First Draft with Sam Adams
Ammazza's bar manager talks pizza, beer, and the art of improvement
Ammazza beer buyer Sam Adams — yeah, yeah, like he's never heard that one — has worked for a number of pizza places over the years, but never like this. The 29-year-old Midwestern expat spent much of his childhood bouncing around the Southeast before settling into Atlanta, where's he been for 15 years now. He worked at Mellow Mushroom and Slice, and flirted with Gwinnett community college for a year or so before the city pulled him in.
"I had a good friend who had Braves season tickets, and I decided I wanted to go watch the Braves play instead of go to college," he laughs over a beer at Ammazza's bar.
After about five years doing just about everything — security, bar backing/tending/management — at Smith's Olde Bar, he joined the excellent Old Fourth Ward pizza spot around 2013. He worked his way up to beer buyer, and changed up a good-not-great beer lineup. For three years now, he's been helming the selection of one of Atlanta's best under-the-radar beer bars. When Creative Loafing sat down with him, we talked about what he did to make the place better and how he plans to keep on doing it.
Describe your first beer.
Probably Icehouse 40-ounces in high school. We had a friend who had a connection, and for some reason, it was always Icehouse 40-ounces. But my dad always had craft beer in the house. Growing up in the Midwest, I had Goose Island in the house when I was in high school, first noticing beers. The first one I remember being really good was when I was 19 and I asked a friend going to Kroger to get me Sierra Nevada. He got us Bigfoot, and that was the first time I thought, "This is a really good beer."
How did you improve the selection when you started buying Ammazza's beer?
The whole idea behind this place was good pizza and good beer, and we had it, but there was no rotation. You had 22 solid taps of beer, but nothing was gonna change. We had all these quality names, Europeans, lots of local stuff. I didn't change a lot, but I made sure to have a few heavy hitters on once in a while and rotate out the locals. If you have three IPAs that are very similar that have been on for a year, people start to come in like, "What else do you have?" I started doing the rotation and trying to find cool stuff to keep people coming in, and we started to see a growth in customers as we got our name out as a beer destination. I had four rotating taps at first, now I rotate pretty much the entire draft system constantly — Stella, Reissdorf Kölsch, and Ballast Point Longfin Lager are all that's safe.
Has the improved collection changed the way people order beer at Ammazza?
It's getting there. I recently announced the Omnipollo Yellow Belly release on the ATLbeer subreddit. I did a day just for the Redditors, and I figured 20 folks would show up and have a glass of it. At 5:15, the bar was packed, full of people drinking that beer. I didn't put it on the menu, I didn't announce it anywhere else. I just wanted to see how much of my market was out there.
What I love about this place is how you can come in after work and have an amazing beer with no crowd any day of the week.
From 5 to 7 p.m., it's pretty comfortable here, seven days a week ... And I'm gonna start doing events once a month — tap takeovers, stuff like the Omnipollo release — just to bring the beer drinkers here, people who aren't necessarily just coming here for the food, to keep it in the back of their head that there's a good spot over here.
Athens Homebrew Classic
When: Sun., March 20, 1:30-4 p.m.
Where: Jittery Joe’s, Athens
The winner of this homebrew competition and tasting event will have their beer brewed by Athens Southern Brewing Company.
The BHB Birthday Bash
When: Sat., April 2, 1-5 p.m.
Where: Historic Depot Park, Kennesaw
Kennesaw’s punk rock brewery will celebrate four years with more than 70 beers, collaborations with Georgia breweries, and KISS tribute band, Mr. Speed.