By Bobby Bush
Gary Essex became serious about homebrewing in the late 1980s. Along with two other all-grain homebrewers, he founded a homebrewers club in Niceville, Florida. Established in 1991, the Homebrewers Underground is still active today. In 1993, the tireless brewer became a certified beer judge and an award-winning homebrewer.
With homebrew recipes in tow, Essex helped open the original Buckhead Brewery & Grill in Tallahassee. That was 1995. Months later, tired and homesick, he departed the fledgling company and returned to his hometown of Destin, Florida to brew for short-lived HarborDock. When that high-overhead, mall brewpub failed, Gary went back to the Buckhead corporation, this time to the southwest Atlanta suburb of Stockbridge, where Buckhead #2 was under construction. Less than two years later, the Cumming Buckhead was added to his Brewing Operations responsibility. Now he's making several 120 mile round-trip journeys each week in order to keep four fermenters and five serving tanks full, times two.
Buckhead's Hefeweizen is unfiltered, cloudy with potent sour peach flavor lurking with its thin body. The ubiquitous tricycle brew, Buck Light is a clean, golden ale absent bitter and malty extremes. Dry-hopped Hop Island IPA presents a big, hoppy frontal attack. Medium bodied, this deep golden brew leaves residual bitterness as well. Buckhead's Renegade IPA, which scored a 2000 Great American Beer Festival bronze, was brewed for the fest in Tallahassee because Georgia imposes a limit on alcohol content of 6% maximum. Essex's seasonal Winter Ale also hit big in Denver, bringing home 2002 GABF gold in the Scotch Ale category. Thick in mouthfeel, Winter is silky smooth and ultra malty. A touch of smoked malt is buried deep in the mix. Flat and smooth, Black Diamond Stout is heavy with coffee beans-meet-roasted malt. Mocha flavor is obvious long after the final swallow.
Buckhead serves no Budweiser. It's their brew or no one's. Other beers in the regular and seasonal rotation include Red Hills Amber (malty, dark, almost a UK Brown Ale), Ten Point Porter (low hopped, complex malt bill), Panther Pale Ale ( a dry hopped but toned down version of Hop Island IPA) and Oktoberfest (traditional recipe, made with toasted grain).
Buckhead's brewhouses are nearly identical. That makes Gary's job as corporate Director of Brewing Operations a little easier, though he often wishes he could be in two places at once. A third Atlanta-area Buckhead opened in Alpharetta late last year. The company just announced a series of expansions, beginning with a restaurant/bar in Peachtree City (southwest Atlanta). The facility will be have a brewery but will feature Gary's Stockbridge-brewed beers. Similar brewery-less Buckheads are planned for 2003, though Gary will have to open the company's microbrewery, planned for the Atlanta area, before he'll have enough beer to keep these new stores supplied. Late 2003 or 2004 may see a Buckhead in Charlotte.
Just to show that all Gary's hard work has not gone for naught, Buckhead scored a silver medal for Red Hill Amber at the 2002 World Beer Cup. Check www.buckheadbrewery.com for more on this fast growing company.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush