By Ashley Stafford
The city of Savannah has a rich history that involves beer. A large majority of tourism in Savannah is dedicated to drinking. Pub tours and crawls have become big business in the city. Savannah also is one of the few cities in the United States to have a “to go” cup law. This means that patrons may take their drinks outside of the establishment where they purchased it if the drink is in a plastic cup. In recent years, the craft brew movement has exploded across the United States. Microbreweries have begun to open all around Savannah and the Southeast Georgia area.
There are several microbreweries in Savannah. One is Southbound Brewing Company located on East Lathrop Avenue. On their website, it states that they opened in May of 2013. They also state that they are the first production microbrewery in Savannah. Their beer is distributed in several other local locations as well. It is distributed out of Atlanta, Albany, and Charleston as well as Savannah. They offer five regular brews, seasonal beers, and one-off specialty batches. They host many events at the brewery that celebrate craft brew in Georgia and local areas. They also offer free tours and tastings to the public. These tours are Wednesday-Saturday during business hours. Reservations are not needed as the tours are based on a first come first serve basis.
Another microbrewery in Savannah is Service Brewing Company located on Fahm Street near the Talmadge Bridge. Service Brewing sold its first beer in Savannah on July 23, 2014. They are a veteran owned brewery, and donate a portion of their profits to organizations that assist veterans. They offer only two regular beers, a pale ale (Ground Pounder) and an IPA (Compass Rose). They also offer a seasonal summer pilsner. On their website, they state that they have a research and development division in their brewery. This division is separate from their regular brews, and the brewing process is in smaller batches. They use local ingredients in these small development batches as this will further connect the community with their product. They hope to have new brews to unveil in the near future.
Another brewing company founded in Savannah is Coastal Empire Brewing Company. The company was founded in 2010, and sold its first beer on August 28, 2011. This was the day of their grand opening at the Distillery restaurant in Savannah. The company offers three regular beers. Their original beer is an American brown ale called Savannah Brown Ale. The owner says that this was a nod to his home brewing roots, as home brewers invented American brown ale in response to English brown ale. The other two beers are a pale ale and a kölsch style ale called Tybee Island blonde. The difference between Coastal Empire Brewing and other breweries in the city is that the actual brewing does not occur in Savannah. The beers that are distributed are brewed and bottled in Huntsville, Alabama by the Straight to Ale brewery.
Moon River Brewing company is a larger brewing company in Savannah. It opened in 1999, and is located at 21 West Bay Street. Moon River is a restaurant as well as a brewing company. They offer a large variety of beers, as well as seasonal brews for fall and summer. One of these seasonal beers is a unique autumn ale that is sweet potato based instead of a traditional pumpkin base. On the menu, the restaurant suggests which foods work best with each beer. For example, they suggest that if you are ordering their India pale ale that you should order fried green tomatoes to compliment the taste. Moon River, like Southbound, also offers tours of the brewery.
The building where Moon River is located is said to be one of the many haunted locations in Savannah. A number of television shows that feature ghost hunters have filmed at the brewery in hopes of finding evidence of paranormal activity. Another interesting tidbit about the brewery is that John Pinkerton, who is the brew master at Moon River, was recently elected to be the president of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild. This is a recently formed guild in Georgia. The creation of this guild coincides with the recent popularity of craft brewers in the United States.
Many other establishments and events that celebrate craft brew in Savannah are not breweries. One of these locations is World of Beer located on Broughton Street. World of Beer opened its doors in Savannah in June of 2012. World of Beer is a chain establishment that offers craft beers on tap. They also offer a large variety of craft brews from around the world. Several of the beers on tap are local, including several brews from Moon River and Southbound. The Savannah location of World of Beer has become so popular that there is another chain being opened in nearby Pooler.
Along with the recent craft beer movement, home brews have become popular as well. A home brew is for people who want to take craft beer making into a hobby, but do not want to operate a brewery. It is essentially a do it yourself project where the product is a unique beer. There is a store in Savannah that sells kits to make home brews. The Savannah Homebrew Shoppe is located on the corner of 37th street and Skidaway Road. The store opened in 1996, and has been advocating home brewing in Savannah ever since. The shop allows customers to buy kits that are specialized to the type of beer they want to brew. For example, there are kits to make wheat beer, English pale ale, American pale ale, and Imperial IPA’s.
For those who are getting started they also supply a link on their website to an online encyclopedia that gives step by step information on beer brewing along with recipes for various beers. There is also a discount for people who bring in a friend to the shop. This discount is in place in order to spread the word about home brewing. The shop also celebrates national home brew day every May 3. This day is an annual event to celebrate and advocate home brewing. During this day, the shop sells beginners kits at a discount. In addition, they have group brewing. This group brewing allows for beginning brewers to learn from experienced home brewers. They also sell supplies to make wine and cheese as well as beer.
Several modern events in Savanah are centered on beer. One of these is the craft brew fest. This is an annual event in Savannah that was started in 2007. You don’t have to be a brewer to attend the event. It is open to the public. The festival features a number of craft brewers from around the country. There are several Georgia breweries featured in the festival. These breweries include; Moon River (Savannah), Southbound (Savannah), Coastal Empire Brewing (Savannah), Red Hare (Marietta), Sweet Water (Atlanta), and Jekyll Brewing (Alpharetta).
While the Craft Brew Fest grows in size each year, it is not the largest event in Savannah centered on beer. The largest event by far is the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Savannah. The parade, held on St. Patrick’s Day, is one of the largest in the world. Each year the festivities are sponsored by at least one brewery or distributer. These sponsors range from local breweries such as Moon River to national corporations such as Anheuser Busch. This year (2014) the St. Patrick’s Day celebration was sponsored by Southern Eagle Distribution located in Statesboro, Ga. There are also several traditions during the festivities related to beer. One of these traditions is to dye beer green to go along with the color scheme for the holiday. The consumption of alcohol during this holiday is so great that there is a wristband policy for people who are legally allowed to drink. These wristbands as well as the festivities themselves are a large source of annual revenue for the city.
Breweries and beer-related events in Savannah may be recent, but there is a long history of beer in Savannah. One of the Savannah’s first beer bottlers was John Ryan. The name of his bottling company was called Excelsior Bottling Works, and was located on the East corner of West Broad Street and Montgomery Street. He was a bottler of soda water, port, ale, and lager beer. The beers that Ryan bottled were imported from Europe. Ryan established his business in Savannah in the 1840’s. His business lasted until 1870. His was the last beer bottling business in the city until the 20th century. The boom of beer bottlers and retailers in Savannah did not happen until 1934, the year after prohibition. In 1934, six businesses sold beer in the city. Before 1920, no more than three businesses that sold beer were operating at the time. One business to come out of this boom after prohibition was the Savannah Distribution Company. They have been in business since 1938. They distribute beer from seven different Georgia craft breweries including Service Brewing and Moon River.
The craft brew movement in Savannah shows no signs of slowing down. Each year new breweries are opening. Current breweries are beginning to create new beer, and expand their areas of distribution. The citizens of Savannah have continually supported local brewing. If brewing continues as it has, Savannah could become a major city in the craft brew community in the United States.