First Draft with North River Tavern's Chris Driscoll
General manager of the Sandy Springs watering hole talks beer
Born in Charlotte, N.C. in 1980, Chris Driscoll moved around a lot as a kid. His dad's job at Frito-Lay meant that his young life was like one in a military family, albeit probably with more chips. He'd land in Georgia at 17 and start working for restaurants at 20 while trying to pursue a music career. In 2007, he started booking bands for Sandy Springs watering hole North River Tavern (formerly a Taco Mac, and a Steak and Ale before that), eventually got offered a management position, then put music on hold as he became beer buyer and then general manager.
These days, he relishes putting great beers on NRT's 68 taps, and, thanks to a city-specific law in Sandy Springs, sending those beers home in growlers with patrons. NRT's restaurant group, which includes Suburban Tap in Marietta and Varner's Tavern in Smyrna, recently collaborated with Cherry St. Brewing Cooperative in Cumming on a black IPA that will soon be available at all three locations. NRT also has a Cherry St. beer dinner coming up on Oct. 27. Creative Loafing caught up with Driscoll to talk about Miller High Life, beer cellars, and the future of Georgia beer.
Describe your first beer.
I tried my first beer with my dad, and it was a Miller High Life. I didn't really like it because it tasted skunky and bitter, but I really wanted to like it, so I asked for sips whenever possible. My first real beer was a Newcastle, the one and only. Unfortunately, the one and only didn't fulfill my needs as I got a little older and discovered the world of craft beer.
How did your massive wall of taps change when the alcohol by volume cap was raised from 6 to 14 percent in 2004?
When we bought the place in 1998, we originally outfitted it with 54 taps. The owner felt like having a huge selection of beer was the way of the future. He had no idea how big that would really be. After the ABV cap was raised, it took a while for all of the craft breweries to really start getting into the market. I watched a wall of 54 beers consisting of every type of St. Pauli Girl, Warsteiner, and Beck's, for example, transform into an American craft beer symposium. We added a patio bar with 14 taps. These taps were originally duplicates of beer from inside for patio service, but now they're unique. You'll still find plenty of sessionable beer. We are not 100 percent craft, but as each year goes by, there is more and more interest.
What is North River Tavern's clientele like?
We get them all! For every craft beer drinker, I have a Bud-Light-guzzling, Jager/Fireball-slamming, out-to-have-fun customer. We are a hybrid, of sorts: we have trivia, poker, live music, sports, UFC, and craft beer. NRT's customers are very loyal and very fun. We are constantly trying to evolve and better our knowledge to provide the best entertainment and service possible.
How does your designated driver initiative work?
We sponsor a nonprofit organization called Designated Driver Alternative. Through our sponsorship, we have a 10-mile radius in which our customers may be taken home in their car for free. We only ask that the drivers get tipped. The concept is simple: One car shows up with two drivers, one drives you in your car, the other follows behind. I personally use this service regularly, and it's awesome.
What do you hope for the future of Georgia beer?
I am very proud to be part of the Atlanta beer community. It has come a really long way over the last decade, but especially the last five years. We added a beer cellar in 2013, and it has been one the most successful additions to our business. Sometimes when I am laying in bed at night and all the crazy thoughts of running a tavern are swirling around in my head, I still can't believe that something as old as beer is making huge advancements every day. I just want the future of beer to keep its momentum, and for more people to continue exploring its wonders.
When: Sat., Oct. 4
Where: Decatur-area beer-centric places
Price: Depends how much you drink
This informal festival organized by HOToberfest's Alan Raines and Southern Brewing Co.'s Brian Roth will wander around Decatur beer establishments like Twain's, Square Pub, and Three Taverns, drinking special and unusual beers at all locations and making friends. Uber Atlanta will be offering a deal for first-time riders who use the service in conjunction with OctUBERfest. Follow @HotoberFest101 on Twitter for more details as they become available.
Burnt Hickory Brewery open house
When: Sat., Oct. 18, noon-5 p.m.
Where: Burnt Hickory Brewery
Miss out on Decatur Craft Beer Festival tickets? To Kennesaw you go! Burnt Hickory will be showing off their new brewhouse and pouring a handful of their regular beers, plus a few specialty kegs throughout the day.
Georgia Craft Beer Festival
When: Sat., Oct. 25, noon-6 p.m.
Where: Candler Park
This festival — which debuted at Red Brick in March — features more than 25 Georgia-only beer makers and no fewer than seven bearded guys playing music. Proceeds go to the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild.
Wrecking Bar Brewpub Wood-Aged Wednesdays
When: Every Wednesday
Where: Wrecking Bar Brewpub
Price: Depends how many barrel-aged beers you drink
Each week, this Little Five Points brewpub serves up a special small batch beer that's been aged in a wood barrel. Pro-tip: show up early if it's the fifth of the month. Trust us.