On Saturday 2/8/14, we had the fortunate timing of re-entering Georgia and attending the Mosaic Red Rye IPA release event at Terrapin Beer Company. When we arrived there were still hundreds of people waiting in line outside but, as an example of how accustomed the brewery is at handling packed tours, that line moved very quickly and we were soon inside and speaking with one of the Regional Sales Managers, Oliver Koch. Oliver shared his knowledge of the brewery before handing us over to Matt Saylor for a private tour of their vast facilities. We were informed that, despite this day’s special beer release, the brewery tours which are held Wed-Sat each week from 5:30-7:30pm are often that busy and are always capped at 800 attendees. The tours and tastings are free or $10/$12 with a souvenir pint/specialty glass, respectively. It doesn’t hurt that there are plenty of new craft beer converts with the University of Georgia campus just 2 ½ short miles away.
Terrapin was founded in 2002 by President John Cochran and Brewmaster Brian “Spike” Buckowski, but has only been at their current 40,000 sq. ft. facility in Athens since 2007. The brewery has been experiencing steady growth despite the addition of distribution to only Maryland and Washington, D.C. last year, however, the 41% jump in 2013 represented a huge one in terms of beer produced – increasing total volume to just shy of 33,000 bbl, making Terrapin the 3rd largest brewery in the Southeast behind SweetWater and Abita. Oliver shared that the company is currently in 12 states but want to grow ‘smarter not larger’ and ensure beers are in consistent supply. That said, Terrapin just expanded into Louisiana and West Virginia and are looking at the Kentucky and Ohio markets as possibilities later in the year. In line with that ramping up of production was an increase in the size of equipment. Previously utilizing a 25 bbl brewhouse, November of 2012 saw the installation of a 100 bbl brewhouse – equipped with a wort sampling station and three computer controlled, hop addition storage bins – and the utilization of eight 200 bbl fermenters that were already on site. Additional bright tanks, fermenters and a canning line are next on the docket. Including the tour staff, we were told there are over 100 employees, 35 of which were brought on during the 2013 expansion.
Currently, Terrapin is bottling several of their beers on SweetWater’s old bottling line. They felt that canning fits with their outdoorsy culture and began contract brewing and canning their 4.7%, Galaxy hopped session IPA, Recreation Ale, through Two Roads Brewing Company in Connecticut until they can buy and install a canning line in their own facilities. Cans, however, will be only supplemental; the bottles are here to stay. Recreation Ale is available year-round in addition to four other brews. Rye Pale Ale, made with 5 different hops including an Amarillo dry hopping, was the first beer brewed by Terrapin back in 2002 and won Gold at the 2002 GABF in the American Pale Ale category just 6 months after entering the market. Many other awards have been bestowed on Terrapin Beer Co. but I won’t have time to delve into them all. The third hoppy brew available all year, and also their most popular flagship, is the Hopsecutioner IPA. Again, no hops are spared on this beer as 5 popular hop varieties are utilized, though this time with a Cascade dry hop addition. The remaining year round offerings are the refreshing Golden Ale, which is only available in Georgia, and the newest addition to the family, Tree Hugger Alt, proceeds from which help protect Southern forests by benefiting Dogwood Alliance.
Seasonal Session releases feature the popular Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout made with Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Company’s cocoa nibs and shells (also available in small quantities as white chocolate version under their Reserve Series), the German style Pumpkinfest, Maggie’s Peach Farmhouse Ale showcasing 1,000 lbs of fresh peaches per 100 bbl, and the aforementioned Mosaic Red Rye IPA. The higher gravity seasonal beers take on the label of Monster Beer Tour and include the Wake ‘N’ Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (Reserve Series: Cinnamon Roll’d Wake-n-Bake, if you were so fortunate), Monk’s Revenge Belgian Style IPA (to be released as a Belgian Black IPA in Sept 2014), Hopzilla Double IPA (clocking in at a whopping 110 IBU), and Oaked Big Hoppy Monster Imperial Red Ale. As if that weren’t enough of a catalogue, Terrapin provides a steady stream of experimental creations from their Side Projects, now totaling 21 releases. The last of which, Pineapple Express Smoked Pineapple Helles, was available for tasting upon our visit and was actually brewed after winning the first annual Employee Homebrew Challenge. The styles are all across the board, ranging from Vol. 3 Gamma Ray Wheat Wine Ale with Honey to Vol. 10 Capt’n Krunkles Black IPA to Vol. 18 Liquid Bliss Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Many of the more popular releases have entered the yearly repertoire.
Terrapin hosts their Anniversary Carnival the 2nd weekend of each April with a plethora of pouring stations to spread out the lines. This year’s 12th anniversary event will be held April 12th from 4:30-8:30 with $5 of each $20 ticket benefiting Community Connection. During this event they break out a variety of special beers including many barrel-aged beers and casks to be paired with food, live music, and fun activities like the beer-filled dunk tank. The company’s website details that nearly $28,000 was donated to non-profit organizations in some fashion during 2013. Decatur Green Fest, promoting green behavior and sustainability, has been hosted for the past five years in May and features live music, proceeds benefitting Dogwood Alliance and Poverty is Real. This past year Terrapin served as a presenting sponsor and released their Tree Hugger for the first time during the prior year’s event. In addition, the Hop Harvest Festival is held each fall and features utilization of their own personal hop harvest. The hops are not utilized in the brewing process but are, however, used in their Hop back (like the Dogfish Randall) to impart fresh hop aroma. The event also features the release of their single hopped, fresh hopped ale, So Fresh and So Green Green. Needless to say, there are plenty of delectable reasons to make a trip to Athens and visit the brewery.
Thank you so much to Oliver and Matt for taking time out of a super busy tour night to speak with us and share their love of Terrapin Beer as well as to the rest of the crew that were kind enough to chat with us afterwards and share their cherished pizza.
Author: Brandon Wurtz