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First Draft with Andy Klubock

The Summits Wayside Taverns’ owner talks beer

Wednesday September 30, 2015 04:00 am EDT

When it comes to beer, Andy Klubock has seen a few things. For the past 25 years, he’s traveled all over the world, visiting hundreds of breweries, making friends, and taking in knowledge. But when it comes to Georgia beer, he’s pretty much seen it all. Moments into our chat at Melton’s App and Tap, he’s remembering decades back when he first got to know SweetWater Brewing Company co-founder, Freddy Bensch. “Their very first beer was an amber, not 420,” he remembers. “Bensch used our stove to dry the malt at the Sandy Springs store I had for twenty-something years,” Klubock says.


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Before he ran a pair of Summits Wayside Tavern locations in Snellville and Cumming, Klubock was a young man who — at the behest of parents who wanted him to experience a different part of the country — moved south to study history and political science at Emory University. As a student there in 1981, he started as a maintenance man (“I’m the least handy person there is, but I’m competitive,” he says) at the original Virginia-Highland Taco Mac, then in its infancy. But he liked his coworkers, enjoyed the work, and started moving his way up to cook. He then started traveling and learning about beer, and it took off from there.

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“It was a job, I was 120 pounds, I was a distance runner, I needed someone to feed me because I was starving,” he says of those days. “And they were kind enough to hire me. I liked their philosophy and ended up owning three of them.”

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In 2002, he separated his establishments from the Taco Mac — now T. Mac — corporation. (There’s no bad blood, he says, he just wanted to take the food program in a different direction.) At Summits, he balances a ridiculous amount of taps with a formidable bottle selection alongside thoughtful food. Creative Loafing sat down with the Peach State beer O.G. to talk about the past, present, and future of craft beer in Georgia.

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Describe your first beer.

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I grew up in New England. The very first beers I remember drinking were Canadian beer because in Boston, there wasn’t really a local beer. I taught swimming in New Hampshire, and Canadian beer was what I had — Molson.

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You ran a bar before craft beer was “a thing.” How has your job changed as beer has changed over the years?

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It’s a different ballgame, but I have great people I work with. But the challenge I have with my teammates is, “How do we keep evolving and not being boring?” We’ve done an Oktoberfest menu for 10 years, but how do I breathe new life into it? How do I keep it fresh? On the beer side, we used to bring in 40-45 German beers — for 10 years. But I started thinking about it the last two years, and I said, “You know what? These craft breweries are making some beers that are as good as anything in Germany.” So this year, you’ll see we took half the list and made it craft.

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Tell me about your annual Georgia beer dinner.

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We started a program where we take 50 taps and devote them to Georgia beer, and we have a Georgia beer dinner. The deal is, I do a six-course meal, and I invite six brewers. Spike Buckowski, Terrapin Beer Company co-founder is always the lead dog on it, because he is, to me, the grandfather of Georgia brewers. But we take six breweries and they get a choice of pairing their beers with Summits’ food courses, but Spike gets first dibs. And the deal is, any brewer in Georgia — and it has to be a brewer, not a salesperson, not a suit — can come to any of the dinners, any night, for free. We treat brewers like artists, which I think they are.

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What would you like to see happen in Georgia’s beer scene?

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I don’t know the answer to that. I think our market is just young. We just have to mature. We don’t have the Colorado or Oregon lineage — it just takes time. There might be some players that are so young now, like Southern Brewing or Creature Comforts. Or maybe SweetWater, having the money, will go in a different direction. Terrapin has some choices coming up. But I also think there are some bad breweries that need to go away.

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BEER EVENTS

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Final Gravity Road Trip
?When: Sat., Oct. 10
?Where: Athens
?Price: $55.33
?One of Atlanta’s longest running homebrew clubs is renting a bus for a one-day beer-themed road trip to Athens, which will include private tours of Creature Comforts and Southern Brewing, a bottle share, lunch, and more.

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Wrecking Bar Brewpub Wood-Aged Wednesdays
?When: Every Wednesday
?Where: Wrecking Bar Brewpub
?Price: Depends how many wood-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.

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5 Seasons Cask Night
?When: Every Thursday, 5:55-7:55 p.m.
?Where: 5 Seasons North and Westside
?Price: Depends how much cask ale you drink
?Each week, a different guest taps a different keg of “real cask ale.”