Athens is an interesting place. For many residents it’s all about football, football, football. UGA promises a fresh batch of rotating students every season, and the enthusiasm for the Bulldogs never seems to falter among alumni. Two of Southern Brewing’s flagships—Red & Black, a trademark-friendly nod to the school colors, and Hobnail IPA, a reference to a legendary on-air call made by Larry Munson—pay tribute to the pride and identity that is tangled up with college sports in the area. For many, it wouldn’t be Athens without Bulldogs football.
Even so, football—if you can believe it—is just one facet of Athens’ identity. The town is has also proven itself as a veritable hotbed for notable musicians, with acts like REM, the B-52s, Drive-By Truckers (!!!) and Of Montreal, all getting their start there. Tack on a vibrant local art and performance scene and Athens suddenly seems remarkably eclectic. Downright bohemian, even.
This unexpected dimension to what is (on paper) a quaint Georgia burg is reflected in Southern Brewing’s offerings. Their ‘Southern Woodpile’ specialty series boasts a wide array of barrel-aged and flavored specialty beers. On site at the brewery, you will notice massive clay amphoras made to ancient Grecian specifications: we actually got to have a sample of this amphora aged beer, which had taken on a mineral quality that was unlike anything we’ve tried before. Co-owner Brian was proud of the fact that the amphoras were fired at the UGA art department kilns, even giddily pointing out an exploded pile of pottery that didn’t make it through the laborious production process.
As though this wasn’t enough, Southern has managed to source several strains of wild yeast onsite at their property, and, with help from the UGA Biology department, has isolated and brewed with these signature strains of yeast. We’ve always wondered why more breweries don’t take this approach: we think of it like wine grapes grown onsite at a vineyard, but for beer. We tried the Wild Azalea saison and found it fruity, refreshing and slightly tart. Connecting the specific brewery location to the product in a meaningful, distinct way that directly impacts the flavor of the end product? We are impressed.
“The biggest challenge when it comes to getting the word out is the fact that there are so many good breweries in and around our market,” remarks Steven Brand, VP of sales and marketing at Southern. And he’s right: the growth in local craft beer hasn’t come without challenges. Historically, Southern Brewing handled the majority of their design for logos, packaging, merch, events, website—you name it—in-house. This worked just fine for a while, and is still an important component of their staff capabilities. But as time moved on and more competitors popped up, things began to change: packaging trends came and went faster. Deadlines got closer and margins got tighter. It’s harder than ever to launch a new product and make it leap off the shelf, all before interest dries up and consumers move on to the next big thing. We’ve seen these obstacles in markets all over the country.