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Monday, October 17, 2011 - 1:01pm

Athens Brewer Growing

Athens microbrewery Terrapin is selling a stake of the company to a division of beer giant Miller Coors. The deal will allow Terrapin to double its production capacity.

The move comes as craft alcohol production is on the rise in Georgia. While Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewery has long been a favorite in the Southeast, in the past year alone, Jailhouse Brewing in Hampton and two Atlanta area breweries began producing beer. A rum distillery will open in Richland next month.

Now thanks to the sale of a minority stake to Miller Coors, Terrapin will have money to expand its brewing facilities.

The brewery currently produces 18,000 barrels of beer each year. Co-owner John Cochran says recent demand has been almost double that amount.

“If we could have made the beer this year – you know, like I said we were doing 18,000 barrels this year – if we had the capacity to make it, we estimated our sales could have been 30,000 to 35,000 [barrels]," Cochran said in a phone interview. "So that’s how much we missed this year just by not having the capabilities to produce the beer.”

With the expansion, the brewery will be able to produce up to 45,000 barrels of beer each year.

Paul Gatza with the Brewers Association, a trade group, says that will put the company near the top tier of American brewers in terms of capacity.

“There are probably about 100 breweries that are doing 45,000 barrels or more in the country out of 1,850 breweries," Gatza said.

Terrapin sells its beer in nine states. Georgia and the Southeast are quickly catching up to other regions where microbreweries are more common, Gatza says.

“This area really wasn’t considered fertile ground for craft brewers oh really until the last five or six years when we really started seeing double digit growth rates for craft brewers throughout the South,” Gatza said.

Some state laws have hampered growth, he said. For example, Georgia brewers such as SweetWater and Terrapin hold popular beer tasting events at their breweries. But visitors can't buy a six-pack of beer to take home with them because it's against state law.

Despite those obstacles, craft alcohol producers still see potential in Georgia. Richland Distilling Company, the rum maker, will hold its grand opening during the town's Pig Fest in November. The company's triple-distilled Richland Rum will be derived from sugar cane grown in Stewart County.

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