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Bye Week Power Rankings: Atlanta Breweries

Finally, a power ranking guaranteed to be correct

Drink the beer, for it is good.

A wise man — I think his name was Benjamin Franklin — once said: “beer is good, beer is good, beer is good, and stuff.” Who could argue with that? Certainly not I, a person who has far more than a reasonable number of check-ins on Untapped. Georgia used to be — well, let’s not mince words here. When I graduated from Georgia Tech in 2011, Georgia was one of the worst beer states in the nation, thanks to archaic beer laws that kneecapped breweries and favored distributors. (The latter is still the case, but things are much better for brewers now.) Everyone remembers the before times when you “bought” a brewery tour and it came with six free beer tastings, right? It was economical, maybe, but once you were out of tokens, that was it. Georgia has so many more breweries now owing to better beer laws, and in the spirit of Power Rankings week.... it’s time to power rank them.

Some caveats: first, with a couple exceptions, I’m limiting this to breweries in Atlanta proper. Why? Because, as I said, there are so many breweries in Georgia now. Even if I just limited things to the Atlanta metro that’d be well north of 50, and I simply do not have the time to power rank that many breweries. Second, this is a power ranking of breweries only — I am not qualified to judge ciders or meads. Finally, as hard as it is to believe, I haven’t had beer from every Atlanta brewery just yet, so a few are getting left out — don’t take it personally.

Now, pour yourself a cold one and let’s get to ranking.

18. New Realm Brewing

New Realm comes with a pretty impressive pedigree — it was founded by Mitch Steele, longtime brewmaster at the legendary Stone Brewing in southern California. But the beers here are a bit more accessible than the (in)famous Arrogant Bastard. I’ll be honest, the beer does not feel like the main event here. The two best things NR has going for it are its location — right on the Atlanta Beltline — and the food. But that’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay, because the food is really dang good. Get the meatballs, or the buffalo chicken pizza, or the campfire s’mores, then go walk a few miles on the Beltline to work it all off. Recommendations: Hazy Like a Fox, Mas Macho, Radegast

17. SweetWater Brewing Company

Established in 1996, SweetWater is one of the OGs of the Atlanta beer scene. And in terms of sheer output, they’re by far the biggest: at one time a top ten brewery in the country, some mergers and brewing alliances have pushed them down to..... 11. And no one in Georgia has a bigger distribution footprint — if Joey wanted to swing by the Spec’s in Houston and grab a pack, he could. Their flagship 420 Extra Pale is not for me and never has been, but their core beers remain solid and accessible, even as other newer breweries are constantly switching things up. And I’ll be happy to raise a Blue any day — still never had a beer quite like it. Recommendations: Blue, Fresh Sticky Nugs, Happy Ending

16. Steady Hand Beer Co.

Sure, you could go camping, or you could just got to Steady Hand, where they already have a campground set up. Plus, the beer’s way fresher and keeping it cold is someone else’s responsibility. Going to Steady Hand really is just like going to the mountains, except you don’t have to drive far, or pack, or hike. You just get to sit and enjoy your beer. Recommendations: Cloudlands, Circles of the Sun, Flower Business

15. Eventide Brewing

Founded in 2013, Eventide has been quietly brewing solid beers in Grant park for nearly a decade. I don’t ever hear any major hype for their releases, but those don’t come in limited run $20 4-packs, either. It’s beer for the working Atlantan. Recommendations: Citrus Grove, The “A”, Kattegat

14. Second Self Beer Company

Yes, you have yourself, but what about your second self? Second Self was founded by two Tech grads in 2014, and they’ve been innovating cool brews on Chattahoochee ever since. 2S is one of a few local breweries that worked with an Atlanta United supporters group to make an ATLUTD themed beer — in this case, the group was Terminus Legion and the beer was ViKings of the south. For my money, it’s still the best of the United beers. I’m still not sure what my second self is, but I’ll keep drinking until I find it. Recommendations: ViKings of the South, Bleeding Heart, Thai Wheat

13. Wild Heaven Beer

It’s possible you’re not overly familiar with Wild Heaven, but I’ll bet it’s more likely you’ve heard of Emergency Drinking Beer. Avondale Estates’s first brewery weren’t planning on it being their flagship when they first brewed it — a nice, crisp, refreshing crusher they have famously refused to categorize — but success like this is rarely planned. They opened up a second location in the West End in 2019. Pre-COVID, it was a great place to get some tacos, but they’ve switched up their food concept since then. Still, you should visit the original for beers by the tracks or the new hotness for beers by the Beltline. Can’t lose. Recommendations: Emergency Drinking Beer (duh), Ode to Mercy, Gravitational Wave

12. Sabbath Brewing

You want to rock out with your [Cannibal Corpse] out while drinking some truly metal beers? Well, keep it in your pants, but if you want to headbang at Sabbath, they’re not gonna tell you to stop. “When is Sabbath opening?” was a running joke amongst the Atlanta beer community for many years, and finally they did so this July over in East Atlanta Village. It fits the vibe there perfectly. Just don’t mosh — that’s an easy way to spill your beer. Recommendations: Trapped in the Grasp of a Memory, 3s and 7s, Dead Men Don’t Reoffend

11. Arches Brewing

Styled as “Atlanta’s other lager brewery” — more on that later — Arches is technically in Hapeville, but they’re right next to ATL airport, plus it’s a straight shot down Northside Drive to get there (although by that point the street name has changed twice and it’s now Dogwood Drive, but shhh), so they get a pass. Arches isn’t out to chase trends — they’re focused on making lagers and Belgian style beers, and honing them to perfection. It’s not going to attract all the internet hype, but the results are good nonetheless. I respect it. Recommendations: Mexican Empire, Mystik Bock, Zero Zero

10. Atlanta Brewing Company

The one, the only, ABC is the OG of the Atlanta beer scene. They’ve been pouring beers since 1993, and they’ve seen every brewery rise and brewery fall in the state. (Take a moment to pour one out for Dogwood Brewing.) I’ll be brutally honest here: prior to the big beer law changes, ABC wasn’t anything special. I remember going when they had six beers on tap, and four of those never changed. Now, though? They’ve got 28 beers on tap, and they always have plenty of new, creative beers to go alongside their staples. ABC might be pushing 30, but they’re not headed for the grave anytime soon. (As for that rebrand to “Red Brick” in the ‘10s, let’s not talk about it.) Recommendations: Baked Goods, Goseanna, Dad Beer

9. Fire Maker Brewing Company

Here be dragons! Opening a brewery in the middle of a global pandemic is a bold choice, but Fire Maker is not just making it work, but thriving. They snagged the #2 spot on USA Today’s best new brewery list, so things are only looking up for these baby dragons. They’re on Chattahoochee Avenue right off Howell Mill, perfectly located in the middle of west Atlanta’s budding brewer’s alley. Recommendations: Way Down Yonder, Critical Haze, Chattahooch-Tea

8. Bold Monk Brewing Co.

Serving up grub this writer’s mother once derided as “elevated pub food”, Bold Monk is tucked away back on Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard. It was converted from an old industrial building — like many breweries are — but Bold Monk managed to cram both some modern looks and old world vibes inside. If you get the chance, visit the library upstairs or dine in the barrel room in the back. Their beers tend to skew more traditional than innovative, but that works perfectly with the food they’re serving up. Grab some frites and a pizza with your beer there. You won’t regret it. Recommendations: Chant, Shared Spirit, Indominus

7. Elsewhere Brewing

Down in Grant Park is a new-ish(?) development called the Beacon. It felt like a secret the first time I visited, but judging by the crowd at the establishments there I was probably just late to the party. The place has a South American vibe — an unusual sight among breweries, but one that invites a relaxing atmosphere while sipping their sessionable brews. When you arrive at Elsewhere, don’t go elsewhere. And make sure to get some empanadas while you’re there. Recommendations: Gest, Dulce de Leche, Lasting Impression

6. Wrecking Bar Brewpub

You’ve seen that building with the columns while driving through Little Five Points, right? That’s the Kriegshaber House, which has been the home of several different people and businesses over its long life, and since 2011 its resident has been Wrecking Bar. It’s a true farm-to-table joint whose farms include, well, their own, and there’s always plenty to enjoy on their constantly rotating menu. But if you’ve never been, get the pastrami, which is one of their few staples. And, yeah, the beer’s pretty good, too. Recommendations: Juice Willis, Technological Ripeness, Bovine Justice

5. Torched Hop Brewing Company

The Old Spaghetti Factory on Ponce is dead; long live the Old Spaghetti Factory. In its place rose Torched Hop in 2016, and I daresay there’s not a better brewpub in Atlanta. It’s Midtown location is easy to get to, parking is both free and plentiful, and.... everything here is just great. The food is great. The beer is great. The non-beer drinks are also great. And the vibe hits just right. Even if you’re not eating, you can hang out and play a game of bocce or Mario Kart on the N64. There’s a reason it was my date night go-to during my, ahem, Tinder times, and remains so now that I’m married. Keep a torch lit for Torched Hop. Recommendations: Spoondrift, Green Queen, Anthem of Angels

4. Halfway Crooks Beer

When Three Taverns starting getting a bit experimental, head brewer and Belgian native Joran Van Ginderachter broke off to cofound a lager focused, premise-only brewery — a huge risk. But amidst the craze of hazy bois, fruited sours, and pastry stouts, sometimes you really just want a beer that tastes like the beers you remember. And I’m really not sure there’s a brewery elsewhere in the country doing beers like that better than Halfway Crooks in Summerhill, over by the Field Formerly Known as Turner. I had neglected the humble lager for years — too much swill at house parties in college will do that to you — but HC changed my mind on all that. (Their ales are killer, too.) Recommendations: Settings, Radius, Active Low

3. Orpheus Brewing

Seven years ago I heard about a new brewery opening that would become “Atlanta’s first sour brewery” and thought, “hah! have fun with that.” Anyway, I’ve spent more than a few afternoons overindulging on their barrel-aged wild ales, which will get ya, and their barrel aged stouts, which will really get ya. Not recommended as an entry-level brewery, for sure. But once your beer training wheels (glasses?) are off, you’re going to find a lot to love at the brewery by Piedmont Park. Recommendations: Transmigration of Souls, Wandering Blues, any of the Stouts All the Way Down

2. Three Taverns Craft Brewery

“Hey, wait,” I hear some of you saying, “this is a Decatur brewery!” True, but Three Taverns opened their second location, the Imaginarium, on Memorial Drive last year, so they totally qualify now, because I say so. They started out brewing exclusively Belgian style beers. Then they unveiled Night on Ponce, an IPA, and everything changed. 3T is constantly rotating their taproom lineup, and every new beer feels creative without delving into truly wacky territory. Every fall they do a beer battle, where they split the brewers into two teams to each make a different beer in the same style, which always makes for a fun compare/contrast. I often found myself at the Parlour in Decatur before they opened the Imaginarium much closer to my house, and I think you should too. As for the mysterious Third Tavern, well, everyone’s still searching for it. Recommendations: Lord Fog, Morning Smack, Crave

1. Monday Night Brewing

It was in the long ago year of 2012 I found myself in the original Taco Mac — the small one, in Virginia-Highland, the one that actually still feels like a neighborhood bar. Monday Night was the beer of the month. I had never heard of them. I ordered a Fu Manbrew. It was good. They haven’t made it in years. That’s fine, because I don’t know if there’s a brewery in Atlanta constantly revolving and reinventing their beers the way MNB does. If they retired your fave, they more than likely replaced it with something even better. In 2017 they opened the Garage in the West End to kick their BA and sour beer program into overdrive. In 2018 they rolled out the Hop Hut, and it’s consistently brewing some of the best haze anywhere. They have taprooms in three states now. Never would I have thought from such humble beginnings would arise probably the best brewery in Atlanta. Wait, these are my power rankings. Definitely the best. Maybe Mondays aren’t so bad after all. Recommendations: Situational Ethics, Space Lettuce, anything from the Hop Hut (like Be Easy)

And there we have it, folks: the definitive ranking of Atlanta breweries. Look forward to the Decatur/Avondale/OTP rankings sometime in the future. Please talk about beer in the comments. I love talking about beer.