The age of watery, mass-produced domestic beer is coming to a close, making way for the full and sophisticated flavors of independently brewed craft beer.
College students face a strong social stigma surrounding alcohol, namely, that they are stereotypically boxed into a quantity over quality complex, buying cheaper domestic beers in bulk for parties and binge-drinking.
However, local breweries are proving that this stigma may not apply to a wide range of college-age drinkers. Craft beer is transforming drinking culture for young adults in Atlanta through personal connections, satisfying curiosity and hot social scenes.
WHAT IS CRAFT BEER?
Craft breweries are created by small, independent brewers to produce drinks unique to each brewery. Craft beers are often made with traditional ingredients, unraveling established brewing methods to add innovative flare.
Brewers often aim to assemble beers that connect with local communities. While mass-produced domestic beers aim to please the entire country, craft beer-makers harness the ability to localize their products and connect with nearby neighborhoods.
Brewers tap into neighborhood cravings in a variety of ways, such as philanthropy, event sponsorships and even personalizing beer labels or logos. Three Taverns Craft Brewery, a popular craft beer producer in Decatur, named one of their most popular India pale ales (IPAs) “A Night on Ponce” after the vibrant Atlanta street.
Thanks to a series of techniques that beer-obsessed artisans use to unite community and craft, young adults are flocking toward specialized brews. One DSM Survey this past summer showed that roughly half of all beer drinkers ages 18 to 30 say they have increased their craft beer intake and interest in the past two years.
Local college students, bartenders and hipsters can all agree: craft beer is worth the hype.
BREWERS CRAFT A STORY
Almost half of under-30 drinkers strongly agreed that their choice in beer says a lot about who they are. The younger generation of drinkers are turning away from meaningless binge-drinking and leaning more toward the depth founded in craft beer. Young consumers are not drinking to get drunk; they demand a story, mission or connection as skillfully crafted as the beer itself.
Hunter Blanket, a 21-year-old Georgia State student, distinctly remembers his first experience at a craft brewery in Alpharetta. For Blanket, his favorite drink — Pineapple Convergent NEIPA from Jekyll Brewing — holds more than just hops and sweet pineapple juice. The New England IPA represents his first taste of craft beer, a day well-spent with his father and a long-lasting love for community.
“My favorite part of visiting breweries is just the people you meet when you’re out,” Blanket said. “Everyone has a story and a favorite beer, and when the two come together, it makes for a fun night.”
LIVING IN AN EXPERIMENTAL AGE
College is a time for personal exploration, pushing boundaries and discovery. Curiosity expands far beyond the classroom and into night life, leading some students to dabble with alcohol and new social scenes.
Ray Johnson is a longtime bartender in Atlanta, specializing in craft brews and cocktails. He began to notice college students frequently seeking out craft beer when he bartended at Ormsby’s, a craft beer bar in West Midtown.
“Working at Ormsby’s, I noticed the crowd is primarily college students,” he said. “They are intrigued because it is different and beyond the norm that they’re used to. It’s a progression in the beer world.”
Breweries and craft beer bars like Ormsby’s are attracting a number of young adults curious about craft drinks. At breweries, customers are encouraged to taste test many exclusive, distinct beers, allowing beer lovers to discover new tastes and diversity in their drinking collection.
“Craft beer is so different from domestics, people are naturally drawn to it,” Johnson said. “They’re finally given a variety other than your typical pale ale or lager.”
Variety keeps young adults coming back for more, experimenting with creative flavors and uniquely crafted styles of beer such as porters and stouts, sour ales or amber ales.
Not only do they provide alcohol, social interactions and food, craft breweries are popping up all over town. USA Today reported that over 80% of all U.S. adults over 21 live within 10 miles of a brewery. Atlanta is a major hub for breweries in the South, inviting craftsmen and brewers from around the country to operate in the city. In the 10 miles surrounding Georgia State’s Downtown campus alone, beer drinkers can find over 20 operating breweries and craft brew restaurants.
One of these local hotspots is Max Lager’s Woodfire Grill & Brewery, located just under a mile from the heart of the Downtown campus and attracting beer lovers and foodies alike. Hadar Regev, a 22-year-old senior at Georgia State, took an interest in craft beer after working at Max Lager’s.
Regev sees the restaurant as a neighborhood haven for young adults in the city looking to try out new beers and enjoy a cold craft drink with their friends.
“Working in a restaurant, you can taste a bunch of different beers and build up your palette with different tastes,” he said. “I like to experiment when it comes to drinking. Max Lager’s is my golden standard.”
The convenience of working at a brewery and having an assortment of options within the city is a major attraction for college students. In 2018, the number of craft breweries in Georgia peaked at 82, a significant rise from the 21 operating craft breweries here in 2011.
Not only that, younger consumers are showing more preference to drinking craft beer in pubs and breweries, rather than at parties.
“Usually, at parties you get really bad beer, so there’s enough to make everybody happy,” Regev said. “When it’s just you and your friends, you can get better, more enjoyable beer.”
Outside the home, away from packed parties and keg stands, visiting breweries and attending craft beer festivals have become the preferred social interactions when it comes to drinking. College drinking is not about getting drunk or partying — it’s a social experience.