About this article
This article was originally published in the Feb/March 2016 issue of The Life-400 North, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
In recent years, the craft beer industry has exploded in Georgia, attracting a following of connoisseurs that have rejected the larger breweries that have traditionally been the cornerstone of the beer industry.
Craft breweries typically offer a wider selection and more flexibility than traditional breweries and have been popping up across the state, even in our own backyard.
Nestled in between the storefronts of Forsyth County’s Vickery Village is the Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative, the county’s only brewery.
Though it lacks the resources of some of the state’s bigger brewers, the small brewery is looking to make a big impact on craft beer in Georgia.
Though now making waves in Georgia, founder Nick Tanner said that Cherry Street’s beginnings can be traced to Fort Collins, Co., where he started brewing beer while attending Colorado State University.
“We would go to the local homebrew club meeting with the local homebrew club, and they were, at the time, a bunch of stereotypical homebrewers and were not really accepting of the new generation of young brewers coming into their hobby,” Nick Tanner said.
Even the name comes from the road in Fort Collins where he and friends would meet to discuss and practice their hobby, and the culture of the town.
“We started our own homebrew club that’s geared towards college-aged students, that’s why we call it a cooperative,” Tanner said. “We set it up as a cooperative, because there was a bike co-op, a food co-op and an agriculture co-op in Fort Collins, so we said let there be a beer co-op.”
In 2009, Tanner came back to Georgia to help his dad’s with his newest venture, Rick Tanner’s Grille and Bar, which currently sits beside the brewery.
Rick Tanner said he would help his son open a brewery if he doubled sales, which Nick did a little more than a year later.
After months of permitting, Cherry Street opened on Dec. 12, 2012, or 12/12/12.
“Originally, the first probably six months or so we brewed all of our beers for in-house consumption,” Nick said. “Then we started producing more beers than were being sold in glasses and pints in-house, so we started distribution.”
Nick said that in Georgia, beer producers can either be a brewery — which can’t sell beer directly, but can brew greater quantities — or a brewpub, which must get at least 50 percent of sales.
“We chose to go the brewpub route,” he said. “The brewpub allows us to have better interaction and more regular customer base, having that direct contact with our customers is much more satisfying in the long run.”
As the number of sales rose, so too did the number of beers. The Cherry Street Taproom opened on the brewery’s second anniversary, and its larger selection of 25 beers and more adult setting give it a more traditional bar feel than the family-friendly restaurant.
“When we first started brewing beer, we had four styles of beer. As time went on, we worked our way from four to six beers,” Nick said.
“Then six months after opening we had up to 12 different beers that we were brewing on draft. We maintained that 12 number in the restaurant for two years, then we opened the taproom.”
After a few years in business Nick said that the business is starting to show signs of growth.
“We started out at beer festivals, primarily to begin with,” he said. “Now three years later, I’ve officially hired a sales rep to go out and to continue our sales growth in the market. Now, after three years, we’ve kind of reached maximum sales internally, and now we have the opportunity to sell a lot more beer externally.”
The brewery has a few established mainstays, but also branches out with a variety of new recipes.
“In the taproom we have about 12 year-round beers, then we focus on monthly seasonals, charity seasonals, fruit seasonals,” he said.
“We also have a great barrel-aged selection. So we focus on whiskey, bourbon, rye, wine barrels, tequila barrels, rum barrels. At any given time, we will have beers on draft that will be aging in barrels all over the world.”
The variety keeps things fresh at Cherry Street and allows for more experimentation that a larger brewery.
Johnny Bradley, brewery operations manager, has been brewing beer with Tanner since before the opening of Cherry Street and said that it takes research and team work to develop a new beer.
“We’ll decide that we want to do research, plug it into a formula and then we just go ahead and go for it,” Bradley said. “It’s more of a collaborative thing, we like to sit around and talk about what we’d like to do next.”
Nick likened the knowledge of ingredients and the process to that of a chef, and said that knowledge can turn those rare missteps into something special.
“We tried to brew a beer as one of our big yearly beers, and we had some sort of failure in the process; for whatever reason that particular batch didn’t work out like we wanted it to,” he said. “The brew team ended up coming together, and coming up with a random different idea to save that beer.”
Nick said that a 2015 rule change for breweries means that Cherry Street will soon begin bottling its beer for the first time, rather than relying on restaurant and growler sales.
“Our next step, this year, is to start bottling up some of our popular styles of beer to get them into local liquor stores and beer stores, even to get into restaurants that don’t sell draft beer.”
After he began working with his father, his sister, Alisa, also joined the family business and is now a manager of Rick Tanner’s Grille and Bar.
Rick said it’s interesting to see his children develop in a changing industry.
“It’s a fun thing just to see the development of the people,” Rick said. “The industry has changed, with social media, with everything that›s going on with the craft brewing business. Whoever would have thought that the craft beer industry would be what it is today.”
Rick, who previously ran a successful chain of restaurants, said that he prefers working with family.
“It is the best experience I have ever had in the industry that I’ve been in for over 50 years,” he said. “I don’t have to tell them what to do. I sit back and just offer advice and help them anyway I can; let them spread their wings and fly.”