The good times are flowing at Oconee County’s
first commercial craft beer business
The brewery industry is booming across Georgia, serving up great craft beers and providing community gathering places.
Georgia’s craft beer scene was jumpstarted by a law that went into effect in 2017, which allowed brewers to sell their beverages direct to customers. This made way for a boom in new “on premise” breweries and brewpubs. The national Brewers Association now lists more than 150 breweries in the state, ranking it 19th in the nation.
South Main Brewing, the first commercial craft brewery to operate in Oconee County, is among the state’s newest. The Walton Gas customer opened last October.
The new brew company is owned by friends and longtime local residents Dutch and Mary Beth Guest, Brock Toole and Nic Farley. It was an idea that grew from a shared love of craft beers and a desire to improve their community.
“…we thought a craft brewery would be
a great piece to glue the community together.”
“This all started at a Rotary Club meeting,” said Dutch Guest. “We saw a need for a local place of gathering here in Watkinsville, and we thought a craft brewery would be a great piece to glue the community together.”
The friends, all local businesspeople and longtime craft beer devotees, thought the timing was right to debut a local brewery.
“This is a great place to live and the town has really come into its own — we’ve hit this big boom,” Guest said. “Now, there are a lot of people my age living here who love craft beers, but they were having to go out of town to find them.”
It took several years of work and partnership with local government to make the idea a reality. The end result, however, should prove to be a win-win for the investors and the local economy.
“When I travel to revitalized small towns, there always seems to be a brewery anchoring them,” Guest said, pointing out that Georgia craft breweries are magnets for beer-thirsty visitors and tourists. These new businesses often give new life to abandoned and neglected properties by locating in reclaimed warehouses, repurposed manufacturing facilities and redeveloped retail locations.
South Main Brewing is one of the first businesses
to open in Wire Park, a mixed-use complex that
is the reimagining of an industrial property.
South Main Brewing is following that trend as one of the first businesses to open in Wire Park, a mixed-use complex that is the reimagining of an industrial property. The interior design of the 4,000-square-foot brewery highlights the original rafters and floors in a section of the wire manufacturing plant built there in 1957.
Mastering the craft
Nic Farley was working as a graphic artist when he began making homecrafted beer 16 years ago. Now he’s the head brewer at South Main Brewing.
While his partners were busy overseeing facility renovations and other details for opening the brewery, Farley focused on perfecting the product. The result is a draft menu of 15 beers all made on the premises. The most popular drink offered is Hazed on Main, which the brewmaster describes as “a wonderful drinker.”
Natural gas supplied by Walton Gas plays a crucial role
in brewing South Main’s signature beer.
Natural gas supplied by Walton Gas plays a crucial role in brewing South Main’s signature beer, Guest said.
“We’re a gas-fired brewhouse,” he said, explaining that precision heat control is one of the cornerstones of developing distinctive beer flavor.
In the initial step of the process, water heated to exactly 180 degrees is used to steep grain to release the malty flavor found in beer. Gas also heats a large tank, called the brew kettle, where ingredients are boiled in another step of the process.
From start to finish, it takes about three weeks to make a new batch of beer ready for serving to South Main Brewing customers.
A place for all
Though making a good draft is essential, the owners are also intent on remaining true to their motto: Community Fueled.
“We want this to be a good gathering place for people to come
and bring their families — and their pets, too.”
“We want this to be a good gathering place for people to come and bring their families — and their pets, too,” Guest said.
Along with locally crafted beer, town favorites like New Creation Soda Works non-alcoholic beverages and Satisfied Food Co. pimento cheese are offered. Multiple TV screens make the location popular for viewing University of Georgia football games and other sporting events. A heated patio area is available for playing games like corn hole.
The concept is working, and South Main Brewing is off to a hot start.
“We have had great response from the community,” Guest said.
Area restaurants are also showing some love for the locally produced beer. The brand is now being served in restaurants throughout the Watkinsville/Athens area.
South Main Brewing is at 1725 Electric Ave. in Watkinsville. Hours are 4–10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; 1–10 p.m. on Friday; noon–10 p.m. on Saturday; and 1–6 p.m. on Sunday. Follow them on Facebook for announcements of weekly events and new beer releases.
- Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing Co. is Georgia’s biggest craft brewery.
- Three Georgia companies — SweetWater, Creature Comforts (Athens) and Scofflaw (Atlanta) — rank among the nation’s top 50 craft beer producers.
- In 2021, Georgia saw 22 new craft breweries open.
- In 2022, USA Today named Avondale Estates the “Best Small Town Beer Scene in the U.S.”
- Little Cottage Brewery (Avondale Estates) and Inner Voice Brewing (Decatur) are among the nation’s top 10 breweries opened in the last four years, according to USA Today.
Sources: Brewers Association, USA Today