Stop and Sip: Exploring craft culture in Savannah

Posted on April 2, 2015 by

There are all kinds of wonderful sightseeing tours and activities to take part in the Historic District of Savannah, but there’s also a bunch of craft breweries trying to make a name for themselves amid all of the new ice cream parlors, boutique stores and hot spots on River Street.

Step out on the cobblestone streets of Savannah and you’ll know it’s a full of inventive styles, and its beer culture isn’t any different. The adventurous flavors found on tap at restaurants across the city can only be credited to the courageous souls stepping up to get this town hoppin’ after years of pubs and parlors dominating the beer scene.

The Distillery, The Bier Haus Gastropub, Crystal Beer Parlor and World of Beer are great places to pick up a pint, but to catch the craft culture, you’ll have to visit Savannah’s up-and-coming breweries. Start with the youngest, Service Brewing Company, who barreled onto the scene last summer with a line of military-inspired brews and daring drafts from their research and development department.

Service barIt’s inside this veteran-owned and -operated brewery that Master Brewer Dan Sartin, a 1978 West Point graduate who served as an infantryman in Germany, gets to play. Wheat Wine, Smoked Rye and an Oyster Stout are just a few of his creations. Service Brewing Co. always keeps one R&D brew on tap with their staple beers, which includes the Compass Rose IPA and Ground Pounder Pale Ale.

“Service has a beautiful facility and they are providing not only their core line of beers on tap, but also a special research and development series that you can only get at the brewery,” says beer enthusiast Lee Heidel, who’s a member of the Brew, Drink, Run team in Savannah. “That could be your only chance to ever have a Strawberry-Chocolate IPA or any of the other crazy concoctions they come up with.”

Service BeerKevin Ryan, a 1996 West Point graduate and infantry officer who commanded two companies in Iraq, is the CEO and brainchild behind this new brewery, just off of River Street. He first ventured into the brewing business after receiving a brew kit from girlfriend Meredith Sutton and end up acquiring so much equipment that he didn’t have any room to brew. His courtyard and guest room were full, so he had to go pro.

“Most people get moved into their garage. The wives say, ‘You do your brew thing out there, I don’t want to see it, definitely not in my kitchen.’” Kevin explains. “But I didn’t have a garage.”

southbound 2 lqAnd as he made his own business plan and brewed in his courtyard, another brewery, Southbound Brewing Company, was well on their way to opening. And without them, Kevin and his team would’ve had a much harder time getting started.

“It was actually a blessing, because they got to be the first ones to knock down all the obstacles for us, educate the city and council on breweries and how they operate,” says Kevin.

Southbound, which opened in 2011, was the first production brewery in Savannah, which makes it a must-see in our Hostess City. Be sure to take a tour and try some of the unique drinks they’ve brewed up, like their award-winning Imperial Coffee Stout, Moonlight Drive, and their medium-bodied chocolate, caramel brown ale, the Bad, Bad Cascade Brown.

southbound 3Even though Southbound has been open for three years, they’ve only been brewing for two. They stood at the front lines, battling for better brewing, trying to raise awareness for the new small brewing businesses trying to get their start in a state where the brewers at these companies aren’t even legally allowed to take home a batch they just made.

“In order for a brewer to take it home he has to go buy it from the store,” says Carly Wiggins, co-founder of Southbound, who’s on the board of directors at the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild.

southbound glass lqThey’re stuck in a system where production breweries can make their own beer but can’t sell it to customers, just distributors. Visitors can tour the facility and taste their beers, but they have to find another store to buy it out at. It took Southbound six months to get the City of Savannah to adopt the state law so they could even have tours of their brewery.

“But it’s not like we’re trying to tear down the system by any means; that’s not what we’re after,” says Carly. “We’re just looking for a little bit of leeway to put us on a level playing field with the states around us.”

And these challenges just fortified the breweries bonds with one another.

When Southbound needed help getting everything thing shipped in and in place, Service and Coastal Empire Beer helped out. When Southbound needed to calibrate their systems, Service provided them with some blank cans and when they needed a few bottles to send beer to a competition, Service lent them a couple cases.

moon river 6But these guys wouldn’t even be in the beer scene if it wasn’t for Moon River Brewing Company, the first brewpub in Savannah, which opened in April 1999. It’s not just a brewing company, but they do make their own beer, which you can even watch while in their restaurant or at the bar. Or you can outside and enjoy their 5,400 square-foot beer garden that boasts a garden house complete with a bar and three ‘garage’ doors that open during good weather.

They have a variety that will please, with Indian Pale Ales, American Sweet Stouts, German Sour Wheat Ales and even Belgo-American Saisons. And while you try these beers, ask the bartender about the ghosts that hang around the pub.

And be sure not to forget to stop at the Coastal Empire Beer Company, who just opened their first brewing facility in Savannah after contract brewing out of Fredericksburg, Virginia and Huntsville, Alabama for about three years.

CEB savannah brown ale“Some people call it gypsy brewing,” says Owner Chris Haborak, brother of Master Brewer Kevin Haborak. “People’s perception of contract brewing is that you basically get someone to brew your beer, they use their recipes and you put out a product. That’s not it at all. Kevin developed these recipes and he would actually travel to the brewery and brew.”

Kevin would drive nine and a half hours to Fredericksburg almost every weekend for a year until they outbrewed the capacity at the brewerey and were forced to find another facility, which happened to be in Huntsville. When breweries started to break barriers in Savannah, Coastal Empire Beer decided it was time bring their brewing back home.

“The plan was to always get the brewery here, but we both had young families. It was in 2010 when we started thinking about doing this – funds weren’t readily available,” says Kevin.

The brewery is a little more rustic than the others, but its brews aren’t anything less. In fact, they just might be the best. Don’t pass up their Praline Amber or their Imperial Breakfast, which was modeled it after a Mexican mole recipe. It’s no wonder this beer that’s aged on serrano and ancho peppers, cumin, all spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, raisins and coffee, won a bronze metal in the herb and spice beer category at Great American Beer Festival.

“We actually had a guy drop by from Beer Advocate that tried it and said, ‘After all the beer I’ve ever tasted, I can honestly say I’ve never had one with cumin.'”

It’s no secret that Savannah is a growing city and this buzz about the brew scene is just beginning. It certainly has the potential to hop from three to six breweries in the upcoming year. So be on the lookout for this Hostess City, because it just might become a Toast-Us City.