Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kicking it with Atlanta Beer Tours

Having a brew with ABT co-founder Aaron Rolka

Yep! Beer tours are starting to become the new phenomenon in the world of ales and lagers, and Aaron Rolka, co-founder of Atlanta BeerTours, made sure his van’s wheels were turning from the very beginning. Ever since selling out tickets for their first tour taking wide-eyed beer aficionados and sipping novices to brew destinations throughout Georgia’s capital, Rolka and his biz partner Dan Fontaine are dedicating their Saturdays to promoting its burgeoning beer scene.
ATB co-founder Dan the Man
ready to roll.
And while this city is popularly known as the brew hub of the Southeast, I had the pleasure of joining ABT on a beautiful Saturday for their “Southern Swing” tour which is designed to promote awesome beer destinations in Griffin and Hampton, Georgia­­— the English cask ale-slingin’ Eagle & Lion Brew Pub and super hip Jailhouse Brewery respectively. The tour ended with a flight of stellar brewer Crawford Moran’s craft concoctions at 5 Seasons Westside Brewery, some vittles and a gift bag to send us on our way. Between Rolka’s humorous, yet informative tutorial; Fontaine’s funny commentary while driving safe and sober; and a livelytour group loving every sip of the fine ales and lagers poured from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. that afternoon, I had a ball! In fact, there might be some tickets left for this Saturday which happens to feature Southern Swing once again! Here is the link to book some stubs.
Going straight to the source, I had a pint with my man Rolka and discussed how Atlanta Beer Tours came about, the various beer destinations, and what to look for in the upcoming months. Let’s roll! 

Ale: First off, who the hell are you and Dan?   
Eagle & Lion owner and my bro,
Mark Broe
Aaron Rolka: (Laughing) I'm originally from the Pittsburgh area and moved to ATL in 2002 straight out of college. ATL got me into craft beer when I first had a Sweetwater 420 at the now closed down Bridgetown in Buckhead on New Year's Eve of 2001 of my first trip down to ATL. Dan Fontaine is originally from Alabama but spent several years here and then in NYC where he was a standup comedian before returning to ATL in late 2010. We bonded over beer talk.  Up until Dan moved to West Midtown back in March, he lived up the street from me here in Norcross and the Iron Horse was in walking distance.  Currently, I’m a Sales Solutions Manager for CareerBuilder.com and Dan is a Video Production Manager for Fran Tarkenton's company.  

So how did Atlanta Beer Tours get started?
We started beer tours because we both noticed that Atlanta did not have this type of thing and it was a prime market for it.  I went on the Asheville Brews Cruise about two years ago and instantly thought, Why is this not in Atlanta?  With such an emerging craft beer scene, it was a natural fit. Dan was the one that got the whole thing rolling after he went on a wine tasting trip during his honeymoon in Spain. That inspired him to get the initial business plan rolling when he returned home stateside; he also created the website and logo. Today, we co-manage all aspects of the business with each of us handling a little bit of everything but playing to our strengths as much as possible. 

My dude John pouring his Prison Camp Pils
at Jailhouse Brewery in Hampton.

How did you select the tour routs?
Dan laid out the initial tour route stops and made contact with reps at each place to set things up.  The actual breweries (Sweetwater, Red Brick, Red Hare, Burnt Hickory, Jailhouse) were a natural fit, but we quickly brainstormed and decided to go after brewpubs and beer-forward bars as well.  It wasn't long before we had great arrangements setup with Five Seasons and The Eagle & Lion brewpubs as well. More are on the way soon!

Okay, there are a gang of tours popping up now. What makes Atlanta Beer Tours different?
Our tours are different than others for multiple reasons. Firstly, we offer so many stops, and mix and match our route stops with each tour. Been to Sweetwater already?  No problem, pick another route.  Been wanting to go an hour south to Eagle & Lion and Jailhouse?  We got you! Buy a ticket on our Southern Swing tour. We also allow groups of certain sizes to contact us and customize their own private tours. Give us a week and half's notice and we'll put together a tour and you pick the stops!  We can do this for groups of 5-6 or 10-13.  

Very slick! I like that! Plus you guys are no joke when it comes to knowing about beer, right?
Yep! Dan and I are truly plugged into the beer scene, and truly understand the brewing process as we're both award-winning homebrewers. We even took a gold medal home at the homebrew competition held at the Suwannee Beer Fest in April. And with my vast beer knowledge and Dan's sharp wit that he honed as a standup, we bring great energy and entertainment to the tour van.  

Yep, 5 Seasons' brew is that good!!!
And the grub?
Definitely. In addition to tasting 14-18 different beers and getting private tours, everyone gets bottled water, snacks on the van, and tons of great food from Five Seasons' eclectic menu. We typically have at least 5 different dishes including their fantastic spent grain bread, alligator eggrolls, onion rings, pimento cheese, and calamari.  This provides a great end to our tours and leaves customers full from more than just the beer.

I don’t think any tour has gator waiting for their group to devour. Nice! That’s perfect for Georgia Bulldog fans! So what’s next for ABT?
Lots of things are in the works. Dan and I will be plugging our wares at the Great Atlanta Beer Festival at Turner Field in September and at the Oktoberfest on The Green celebration in Duluth in October.  Come join us and throw some bags on our custom ABT cornhole boards and maybe even win a prize.  
Eyes fixed on the 5 Seasons
grub coming their way!
We're also continuing to add new tour stops and routes to our repertoire. Look for a Brewpub Brunch tour coming soon with beers and bites at 3 different stops and also a Decatur route which would include the soon to open Wild Heaven brewery, Twain's, and a Belgian beer-themed stop at the Brick Store.

Well I wish y’all continued success. Keep putting Georgia’s beer scene on the map. This is state is starting to really kick some ass when it comes to cold ones!
You got it!

Here are the upcoming Atlanta Beer Tours. Get on the bus and get your sip on by going to this link! 
Saturday 7/28 (Eagle & Lion, Jailhouse, Five Seasons)
Saturday 8/4 (Red Hare, Burnt Hickory, 5 Seasons)
Saturday 8/18 (Eagle & Lion, Jailhouse, 5 Seasons)
Saturday 8/25 (in conjunction with The Best of Brews in Duluth, a growler store, leaves out of Duluth on a 50-seater)
Sunday 9/9 (Brewpub Brunch tour)
Saturday 9/22 (Eagle & Lion, Jailhouse, 5 Seasons)



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