Athens, GA-based brewing company Creature Comforts turns five, and the journey has been marvelous.
By Dennis Malcolm Byron aka Ale Sharpton
Photos courtesy of Creature Comforts
As a picturesque dusk settles over downtown Decatur, GA, on April 18th, 2019, a pair of large identical flags are suspended above the entrance of Brick Store Pub, one of the South’s most iconic beer bars. Boasting the signature “Creature Comforts Brewing Co.” script, the banners are greeting the steady stream of thirsty guests flocking to celebrate the Athens-based brewery’s fifth anniversary with a tap takeover. Inside, at exactly 7 p.m., the Store’s beer manager Dan Fontaine is standing at the top of the wooden staircase leading to the second-level Belgian bar and cellar; he is looking over the packed house with a microphone in his hand. It is time to officially welcome everyone.
Fontaine respectfully makes his reception brief so that he can hand it over to one of the founders of Creature Comforts, Vice President of Brand Development and Innovation David Stein. Considering the remarkable first five years the brewery has accomplished—producing arguably the most celebrated IPAs in Georgia history, facing expansion, participating n numerous community service initiatives, and soon debuting product placement in the second highest-grossing film worldwide—Stein could exude a bit of swagger and pompousness while gripping the mic. Instead, he humbly chooses to acknowledge those who have helped nurture him along the way. Justly, the current location is one of the roots of his successful career in the craft industry.
“We each have our own ‘origin story’ with this brewery, and Brick Store Pub is a big part of it for all of us in different ways,” Stein says. “For me, I used to work here in 2009 and 2010 back in the day, and I see a few familiar faces here. If you recall, some of you may have tried some of my homebrews. This is where I started my homebrewing career and got a lot of my education, so I want to thank the Brick Store for that.”
After a few more salutations, Stein, accompanied by Creature’s other four original employees—Co-Founder and CEO Chris Herron, General Manager of Taproom Operations Katie Beauchamp, Wood Cellar and Specialty Brand Manager Blake Tyers, and Co-founder and Brewmaster Adam Beauchamp—have the entire venue clink their glasses, most of them filled with 15 variations from Creature’s portfolio. Undoubtedly, the sound of that communal toast is one of the most rewarding resonances this founding team has ever heard.
Although the brewing company’s official born date is April 26, 2014, Creature pretty much made it a birth “month” throughout Georgia on a tour of sorts, including numerous tap takeovers, and their own weekend-long celebration at the original 13,000 square-foot launchpad in downtown Athens, GA. Formerly the historic Snow Tire Co., Creature’s birthplace and its surrounding city is evidently beloved by especially the founders. Just ask their CEO.
A month after the Brick Store celebration, Creature had a festive photo shoot for this magazine with the aforementioned founding quintet back at home base. Sipping from a collection of bottled rarities beer traders, hoarders, aficionados, and loyalists would kill to possess, an interview was also scheduled with Herron during which he disclosed why the founders chose Athens instead of Georgia’s capital to launch Creature Comforts; their significant expansion; a belated, unimaginable surprise birthday gift a few hundred million people around the world have witnessed to date; and what the future has in store.
“We chose to open Creature Comforts in Athens because of our love for the town and its potential to be a craft beer hub and destination for the Southeast,” Herron says. “One of the six core values we founded the brewery on is creativity. We felt Athens was the right fit for us because it’s an extremely vibrant city with an incredible food, music, and art scene, making it a great place to incubate and build a brand. We are proud to be a part of such a creative community and are grateful to have so many opportunities to work with Athens’ local artists, musicians, makers, and other innovative businesses.”
And to show more devotion to the city of Athens, Creature still has the original Snow Tire sign up in the front of the brewery and reclaimed a lot of its wood interior, resulting in a preservation award given by the Athens Heritage Foundation. Creature also makes giving back a continued mission, heading numerous fund raisers and partnerships with other breweries like Russian River to fund their Get Comfortable community outreach program, plus multiple collaborations with non-profit food service employee savior, Giving Kitchen, to list a few philanthropic efforts.
On the palate side, Creature opened the brewery with four core year-round beers that were strategically different from a style perspective, but mutually based on one priority: flavor balance. The Tropicália (IPA), Athena (Berliner Weisse), Bibo (Pilsner), and Reclaimed Rye (Amber Ale aged on French oak) kicked the door in and successfully led the way. It didn’t take long for the demand for Creature’s beer, distributed primarily in Athens and Atlanta, to become scarce. They had to expand in only their second year of production. In November 2016, they reached maximum brewing capacity at the original location.
“We never expected that two years after opening our doors, we would need to start working on building a new brewery,” Herron says. “Our team announced the expansion plans in January 2017, broke ground in May 2017, and began initial production in March 2018. In order to maintain a close distance to our downtown location—and with the assistance and cooperation of the Athens-Clarke County government—we selected the historic 40,000 square-foot Southern Mill complex to house our second facility.” He proudly adds, “We also invested nearly a quarter of a million dollars into a quality laboratory onsite. The additional facility allowed us the opportunity to both increase the quality and the quantity of our beer, create jobs, and reinvest right here in Athens.”
That expansion took place in year four, which quickly resulted in Creature’s fifth year-round family member, Classic City Lager.
And then came the unveiling of the most gangster birthday present in late April of 2019. In soon to be the highest-grossing film of all time, Marvel Comics’ Asgard God of Thunder, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth), has turned into a bit of a beer advocate in Avengers: Endgame, and, in a nutshell, is enticed by Creature’s most iconic beer—Tropicália IPA—to get on a ship to join his reassembled Avengers super team on a mission to save the universe. For an independent brewery whose beer is solely distributed in Georgia to get such a product placement, no one with a pulse would argue how invaluable this feat is. For an added bonus, Creature also had their Athena Berliner Weiss get some love in an additional scene of the same film.
How in the hell did that happen?
Herron laughs and answers, “The story as we understand it is while the Avengers team was shooting in Atlanta, some of the production assistants working on the film became fans of Tropicália back when we were not able to keep up with the high demand in Atlanta. From there, their team reached out to us, asking to feature our beer and a double XL t-shirt in the movie, to which we said, ‘Of course!’”
Note that this was not the first merch connection with Marvel. Joe Russo, one half of the Russo Brothers powerhouse directing duo, wore a green Tropicália shirt on a panel during Disney’s D23 Expo fan fest in Anaheim, CA, to promote 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. It’s safe to say that Creature has some fans in extraterrestrial places.
Back to Herron.
“We rented out a theater for our staff to see the movie together at our local cinema, Cine,” Herron says excitedly, as if he just got back from the viewing. “Seeing an Avenger holding a Creature beer is something we won’t forget, and getting to experience that with the people who helped bring this company to life was the ultimate ‘Trop moment.’ There was a lot of cheering and celebration in the theater that night. We see Tropicália featured in this major production as an incredible win for not only our staff, but also for Georgia beer and the craft beer community as a whole.”
Undoubtedly, if Creature Comforts was all about money, the majority would think they would further capitalize on what’s transpired since their inception by perhaps expanding once again or even selling out to the highest bidder. Nope.
Herron looks over at the rest of his team joking and taking candid photos after the official photoshoot concluded, and addresses the possibility of taking Creature to a multi-state level. “Currently, we don’t have plans to expand our distribution footprint over state lines. We are remaining focused on meeting demand in our home state of Georgia. Since our expansion in 2018, we most recently launched Columbus, Augusta, Savannah, and Coastal Georgia markets, and we’re focused on rounding out the rest of the state at this time.”