By Bobby Bush
It had been over five years since I last visited Athens, Georgia. This hard-to-get-to college town has seen a lot of beer history in that span. Athens Brewing closed. Nuff said. Just a few blocks up Washington Avenue, Burntstone Brewing opened in October 1998. When the brewpub closed in October 2001, new owners were already in waiting. Remodeling - new penny-infused bartop, tile floor - complete, the establishment reopened on March 20, 2002 as Copper Creek Brewing Company.
Matt Buley, who also served as Burntstone brewer, took over where he left off, with one exception. Using his own mash tun design, he converted the seven barrel, extract brewhouse into an all-grain operation. More work for him, shoveling spent barley, but better beer for everyone. His copper-clad brewery vessels shine in the front window.
Copper Creek usually keeps four beers on tap, but this visit caught Matt between beers. His ESB would be up in a day or so. Unlike most other brewpubs, Matt does not have a regular line-up of beers. The four taps constantly rotate. Copper Creek's Belgian Wit was cloudy golden with hints of citrus and apples and a little clove. A tingly spicy sweet finish was chased by smooth sweet aftertaste. Mahogany in hue, Alt was all toasty caramel with a hint of alcohol flavor and a clean, refreshing finish. Porter, cloudy brown in the London style, sported a chocolate liquor taste in its smooth medium mouthfeel. It closed tart with residual bittersweet sensations.
Dreadlocked Matt spoke at length about his brewing experience, which began with ownership of a homebrewing retail store and involvement in a long-defunct Athens microbrewery called Blind Man Ales. He does not feel threatened by the bar's menu of bottled beers, which include many distinctive selections - Fullers, Sierra Nevada, Rogue - from around the world. Preceding a tour of his cramped brewery with three fermenters and four serving tanks, Matt allowed me an advance taste of the upcoming ESB, which had just been transferred from fermenter to serving tank. This copper colored brew presented a fruity, medium mouthfeel. Burnt caramel tastes contained properly soft hop notes leading to a pleasant bittersweet finish.
Summer being the slow season, beer turns over less frequently. Matt brewed 35 barrels in April, the last month of the semester, and only 22 in May. Whenever he can, he squeezes in a lager. Trying to find the necessary six weeks lagering time can be a logistical nightmare. "It's hard to beat fresh beer" is Matt's modus operandi. A good quote from a good brewer.
Copper Creek's lunch and dinner menu is unique. Helpful in a college town, selections are categorized by price. Under the $3 section are Cheddar Ale Soup, Black Bean Chili and Buttermilk Bermuda Onion Ring and other appetizers. $4 seems to be desserts, including Banana Pudding and Kettle Cheesecake. $5 buys Fried Mozzarella Sticks, a BLT Salad, Fire Spiced Beef with a Curry Cream Dipping Sauce and more. The $7 and $9 aisle presents Marinated London Broil Salad, Pastrami Reuben, Beer Braised Knackwurst and Kraut and on and on. Moving over to join locals Rick and B.J., I chose a delicious Dill Marinated Salmon over Potato Pancake with Scallion Cream to accompany our heavy beer and blues conversation. Copper Creek's Alt went well with everything.
It's nice to know that beer is alive and well in Athens.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush