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Craft breweries are buzzing in metro Atlanta

Millennials love the idea of drinking a beer they can’t get in another state. And Atlanta’s millennials have plenty of opportunity to do just that.

Marcus Guidry, a JLL research analyst, says Atlanta’s craft beer market has grown by more than 30 microbreweries since 2012, and the city is now home to about half of Georgia’s brewpubs, many of which have popped up in old warehouses along The Beltline and near Ponce City Market.

Local brewpubs are pouring pints with names like Through the Brambles, Hoptropolis and Airbrush Daydream, using ingredients such as chocolate milk, chai and sour cherries to satisfy beer lovers’ tastes for the unusual and the exclusive.

Many of these beer crafters are concentrated in Midtown, due in part to the submarket’s high percentage of millennials — 55 percent of the area’s 62,500 people are twenty- and thirty-somethings, a demographic that shapes trends in many industries these days.

The bigger pitcher

Craft beer establishments and their uber-local drafts have become a key economic development driver for the region, says Craig VanPelt, JLL’s director of research for the Atlanta market. “If a craft brewery is nearby or in the building, that’s definitely something many employers will highlight when they look to attract and retain workers.”

Some brewpubs also are perfect tenants for the city’s growing range of adaptive reuse spaces. Drinking an IPA in a rehabbed warehouse creates the authentic, unique experience that Atlanta’s young professionals want, JLL experts say.

Not all breweries can move into existing space, Guidry explains. Sometimes the room and configuration required for brewing infrastructure make it more cost effective to build a new facility. “Most warehouses were not built for 20 beer vats using liquid all day,” he says. “Driving through the foundation to install drains and pipes is challenging.” Still, many breweries have renovated and moved into the region’s stock of buildings from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s — including a former firehouse and an old jail.

Legislation change for breweries and distilleries

Atlanta’s lawmakers have been paying attention to the popularity of craft beer, too, and recently opened the tap wider for the industry. In 2017, they passed a law to allow breweries and distilleries to sell beer and spirits directly to consumers, on-site. Previously, Georgia’s brewers could only market and sell their beverages strictly through retailers.

Georgia brewpubs do have to earn at least 50 percent of their revenue from food, but this requirement has not hindered their local growth—although Guidry says he does expect the pace to settle. Craft brew sales have been growing at a rate of 5 percent by volume, reaching 12.7 percent of the U.S. beer market by volume, he says. “But the overall U.S. trend indicates that new breweries will emerge at a slower rate—and we expect the local market to follow suit.”

Future of Atlanta’s craft brewery growth

There is still unexplored territory for brewers in the broader Atlanta region. Some are following the growth of the millennial population outside the city’s perimeter, along the Georgia State Route 400 and Interstate 75 corridors. The Battery, Halcyon and other new developments are attracting breweries deeper into suburbs such as Kennesaw and Roswell.

Brewpubs will never stop looking for new glasses to fill, VanPelt says. SweetWater Brewing Company, housed in the adaptive reuse project Armour Yards, is selling its beers as far away as the West Coast, but such expansion could dilute the rarity that packs brewpub barstools to begin with, VanPelt says. So other brewers may try to stay as local as possible and grow more vertically, “maybe by creating more experiential ways to differentiate themselves.”

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