As an avid fan of concerts, I’ve enjoyed a tailgate or 60 over the past 18 years.
I decided to show off at a Dave Matthews Band concert two years ago near Indianapolis.
I packed up a cooler with 36 Athens-brewed beers, loaded them down with ice and headed off on the 500-and-something-mile journey to join in on the party. (Yes, I stopped overnight along the way.)
Ready to share my hometown’s brews with anyone around me, I wandered over to a neighboring tailgate. A conversation with a man from Minneapolis began, and I was quick to see that this man knew his beer.
Did I ever have a surprise for him?
In my cooler, re-iced down at my hotel, was the greatest thing this ol’ northerner would ever taste.
The conversation went something like this:
"Well, man, I can tell you are a beer lover, I’ve got something for you to try," I said, drinking a Creature Comforts Tropicalia.
"Sounds great," he retorted, "but what are you drinking right there?"
"Let me grab you one, it’s a brewery in Athens, Georgia, named Creature Comforts," I said, ready to blow his mind.
"Wow, that stuff is awesome, I’ve had it before. I had some shipped up to me because I heard how great it was."
My mouth dropped. He didn’t take a beer from me on account that he felt bad pilfering a top-notch IPA. Though, I imagine he paid much more for his Tropicalia than I did.
I wanted to share. I wanted to spread the word of our community and the great beers it produces.
Last summer, more of the same.
I flew into Milwaukee for shows. Upon arriving, I drove the rental car to pick up some tailgating brews, and there in the case were four brands of Terrapin.
I went with Up-Hi.
A couple days later, with a few hours to spare before my flight home, I walked around Miller Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Brewers and a stadium with big glass windows that allow a peek inside. I walked up, cupped my hands to block out the glare and looked in at the field.
But what caught my attention was the giant beer coolers, half filled with Miller and Coors and half filled with ... Luau Krunkles?
Before you send me "you big dummy" emails, I know that Miller-Coors owns a stake in the brewery. I’m aware that Miller calls Milwaukee home. But it’s still cool to pick up a beer that reads "265 Newton Bridge Road Athens, GA," bought nearly 900 miles from home.
It’s astonishing to know that one of OUR beers is so renowned that a guy from Minneapolis went out of his way to ship himself the IPA that was discussed most in his "beer club."
Athens isn’t short on places to turn to hang out, drink a beer and enjoy a good time with friends. While the coronavirus pandemic has altered that, we’ll soon be back out on a patio shoulder-to-shoulder or in a field to enjoy a large gathering and the best beers Athens has to offer.
Newly opened Athentic and Normaltown breweries are finding their brewing legs, while Southern Brewing Co. just celebrated its fifth anniversary and Akademia has been on the west side of town for just over three years.
And up in Commerce, Strange Duck Brewery couldn’t be more aptly named. I recently got a growler of its Flyin’ Rye’n Rye IPA, a beer I figured I had to try since its name is an anagram — nearly a spot-on replication — of my name. I sampled a "Spongebob’s House Pineapple IPA," and in its infancy the brewery boasted about a Blood Orange Jalapeno IPA.
There’s an abundance of beers to choose from in our town.
I’ve tasted nearly all of them.
At the brewery, a six- or 12-pack, a growler — I’ve chugged them all down at some point.
And I’ll admit: sours are a mystery to me. Hey, I know they’re beloved, they’re just not my cup of tea (or mug of brew?).
Since I’ve tried them all, why not compile a list?
I weighed my tastes with the beer’s impact in our community, and since I’ve experienced some of the influence they’ve had across the country, how well they’re received outside of Athens.
Here’s my ranking of the beers of Athens.
1. Creature Comforts Tropicalia — Smooth and fruity, it doesn’t get much better in the world. There’s a reason the Avengers went nuts to get more of this.
2. Terrapin Hopsecutioner — The beer that took Terrapin to another level, Hopsecutioner’s name lets you know exactly what you’re getting: a hoppy IPA. The 7.3 ABV sneaks up quickly, another reason it’s so beloved.
3. Creature Comforts Automatic — This might be even higher if it had the broad impact of the two above it. Perfect color, perfect taste, Automatic is a well-made pale ale with a delicious flavor.
4. Terrapin Luau Krunkles — The brewers on Newton Bridge have had fun with this Passion, Orange and Guava brew, coming up with several different versions of Krunkles over the years. There’s a Señor Krunkles, a Krunkle Travel Trunk with a mustachioed Mr. Krunkles, and even a pineapple version. All tasty, but the original Krunkles is a winner, and a perfectly refreshing summer IPA.
5. Southern Brewing Hobnail — I really enjoy this beer. Maybe it’s the name? The nostalgia I feel while drinking, reliving one of the greatest plays in UGA history, when the Bulldogs beat Tennessee in Knoxville in 2001. P-44 Haynes will live in infamy. This beer tastes as good as those memories.
6. Terrapin Up-Hi — This one gets a high-five. Another citrusy beer that’s refreshing, its color and smell are one of the finest among all the beers on the list. It makes you want to relax and throw up a "hang loose" sign while chilling at the beach.
7. Akademia IQ — This beer makes you feel smart. At least through the first one, anyway. It’s a smart choice in a college town, and the best beer from one of the area’s newer breweries.
8. Creature Comforts Classic City Lager — This is my go-to on the golf course. Crisp and refreshing, with just enough ABV (4.2%) to improve my game.
9. Terrapin Los Bravos — A Mexican lager that pairs well with a lime and a few tacos. Enjoyable any time of the year, but especially good, for some reason, on May 5.
10. Southern Brewing Fog Machine — In line with the other tropical flavors on the list, this New England IPA is refreshing and its hazy, orange and delicious appearance matches the IPhAzy reincarnate’s flavor.
Honorable mention: Creature Comforts Loopulus, Terrapin High & Hazy, Akademia Hoprodisiac, Southern Brewing Wild Azalea.
Ryne Dennis is sports editor of the Athens Banner-Herald. After late nights and extensive research, opinions are his.