Neolocalism is rich at craft breweries across the country. Many draw from their hometown or nearby places as inspiration for the brewery’s name and regularly pull from the same places and histories for their beer names. However, Jekyll Brewing in Alpharetta, Ga., takes a unique twist on the inspiration and draws from an island over 350 miles away on the Georgia coast.
Jekyll Island, which is a barrier island that is part of Georgia’s Golden Isles, is a popular vacation destination for Atlanta-area residents. Despite drawing its inspiration from Jekyll Island, the brewery that Michael Lundmark and Josh Rachel established in 2013 focuses on the island’s role in the history of Georgia and the Deep South and not on the role of the island as a vacation destination. It it this history that visitors will learn about when going on a tour, as my wife Katie and I did when we visited recently. We met Nicole Mazzuca, who oversees the taproom operations now that Georgia changed its laws to allow breweries to sell beer directly to customers.
Almost immediately after walking through the door, my wife Katie and I got a beer in our hand and Nicole was walking us around the brewery. So I’ll start with the tour, which the brewery still offers on an hourly basis on the weekends. Right now, the tours are free, and the brewery hopes to maintain that status.
To the right of the bar next to the merchandise area is a door that leads visitors to the production side of the brewery.
Although many areas have a specified purpose, there is storage throughout much of the facility. The first two rooms we entered stored grains and yeast and the grain hopper.
The next space we visited was the loading dock, but it served multiple purposes. It stored several more whiskey barrels for aging, numerous pallets of unused beer cans, and most importantly the brewery’s coffee roaster.
A coffee roaster is far from a traditional piece of equipment to be found at a brewery. Due to Mike Lundmark’s affinity for coffee, the brewery roasts its own, which is available for purchase in the taproom. Additionally, Jekyll Brewing offered complimentary coffee on Monday morning recently. The brewery’s location in an office park attracted a steady crowd of visitors to these free events.
After walking through the storage area of the brewery, visitors finally get to see where the beer is brewed. Technically, people see where the beer is stored first.
Along with seeing the fermentation tanks, visitors see where the grain is stored for use in the brewing process in the company’s silos behind the building.
Back inside visitors are greeted by the last part of the beer-making process: packaging. The brewery kegs their beers, so you get to see a keg cleaner. Additionally, Jekyll Brewing bottles AND cans their beers, so we got to see both machines used in that process.
Tucked behind the canning line is the brewery’s small-batch, pilot system.
Farther in the back is the 50-barrel system that towers over the production side of the facility.
Following the tour of the production side, we returned to the taproom to sample some beers. As we contemplated our beer choices, I seized the opportunity to take pictures of the taproom. The taproom is quite extensive, despite losing some space with the addition of the 50-barrel brewing system in March 2017.
The taproom has two spaces for customer seating. One is adjacent to the bars, and the other is farther away from the bars, but closer to the production-side of the brewery. The space closer to the production side has the same type of tables as the side closer to the bars, but there is also a performance stage and some sofas.
As Katie and I visited the brewery around two o’clock on a Saturday on a holiday, the space closer to the production side of the brewery did not have many visitors. However, the space closer to the bars was quite full.
The main bar features several names of varying sizes. As Nicole explained, these are the names of people who contributed to the brewery’s Kickstarter campaign in 2013. The size of the text indicates the amount of the individual’s donation to the campaign.
It was as Katie and I sipped on some flights that we got to learn about the history of Jekyll Island and how it connects to the brewery. Thankfully because my wife enjoys craft beer, I got to hit up the year-round beers I had not sampled while she worked on some taproom exclusives.
So before delving into the beers, it’s important to understand the history of Jekyll Island how it inspires many of the beers and beer names at Jekyll Brewing. There are multiple stories about beer and the Deep South, but instead of delving into each one of them I am only going to retell the story about what saved the colony of Georgia. In 1733, James Oglethorpe, a member of the British parliament, soldier, and social reformer, established a settlement near the side of modern-day Savannah, Ga. Following a visit to London the following year, he left Major William Horton in charge of the colony during his absence. Horton noticed that many colonists were dying, and built the first brewery in the Deep South on Jekyll Island. The colony flourished during this period, and subsequently he allotted new colonists forty-four gallons of ale to live. It is from Horton’s brewery on Jekyll Island that Michael Lundmark and Josh Rachel drew their inspiration when establishing Jekyll Brewing.
So onto the beers!
Jekyll Brewing products are widely available where we live, but I have not tried all of the brewery’s year-round brews. So I felt that I should focus on trying the core beers. While I focused on those beers, Katie opted to sample some taproom exclusives. With my mind on year-round beers, I had Big Creek (a Kölsch), ‘Merican (an American amber), Southern Juice (an American India pale ale), and Slow n’ Low Porter (a smoked porter). All were very good and brewed close to style. Of the four, I really enjoyed Southern Juice and felt that it was a particularly approachable beer, especially for people who do not identify as hop heads.
The taproom exclusive flight that Katie built is indicative of what breweries have been doing since Georgia changed its beer laws and allowed breweries to sell beer directly to customers. As of my visit to the brewery, Jekyll Brewing has brewed fifty-seven beers exclusively for the taproom since Sept. 1, 2017. So Katie ordered the Strawberry Lemonade Southern Juicy Juice Shandy (a shandy mixed with a New England IPA), Secret Apollo (a New England IPA), Let’s See What Happens (a saison with strawberry and rhubarb), and Major Hot Lips (an American stout with coca nibs, raspberry, and Habanero). I liked all of them for different reasons, but I especially enjoyed Major Hot Lips. You got the chocolate notes upfront with a bit of raspberry before finishing with a nice bite from the Habanero peppers.
Whether you prefer to stick to the basics or experiment with your beer selection, you will find something that suits your tastes at Jekyll Brewing. The taproom has plenty of space for visitors, so whether you’re checking out a new brewery on your own or hanging out with a group of friends you can find a spot to enjoy great beer. For those who visit on Saturdays, you are likely to find a food truck in the parking lot, too. If for some reason you don’t like craft beer, you can check out the brewery on Monday morning and enjoy some freshly roasted Colombian coffee.