The Stout Brothers craft beer market opened in Smyrna in 2012. Located in the heart of downtown Smyrna, the original location was to be part craft beer market and growler shop and part weekend lifestyle necessity store. A second Stout Brothers shop recently opened amid the burgeoning food and drink scene at the new Inman Quarter development. Eater spoke with owner Brandon King, and managers Byron Fullmer and Mike Anderson, who all chimed in to share the scoop on what Stout Brothers has in store for Inman Quarter and beyond as the trio continues to expand its presence in Atlanta's beer scene.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in beer.
We have been friends for fifteen years or so. We met in the food and beverage industry at Café Tu-Tu Tango back in the day. We've all been involved in the service industry for years, either behind the bar, in the kitchen, or doing liquor distribution. For years we had been thinking about opening a restaurant, but that turned out to be more difficult financially. Brandon had been working as a mixologist and got to know many good sommeliers around town, and we started talking about opening a growler shop when growler shops became legal in 2011. Most of the growler shops at that time didn't have the backgrounds we had with our history in the food, beverage, and service industry. We started to realize that just doing growlers wasn't really sustainable. We put together the whole concept for a craft beer market, with growlers, food, and lifestyle products. We opened the first Stout Brothers store in Smyrna in 2012. We tried hard to push to open a second shop early on, but thankfully that didn't happen as we weren't really ready for it. The new shop at Inman Quarter was in the works for 18 months and has been open since the fall of 2015.
How have you reached out to new customers to build the Stout Brothers brand?
We don't run the shop for beer geeks or elitists. We run it for the general public. We want anyone to walk in off the street and feel comfortable, which is why we have the foods and other items. It's not just for beer snobs. We want customers to feel comfortable, we want to educate customers and feel like their lives are enriched by visiting us. We want people to have an experience beyond just being a growler shop. An important part of what we do is education. We want to expose people to beer and to unfamiliar styles like ciders and sours. Most of our staff receive Cicerone training so we all know what we are talking about when it comes to beer.
What's the biggest challenge in opening a growler shop today?
The more we started looking at it, growlers are already sort of a niche market by themselves. Your target market is narrow, so our challenge was to make the stores something more than just a growler shop. At the Smyrna store we get couples in the store all the time, we have a little bit of everything for everyone. We have ciders, foods, candles â we want to sell to everyone.
What's the biggest misconception people have about growlers?
People think that growlers are expensive, that you have to spend a lot of money at a growler store, but you really tend to spend the same amount per ounce. People need to understand this like getting to go to your favorite bar for draft beer, but you get to take it home. There's this misconception that if there is rare beer it should only go to a bar, at least on the distribution side. Funny thing is, people want to try different beers, and growlers allow for that to happen. Most of the time, beer from a growler is fresher. You don't have light contamination or temperature effects, the kegs are always cold and the beer hasn't been sitting on a shelf. Usually, a traditional unopened growler will remain fresh for seven days. Most people don't wait that long. Growlers are definitely for more immediate consumption.
Tell us about crowlers, something only you all offer in the Atlanta area.
We do now also have crowlers, which are like can growlers. These can be topped with CO2, and the extra layer of gas we add allows the beer to be cellared for years if it is cellar-able beer. It will last in the crowler for a much longer period of time than the traditional glass growler. We are the only metro-area shop that is offering crowlers right now, and they have been very popular.
Do you still feel specifically limited by Georgia's archaic laws regarding beer?
It's funny, because in Smyrna we are allowed to serve sample flights of beer. In Atlanta, the laws are a bit more nebulous, to say the least. We are adopting what other stores in the area do in letting people have samples without charging until the laws are clarified. It would be nice to be able to serve beer here. When you look at other states, like North Carolina, customers there can have a pint and walk around the store while they shop. Growlers are still fairly new in Georgia, and the state is so focused on breweries that we aren't really a blip on their radar. Each municipality tends to make their own laws about growler shops and samples. We are trying to change the laws here, as we did in Smyrna, so we can serve a flight of samples. We want to serve samples not just as a drinking experience, but for educational purposes.
What's the hope for the new shop in Inman Quarter?
We're waiting on this complex to become what we know it can become. With Hampton & Hudson and Char, two of the most anticipated restaurant openings coming in 2016 within footsteps of our door, and run by good friends of ours, we know we will be working a lot with them. We'd like to think of this as a craft beer market, but almost a lifestyle store, too. We are not just a growler shop; we have everything you need for your weekend. Our shop in Smyrna even sells Big Green Eggs. We want people to feel welcome and not judged, we want to have a unique concept and not just be about beer. We do carry more rare beers, and beers that cost us more, so we often reduce our margin so we aren't making as much, but it allows us to carry beers that many other shops cannot. We will continue to have our events once per month, which folks should look out for. Basically, all the neighborhood businesses here get together, utilize social media to get the word out, and throw little festivals. We have had three so far, and those have all been very well attended. For March, it will probably be towards the end of the month so our new restaurant neighbors can open. We also will continue to host brewery tap takeovers and feature our locally produced meats, cheeses, and snacks.