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Three breweries are putting this mountain town on America’s beer map
Story and photos by Bill Bauer
The great American hero Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy!” That version of happiness flows in north Georgia’s quaint mountain town of Blue Ridge: Three microbreweries have sprung up since the sale of beer was legalized in 2009.
“If we don’t like it, we don’t drink it. If we don’t drink it, we don’t sell it,” is the simple, corporate mission of Grumpy Old Men Brewing. Chipley McKnight, founder and former co-owner, explains that back in 2012 he and his partner were a couple of old retired guys who were home brewing in an outdoor shower before graduating to the old gas station they transformed into a modern brewery. McKnight and his partner eventually passed control of the beer taps to another Grumpy Old Man and his Grumpy Old Lady, but the mission remains the same, as does the variety of beer and ale produced to satisfy a range of palates. In between the dark Hell’s Holler Porter and the lighter Tootla Creek Blonde Ale are both Pale and India Pale Ales.
Tom Fennel, a former Michigan resident, chose Fannin County for his German style brewing operation, Fannin Brewing Company, for two reasons: Fresh air and fresh water, both essential beer ingredients that are abundant in Blue Ridge. Fannin Brewery is all about “keeping it local,” he says, and he strives to use ingredients grown at nearby farms and orchards. He gathers strawberries from Mercier Orchards, blackberries from Jaemor Farms, sourwood honey from Shadow Wings Farm, and pecans from Pearson Farm to create his lip-licking yummy beers.
The Blue Ridge Brewing Company on Depot Street is a restaurant and brew pub that serves lunch and dinner every Wednesday through Saturday. The first to tap craft beer kegs in Blue Ridge, it rotates a combination of six house beers and eight from other breweries, plus offers a fine list of cocktails and wines. Owner Patrick Walker was inspired by his grad school roommate, an avid home brewer and chef, and was quick to take advantage of the ordinance allowing beer and wine once it passed. Walker explains, “All our beers are brewed on site using a three barrel system. We try our best to do ambitious things with food and beer while keeping our prices affordable.” Appetizers, burgers, pizzas, salads, dinner entrees plus daily specials make up the extensive menu. Portions are plentiful, and most selections come with two sumptuous sides. But be sure to leave room for one of the daily desserts, such as the popular bourbon pecan pie. You can choose to sit on the outdoor patio, the indoor dining room, or at the bar to enjoy menu favorites, daily specials and even scheduled live music events.
American naturalist John Muir once said, “The mountains are calling.” There is no better time than summer to escape the heat and sample what’s brewing in Blue Ridge: Good old-fashioned, home brewed, American beer!
More To Do…
When you’re not sampling beers or dining in the dozens of restaurants in its quaint downtown, Blue Ridge offers many compelling things to do. My top five recommendations…
Ride the train. Board the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway and take a seat on a vintage, climate controlled, open air, or Premier class coach for a 26-mile, one-hour journey through the photogenic countryside from Blue Ridge to McCaysville. A two-hour layover allows time for lunch and shopping before the one-hour ride on the tracks back.
Raft or tube the rivers. Take your pick of a soft or wild adventure on the gentle waters of the Toccoa River or Class III and IV rapids of the Upper Ocoee River.
Fly fish, swim or boat. Fannin County proudly boasts its designation as The Trout Capital of Georgia on its five rivers, and the 3,290-acre Lake Blue Ridge is one of Georgia’s most picturesque bodies of water.
Hike. Journeys to waterfalls and the famous 270 ft. swinging bridge across the Toccoa are great escapes into the forest.
Taste fruit. Since 1943, Mercier Orchards has been recognized throughout the southeast as the largest U-Pick farm for a variety of seasonal fruits. It also keeps the taps flowing with four distinct hard ciders and four fruity wines in the tasting room.