Orpheus Brewing was born of two beers that brewmaster Jason Pellett concocted in his early days as a home brewer. Those beers, Lyric Ale and Atalanta are now two of Orpheus Brewing's best-loved products and are regular fixtures on taps and shelves throughout Georgia. Eater spoke recently with Jason about life as a brewer, the allure of sour beer, and what the hold future holds for Orpheus Brewing.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in beer.
I started as a home brewer quite a few years ago, but I wasn't really all that into beer at the time. I didn't really drink that much at the time, so I didn't keep it up. I put it away for, like, 10 years. Years later, I met my wife and we started going to beer bars and breweries and I got obsessed with sour beers. Soon after, I decided I'd start brewing beer again. That's really how I started home-brewing again, I just wanted more access to sour beers. I was brewing at home seriously for about a year or so, and I brewed two successful beers back to back, beers that became our Lyric Ale and Atalanta. I decided at that time that I might be able to make a brewery out of it, but I was working as a trumpet player at the time and a brewery was not going to happen. So, I developed this fantasy brand called Orpheus Brewing, and thought maybe one day down the road I'd save up money and open a small brewery. I'm friends with Nick Rutherford and Molly Gunn, owners of the Porter, and it was late-night discussions about beer with Nick that lead me to think I could be brewing instead of just drinking. I met my partner Andrew Lorber through Molly, and we opened Orpheus about two years after our initial meeting. We opened this current brewery space about 14 months ago.
Are there any special beers that stand out as memorable for you in your beer-drinking and brewing journey?
My lightbulb beer was a Duchesse de Bourgogne I had in 2009, my first sour beer. That's what really got me turned on to the sour beer thing. That's actually a sweet-and-sour beer, but I tend to like less sweet at this point. Actually, the first five barrels we filled in our barrel room are what I consider my tribute barrels, they use dregs from five breweries that have been most influential to me: Cantillon, Fantome, Russian River Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin, and Drie Fonteinen.
How do you feel Orpheus stands out from other breweries in the growing craft brewery scene around Atlanta?
The craft beer scene here is getting more crowded, but we're still way behind places like Portland, for example. When I first started brewing, one of the things I wanted to do was make beers that I couldn't buy. Basically, I brew for selfish reasons, I started by brewing things I want to drink, which is why we focus on sour beers. We're doing a big volume on Atalanta, in a way I was hoping we would do. But, that's a six-pack sour, and while that seems more doable now, at the time I started brewing it there wasn't a lot of canned sours available. The sour beers that we do are certainly a niche for us. I also think our sour barrel room also sets us apart. It isn't just a barrel room, it's also a sour room. The air in the sour beer room is alive. We have open fermenters for spontaneous fermentations where all of the bacteria come from the open air of the room. Almost all of the beer aging in our sour barrels came from our open fermenters.
Aside from sour beers, what other types of beers are you focusing on brewing now?
We did recently start brewing hoppy beers, and while I never intended to brew an India Pale Ale here, I like the potential of hops. I find many IPAs to be aggressively bitter. In an attempt to balance all the hops, IPAs often have way too much of a toasty-caramel malt thing that clashes with the tropical fruit and citrus flavors and is to me one of the worst beer combinations there is. When I started brewing hoppy beers I was going for a less-bitter beer, an IPA that could really highlight the naturally fruity and floral aspect of the hops. Our two best sellers now are easily Atalanta, our first sour, and Transmigration of Souls, the first of our IPAs we put into a six pack. We also have Peace. War. Truth. Lie., our session IPA that is newly canned and selling well now.
Tell us a bit about the ongoing struggles craft brewers face in Georgia, in terms of the laws and regulations.
The laws changed slightly a few weeks ago, but they didn't change enough for us to really alter what we do here. We do get a little bit more revenue through our tasting room. But, we put a whole lot of money into our barrel-aged beers, and we can't sell those by the glass as we would have a hard time recouping that cost in the tasting room. So, you'll rarely see barrel-aged beers on tap here. When you are limited on how customers can take beer home from the brewery, it makes things very difficult. We still can't "sell" beer here, we can include up to 72 ounces of beer as a souvenir as part of a brewery tour package, but it has to be part of a tour with a tour guide. There are still ridiculous barriers in place for customers who might just want to buy our beer from us.
Can you talk a little bit about current production and future plans for Orpheus?
We are brewing at capacity right now. Actually, since Transmigration of Souls came out we have been at full capacity, which is about 400 to 450 barrels per month. It's been busy lately. We recently brought on two more brewers. In the past year we've gone from five employees to close to a total of 20 regular and part-time employees. As for the future, I would like to see our barrel-aging room expanded. I'd like to eventually spend most of my time with barrels and barrel-blending and aging so that we will have steady barrel releases. At some point soon we will be looking at a second facility as we will eventually outgrow this space.
When can people come visit the brewery?
The tasting room is open for tours on Thursday and Friday from 6 to 9 and Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5.
What are you drinking these days when not drinking beer?
Rum. Old rum, actually. A recent favorite is the Zafra 21 year. I really also like the Diplomatico rums. Actually, I don't want people to know that rum is such a great deal. You can get really great aged rum, as great as any rare bourbon you've had, for like $40 per bottle.
— Eater Atlanta contributor Dennis Attick