If you live in metro Atlanta and are a fan of craft beer, you have probably considered leaving work early, or driving clear across town so that you could get to a beer shop to grab a six pack of Creature Comforts before it sold out in record time. Since the Athens brewery’s debut just over three years ago, Creature Comforts has made some of the most in-demand beers in the south. Since its debut, Creature Comforts’s Tropicalia has been the most in-demand Georgia-made beer in town.
Located 70 miles east of Atlanta, a visit to Athens is an easy day trip for anyone looking to visit Creature Comforts and all that the Classic City has to offer. Eater Atlanta recently spoke with Creature Comforts co-founder Adam Beauchamp about the brewery’s rapid success, plans for the future, and why every Atlanta beer drinker should make the drive to taste some of the best brews being made in Georgia.
What has surprised you the most about Creature Comforts’s first three years?
We had a pretty aggressive growth plan in our business plan. We looked at all the stats on who was growing the fastest and how fast could we grow as a brewery. We scaled back about 25 percent on the top growth breweries and we felt like we were aggressive, but people want to see growth on a business plan, so we thought we could do it. But we have far outpaced our business plan and growth projections. In terms of challenges, growing at that rate has been rather difficult. We thought that when we entered the Atlanta market we were really going to have to build the brand and work to get people to know us.
When Tropicalia cans hit, all of a sudden we just couldn’t make enough. We then had to try to scale up a company that at that time was less than a year old. There was a quick demand that just blew up. I think we responded pretty well and scaled pretty quickly. But right now, we are three years old and we are making the amount of beer we had planned to be making in year five, according to our original plan. We were planning to start a new brewery in year five and we had to start planning for that in year two.
What makes Creature Comforts stand out in an increasingly crowded craft beer market?
Many parts of the country had been exposed to more of a lower-bitter, lower-malt India Pale Ale that is a little more drinkable, not a bitter bomb, not a sweet, malty bomb. It was a style that was definitely underdone in this area. And we’re still seeing the peak of the IPA craze, but when Tropicalia was released, people were falling over themselves for new IPAs. It was decidedly a bit different from what people were doing at the time. And, I think we nailed the can, which is part of its appeal. It’s an iconic can that’s very recognizable. I think our quality and consistency also stands up, which is our biggest initiative at the brewery, maintaining the quality. We have a full-time lab tech who does hundreds of checks on every batch of beer so we are sure everything that goes out the door meets up to our specs. We put a lot of energy into shelf stability as well, so that if a can falls to the back of the cooler, or someone ages a can, generally the beer holds up pretty well.
I think our success has been a perfect storm of style, quality, and the right marketing at the right time. Tropicalia has also always been at the edge of availability which drives a bit of mystique with people. There’s this whale-chasing thing that is self-perpetuating with craft beers. Everyone should know scarcity is not by design and we are trying to make as much as possible!
Is there a house style or focus at Creature Comforts?
I love hoppy beer. I’m a product of the generation where IPAs began taking off, maybe at the cost of all other beer styles. I’m unabashedly a hophead, but I also really like acidic-balanced beers. I can drink a stout or a brown ale at times, but I prefer something drier and more balanced. I always lean to more hoppy beers or sours. I also really like lager, and Bibo is growing steadily for us as a brand, and we may be adding another lager soon.
We do like to say that we don’t have a flagship beer or house style. We’ve always said that if in 10 years Tropicalia isn’t cool or in demand anymore, we have to be able to pivot. You can see this problem with a lot of the big, more established breweries. All of a sudden, their big flagship beer isn’t selling like it once was in the market. You have to not be stuck in your ways and realize that if the market doesn’t want it, you can’t force it down people’s throats. We strive to be a pull-through brewery. We try to make beers that we aren’t pushing on retailers or our distributor; we want the consumer to be pulling the product. The key to having fresh, quality beer that is sustainable is to have consumers who are demanding it.
What makes Athens an ideal place for Creature Comforts to call home?
I love it here in Athens — it would be difficult for me to ever move back to Atlanta. We have great food, excellent entertainment and cultural activities, there’s an amazing art scene and great music. There is a lot of great things going on here without a lot of the big city issues. During summer, when most of the UGA students are gone, we have no traffic. You can go anywhere. Athens does have a small-town feel; you do see many of the same people around town. And I think you do have to be creative to live here. There’s not a ton of low-hanging fruit as far as jobs go, so most people have found a little niche. There’s a lot of good creative energy and interesting people here.
Can you tell us about the expansion and the new brewery facility?
We are definitely keeping the original downtown location. We’re not completely done deciding what we will keep here at the original location, but it will continue to be a tasting room and brewery and the canning line will stay here. We may push more of our barrel-aging program here and push more deeply into doing that here as well. We will move the core line and seasonal production to the new facility. The new facility is about one mile northwest of here, off of Chase Street. The new facility is 40,000 square feet. It’s an old textile mill that was built in the 1890s and has been abandoned for about 25 years since a lot of the textile manufacturing left. The building is in pretty bad shape, so it’s somewhat of a tenuous historical preservation project for us at the moment.
We just bought an eighty-five barrel, fully- automated German brew house from Steinecker that is completely computer controlled. We will also have a new canning line that will allow us to improve shelf stability by keeping oxygen out of the package. The new machine will be two to three times more effective than what we have now so shelf stability will certainly go up. Eventually the capacity will be 170,000 barrels a year. That would be a pretty massive brewery at that point, which would put us in the top thirty in the country if we ever got there. I’m not saying we will get there anytime soon, but we like to plan for any eventualities. It will be our forever home, so we are being thoughtful about office space and staff and things we didn’t think much about the first time through. There’s also room for a restaurant down the road, which could be cool. We are hoping the new facility will be operational by the end of 2017.
How will the long-awaited changes to Georgia law regarding beer sales impact Creature Comforts?
The law change will have a huge impact on the whole industry. Mostly, it will be a positive change for the consumer, leading to a more natural experience that people are used to where you can visit a brewery and buy beer. The hardest part of how we have had to deal with it over the past years is that we have to provide tours for everyone that wants to take beer home, and they can only take home limited amounts. The new law allows us to sell up to a case of beer, and we will be able to sell an unlimited amount for on-premises consumption.
It seems there is a lot of collaboration going on craft beer these days. Does Creature Comforts have any collaborations you can tell us about?
We do have some exciting things coming up. We just did a collaboration with Modern Times out of San Diego. Our breweries came up at the same time; we refer to each other as sister breweries. They are creative, fun people and good to be around and are on a similar crazy growth trajectory. We made a beer here and a beer there with them. We did an al pastor-inspired taco with them in San Diego that was kettle soured, with pineapple, smoke malt, chili peppers, and citrus zest. The smell and taste was literally similar to an al pastor taco. When they came here, it was when YCH lupulin hop extract just came out, and we made Modern Comforts, a play on both of our names, but also a nod to modern hoppy beers. It was a big double IPA. We’re also pretty good friends with the guys at Other Half up in New York. We did a baltic porter with them here in Athens and we sent them some Georgia corn grits and they brewed a hoppy lager called Grits ‘n’ Greens.
Where can people find Creature Comforts beers today?
We are primarily in Athens and Atlanta, though we do allow about 5 percent of our production to go outside of those two cities. But we are only in Georgia. The goal of our expansion is to not geographically expand. We want to dig deeper into our current markets and be sure that if you walk into Tower or Greene’s [package stores], you can find all of our core beers. And we want to be sure our seasonal brands are real seasonal and are available for three months or so. There’s still a lot we can do locally and in the markets we are in currently.
Creature Comforts is open for tours Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.