The news is out. Creature Comforts, the Athens brewery that produces Tropicalia IPA, is expanding with a second, much larger brewery operation, and the help of $475,000 from an Athens-Clarke County economic development fund.
The announcement last week confirmed what had been an open secret, and made Tropicalia fans happy in the hope that short supplies of Georgia’s biggest and scarcest buzz beer will be but a bad memory in the not-so-distant future.
The new brewery will be located in a new mixed-use development in the historic Southern Mill complex on North Chase Street, not far from the original downtown brewery and tasting room on West Hancock Avenue, which will remain open.
According to the announcement, Creature Comforts will begin the build-out in May 2017, with the goal of having the operation up and running by October 2017. The company will invest a minimum of $8 million into a 36,000-square-foot building, with fully automated, dual 85-barrel four vessel brewhouses from German manufacturer Steinecker.
What’s more, the brewery expects to be able to brew 25,000 barrels of Tropicalia in 2018 — nearly double its current output — along with increased capacity for other year-round beers, including Athena Berliner Weisse, Bibo Pilsner and Reclaimed Rye.
Creature Comforts, which opened in April 2014, is the brainchild of David Stein, a former brewer at Twain’s in Decatur, who was joined by business partners Adam Beauchamp, a longtime brewer at SweetWater in Atlanta, and Chris Herron, who became the CEO after leaving a position at Diageo, the international beverage giant.
After the announcement, Herron talked about the construction and the future of the company.
“We started working on this project with the city in early 2016, and looking into what sites were available,” Herron said. “The building has been vacant since the ’90s, and there’s some work to be done before we can move in.
“We’re working with a consulting firm called Providence Process Solutions, and what they do is build breweries. So construction on the exterior shell of the building should start soon, and once we take over in May, it’s doing all the plumbing, electrical and interior elements. Most of the equipment has been ordered and is in production at this point, and planned to be here by June.”
Once it’s a working brewery, production should ramp up fairly quickly, Herron said.
“The new brewery will take over the production of Tropicalia and our other year-round beers, and then a number of our well-known seasonals, like Automatic, Koko Buni and Cosmik Debris,” he said. “We do plan a pretty big renovation on the existing facility to create more space in the taproom, but still keep 6,000-8,000 barrels of capacity there to do bigger batches of limited release beers.
“I think the biggest thing is that people can be more comfortable that they will find the core beers that they’ve come to know, and that the seasonals will last the full season. Right now, the seasonals feel a lot like limited release beers. And we’re hoping to do a lot more of the Athena Paradiso variants.”
Asked about Creature Comforts’ rapid growth in less than three years, Herron agreed that it was remarkable, if not unprecedented during a period of craft beer ascendancy.
“If you look at Brewers Association data, you have 10-20 breweries in the last 10 years that have been on a similar trajectory, so it’s not unheard of, but it’s not common, either,” he said. “I think the thing that’s unique for us is that we’ve been able to do it in a very small footprint of just Athens and Atlanta. It’s just awesome how those two communities have been in supporting the brand, and we remain committed to serving them.”
Still, given Georgia’s less-than-friendly craft beer business environment, it seemed logical to ask if there was ever a question of Creature Comforts building a brewery in a nearby state.
“We approached Athens with the idea that we wanted to stay here, and that was it,” Herron said. “We’re really proud of Georgia, and we wanted to be part of a solution here, as opposed to running to somewhere where the grass was greener.”