Following Direct Sales Bill, Georgia’s Wild Heaven Beer to Open Second Location

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Thanks in large part to the recent passage of a law that dramatically loosens restrictions imposed on Georgia brewers, Wild Heaven Beer has decided to stay local with its latest expansion project. The company announced yesterday that, by the first half of 2018, it plans to open a second brewery and taproom, complete with a 15-barrel brewhouse, in Atlanta developing West End neighborhood. 

By 2019, the company intends to install a 60-barrel brewhouse in the space, and ultimately shift core production to the new brewery while utilizing its current headquarters in Decatur as a sour beer and barrel-aging facility. All told, the company says it plans to spend $5 million on the project, an investment the state of Georgia nearly saw go to a neighboring state over regulatory concerns.

WHY IT MATTERS
This announcement came Wednesday, the very same day that news broke that Georgia lawmakers finally did away with a draconian law that long prohibited breweries from selling beer at the point of production. That’s no coincidence. So critical was the repeal of that Prohibition-era regulation to Wild Heaven’s expansion plans, co-founder Nick Purdy says the company would not have moved forward without it.

“I literally waited for the vote to take place to go sign the letter of intent,” he tells GBH. “We wouldn’t have signed the letter of intent that we signed yesterday had the law not passed.”

Of course, the company still would’ve gone forward with expanding with or without the repeal. It just might’ve done so in a neighboring state, as the company was actively exploring opportunities in the Carolinas as well as Tennessee, according to Purdy.

If that predicament—a Georgia brewer wants to stay local, but the regulatory environment makes loyalty a precarious endeavor—sounds familiar, there’s good reason. Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing was in a similar boat last year, as it explored Alabama and Tennessee as potential homes for its own second facility before resolving to stay in Georgia. It was, as we reported at the time, a sense of optimism for legislative change that kept the company home.

Now, with that optimism rewarded, Wild Heaven plans to move into the same industrial complex in which Monday Night is expanding, making neighbors of the two companies. And Purdy is thrilled to keep Wild Heaven a Peach State institution.

“The big story here is economic opportunity and the regulatory environment are very, very, connected. They’re very connected,” Purdy says. “We’ve been saying to Georgia for a long time, ‘We want to double down here.’ Now we can and we're really excited about it. Georgia’s going to be better off and so will we.”

In fact, Purdy believes Georgia is on the cusp of something big, noting Stone Brewing expat Mitch Steele is “smart” to build his new business in Atlanta.

“Georgia is probably the most sophisticated U.S. beer market that is low on the per capita breweries list,” Purdy says. “I think we’re [ranked] around 48th per capita. Georgia is the ninth most populous state in the country. There’s just a lot of room here.”

As for Wild Heaven’s second facility, it will, with the addition of the 60-BBL brewhouse in 2019, be capable of pumping out in excess of 50,000 barrels of beer per year. Its current capacity levels off around 11,000 barrels, Purdy says, a number the company will come close to this year. So soon enough, there will be quite a bit more Emergency Drinking Beer to go around.
 
—Dave Eisenberg