First Draft with Hop Alley Brewpub's Brandon Hintz
A report from Atlanta's OTP beer scene
Like a lot of would-be beer makers, Brandon Hintz spent some time bouncing around jobs before discovering his brewing passion. The Marietta native worked in construction after graduating from Georgia Southern University, but lost his job when the real estate market went belly-up. He and his wife moved to Iowa, where he got a job with the Army Corps of Engineers, and started homebrewing on the side for fun. After four years in the Hawkeye State, his wife — also from Marietta — longed for home. It was a brewing position at SweetWater that did the trick, and the pair returned to Georgia. Ultimately, it was their time spent hanging out in downtown Roswell, and noticing how many Alpharetta citizens were doing the same, that would convince Hintz to open a beer spot a few miles north.
Hop Alley Brewpub opened in Alpharetta in June, serving up five house-made beers alongside guest drafts and bottles from the likes of Delirium Nocturnum, 21st Amendment, and Alpharetta local Jekyll Brewing. There are even a few infusion cocktails on the menu (think bourbon and vodka infused with the likes of cherry Starburst and bacon). Currently, Hintz is working on the early stages of a barrel program and hopes to unveil a revamped food menu in the near future, too. Hop Alley's dynamic environment seems to suit him well. "One thing with brewing at SweetWater was I got sick of brewing the same thing over and over," Hintz says. "I'm trying to do something different with each beer I brew. If I can have it my way, I'd turn the pub into a Belgian bar, with nothing but Belgian beers and the occasional German lager and IPA."
Describe your first beer experience.
I remember in middle school stealing beers from my dad's beer fridge, but my first real beer experience came from my wife, which was Guinness. My wife and I were friends growing up, and I remember going over there when I was 16 and she was drinking that. I had my first sip and spit it down the drain. I thought it was terrible and that she was nuts for drinking that garbage. What really got me into the craft beer market was SweetWater IPA. I was probably 19 at the time and loved it.
How did you progress from homebrewer to SweetWater employee?
About six years ago, my wife bought me a homebrew kit. I brewed a hefeweizen, thought it was cool, but didn't take much satisfaction from it since it was someone else's recipe. So I jumped in headfirst, bought all the equipment, and started making my own recipes. At first, a lot of beer went down the drain, but it was an awesome learning experience. I was brewing two or three times a week, just to see what flavors I could get out of certain ingredients.
From there, I got with a homebrew club, which met at a local brewery in Iowa. We got the opportunity to work with the brewery and brew some of our beers and learn the bigger equipment and the cellaring side. My wife wanted to get back to Georgia, so when I heard SweetWater was looking for brewers, I applied. A couple weeks later I was flying down for an interview, couple weeks after that I got the job and we moved back. I worked for SweetWater for about two years, which gained me a lot of knowledge, especially on the cellaring side. I worked with some smart guys there, and still tap them for knowledge when I need it.
Where is your favorite place to drink a beer?
Anywhere, really, as long as the beer is good and I'm enjoying it with friends and family. But, if I'd choose one or two places, both would be in Wisconsin: Lambeau Field — I'm a die-hard Packer fan — and Romans' Pub in Milwaukee.
What has your clientele been like so far?
I am amazed at the Belgian beer drinkers in the area. Right now for our guest beer, we are selling a keg a week of Liefmans Cuvée-Brut and Rince Cochon, along with going through multiple cases of bottled beers.
What's the biggest misconception you hear about the OTP beer world?
"There's an OTP beer world?" That's what I hear the most. But between us, Jekyll, and Cherry Street, I believe we'll turn that around and hopefully make our area a beer destination.
What do you hope for the future of Georgia's craft beer scene?
Get rid of all the restrictive laws for breweries and brewpubs. If we can get that done the scene would explode. There are certain areas that are known for their beer: Portland, Wisconsin, San Diego, Asheville. I hope Atlanta will be on that list.