Head-high pallets of hand-bottled beer rolled out of the loading bays at Left Nut Brewing Co. for the first time last week.
On Thursday, bottles of pale and blonde ales left the Atlanta Highway plant bound for Gainesville grocery and package stores — a milestone for the company that hit its first anniversary in March.
“That’s a big checkpoint for us in our longevity — or our life, our lifespan here,” said brewery owner Pap Datta on Thursday. “We’re really looking for more and more packaging to come out. Whether we continue in bottles or we shift to cans, all of that is based on how our beers perform in the market. But it also gets us ready for Sept. 1.”
Beginning in September, breweries across Georgia will begin selling beer and food straight to consumers from their breweries thanks to state Senate Bill 85, which was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 8.
The state will be No. 50 — the last in the nation — to allow sales at breweries, according to Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild.
“It’s absolutely monumental,” Palmer said on Friday. “In some ways it’s been the most important and primary goal of the guild since I started working for them years ago.”
State law has been a bottleneck for brewers, according to Palmer. Because breweries have only been able to sell to wholesalers who sell to retailers who sell to consumers, entrepreneurs had to “open a gigantic brewery and make a lot of beer” to stay afloat.
It’s why Georgia ranks 48th nationwide in number of breweries per capita but 17th in beer production — there are a relatively few operations making a huge amount of beer.
In the near-term, the new regulations will make the most difference to new breweries and small outfits outside of metropolitan areas.
LNB will be able to scrap the hoops through which it’s jumped for a year — selling educational tours that come with free samples of three bottles or more of beer, but not the beer itself.
Datta said he thinks the change will not only be good for the brewery, but for consumers.
“They feel like they have to drink all three beers or 36 ounces of beer because they committed to it by buying that tour,” he said, adding that while the brewery will still offer tours, customers “don’t have to say, ‘I have to drink all 36 ounces because I feel like I paid for it.’ It’s better from a safety standpoint and from a revenue standpoint.”
Come September, smaller operations will have a revenue stream walking through their front door regardless of franchise deals with wholesalers or the volume of beer they’re producing.
“I think for a few of our breweries, it’s going to be life-changing,” Palmer said. “… With the lower barrier to entry, we’re going to see a lot more breweries open with smaller ambitions, at least initially, and a lot more breweries opening in smaller towns.”
Breweries are strange businesses, and they can fill an important niche for communities. Even in small towns, they’re mostly urban manufacturers that attract tourists — often to reused industrial spaces.
“Most people don’t like visiting factories … but that’s kind of what we have going on here,” Palmer said.
It’s what Gainesville has going on with Left Nut Brewing, which operates in the former Johnson & Johnson mill across from Chicopee Village.
With its smooth concrete floors, original wooden ceiling — and between them baked red brick and foggy industrial glass — the mill is an attractive location for the craft beer sort.
The brewery gets a location, and Gainesville gets new work being done in a formerly vacant but historic mill.
LNB is doing work. The crew ended its first year having made about 248,000 pints of beer, according to Datta, all of it through draft.
“That’s not a bad output for the first year,” he said. “… We hope to at least double that, if not more.”
Beginning in September, more of that beer will be sold direct from the brewery, allowing the company to offer more of its products for sale.
“It helps us take some of the brewery-only offerings and things like that — that we produce in lower volumes, they’re special one-offs, expensive-to-make kind of things — which can be put in nice packaging and so forth here that you can only get here in the brewery,” Datta said.
The 30-year homebrewer-turned-brewery-owner said he’s most proud of the company’s double India pale ale, Mighty Banyan IPA.
“It’s a very well-crafted beer and a testament to our research and development guy, Rick Foote, as well as Jason Ford, our brewmaster,” Datta said.
Ford himself came to LNB after stints with Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado and SweetWater Brewing Co. in Atlanta, where he got his start in commercial brewing. He left Monday Night Brewing Co. for LNB.
His first recipe for the Gainesville brewery was the Leaping Lena imperial red ale, named for the city’s famous fire engine that survived the deadly 1936 tornado.
“I started thinking about what I didn’t really see a lot of in the market — something that I wanted to brew, something that I really enjoyed — and I really love imperial reds,” Ford said, leaning over the bar at the brewery. “… I know it’s a little more challenging; getting that color just right is a lot harder than most people think. I took that on as a challenge.”
Two batches later, out came the Leaping Lena.
“We went straight to production with it,” he said.
For now, the brewery is bottling two beers, the Lappland Blonde ale and the American Obsession pale ale, and the process is still so new to LNB that the company is doing it by hand in the back of the shop. As Gainesville is a “lake town,” Ford said, they’re weighing whether to introduce cans.
But the brewery has its foundation laid ahead of September, when life will change for Georgia’s craft breweries.
“I’m very excited about the law is changing,” Datta said. “… This is really just going to help not only us, but Gainesville. We are on the craft brewing map in the U.S. If people look at who’s in Georgia, they’ll see Gainesville on the map.”