valued at $4.97 USD per share.
In early 2018, SweetWater debuted the 420 Strain Series of beers using terpenes (organic smell compounds) isolated from various famous cannabis strains. G13 IPA was the inaugural release and was the brewery’s second best-selling beer within a few months.
Aphria states the $300 million dollar acquisition will position the company with a platform and infrastructure within the states to access the U.S. market should cannabis be federally legalized in the future. 5 states legalized cannabis as a result of this week’s elections. The pickup of SweetWater will diversify the company’s revenue mix, as well as open up massive cross-selling opportunities in both U.S. and Canada.
Upon closing, SweetWater Brewing Company will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aphria, Inc. SweetWater receives $250 million in cash plus $50 million in Aphria stock. Additionally, SweetWater is eligible to receive up to $66 million of additional cash under an earnout through the end of the calendar year 2023
SweetWater Brewing Company was founded in 1997 and currently has distribution in 27 states. As of 2019, the brewery was ranked 14th in volume nationally by the Brewer’s Association.
A year ago, two famous Pennsylvania companies – Yuengling and Hershey’s Chocolate announced a one of a kind beer collaboration – Yuengling Hershey’s Chocolate Porter. Much to the chagrin of fans of either, it was limited to draft-only, in a handful of locations.
Because 2020 needed good news, this month Yuengling unveiled bottles, destined for wide distribution.
The base beer is Yuengling’s nearly 200-year-old Porter recipe, plus “the world-famous taste of Hershey’s chocolate. Sadly for yet another year we still don’t have answers on the brewing process, but this year – we finally tasted it.
Once you crack open a bottle of Hershey’s Porter, you’re hit with the undeniable smell of Hershey’s chocolate. If you’ve ever toured the factory, or in my case – grew up going to Hershey Park on marching band trips, you’ll never forget that sweet and unique smell. (Yes.. marching band. Keep reading.)
The flavor is equally as real and rich as the smell. The roasty flavor of Yuengling Porter (one of the two beers first introduced by the brewery in 1829) blends beautifully with the Hershey Chocolate flavor. The success of this beer lies in the instantly addictive burst of Hershey’s aroma and flavor. It’s really uncanny.
Chocolate beers in the brewing world are abundant, so when one stands out like this, it’s a gift. Yuengling Porter and Hershey’s are equal partners in flavor. For that reason, it’s a collaboration that truly works.
Yuengling Hershey’s Chocolate Porter is a limited release in 12-ounce bottles and draft.
Image: Beer Street Journal
2019’s Hard Coffee release found Pabst fans initially confused by the product launch, quickly turning to love by the boozy caffeinated way to start the day. Shortly after, recipes for Hard Coffee cupcakes and mudslides surfaced.
Here on National Coffee Day, Pabst is expanding the hard coffee line with a non-dairy option. This release pours pitch black, and best served cold. Just like 2020.
Each can of Hard Cold Brew is 4.2% alcohol by volume, with just 30 milligrams of naturally occurring caffeine.
Now for the bad news. Only Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois will be able to kick up their morning with Hard Cold Brew at launch.
Style: Hard Coffee (Cold Brew)
Availability: 12oz Cans. WI, OH, PA, IL
Image via PBR
Founders KBS Maple Mackinac Fudge, a variant of the well-known Kentucky Breakfast Stout, debuts in October.
This is just the second variant the brewery has released of KBS after KBS Espresso debuted earlier this year. This edition is brewed with Mackinac Fudge Coffee and maple syrup, then aged in oak bourbon barrels.
“We’ve been enjoying beers brewed with the Mackinac Fudge coffee in our taproom for years, and now we’re finally bringing that treatment to KBS. It takes the chocolate flavor traditionally found in KBS to a whole new level. Add in a hint of maple syrup and now you have an elegant, yet explosive new flavor experience.” – Brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki.
Founders KBS Maple Mackinac Fudge will be available in the taproom on October 8th, shipping nationally shortly after, with the exception of Mississippi. The estimated retail price is $24 dollars/4 pack.
Debut: Early October 2020
Athens, Georgia based Creature Comforts is expanding to Los Angeles, California, opening next year.
By the summer of 2021, Creature Comforts Brewing Company will have a home in the Fashion District of Los Angeles. The new build is thanks to a partnership with film director Joe Russo, director of movies like Marvel’s Infinity War and End Game. You might recall the brewery’s Tropicalia IPA making a “guest” appearance thanks to Thor in Endgame. That screen appearance occurred after Russo’s assistant, a Georgia native, brought Tropicalia to the set during Infinity War filming. Russo fell in love.
Even before Marvel fame, Creature Comforts has collaborated frequently with other brewers in California, including Russian River, Modern Times, Firestone Walker, Alvarado Street, and Sierra Nevada. Creature Comforts has always had an affinity for the Golden State.
While Creature fans had long been hoping a taproom was coming to Atlanta, the brewery’s 3rd location will be on City Market South at 1124 San Julian St. in the Fashion District of L.A., The new build includes a 3,000-sq. ft. taproom, a 10,000-sq. ft. production facility and copious outdoor seating. The production capacity of the new facility initially maxes out at 15,000 barrels (nearly 500,000 gallons) annually. Russo apparently discovered the space in the same development as his AGBO production company that was already zoned for a brewery.
“We are excited to join the vibrant craft beer scene in California and plan additional collaborations. While we are delighted to share many of our core year-round and seasonal beers, we also look forward to creating unique brews for the Los Angeles community.” – Adam Beauchamp, Brewmaster and Co-Owner, Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
Creature Comforts opened its original facility in April of 2014. A larger production facility nearby by the original taproom opened in June of 2018.