Georgia Beer Company strikes gold in US Open Beer Championships
What started as a homebrew recipe in the garage of Georgia Beer Company's two owners is now one of America's best beers.
Valdosta-based Georgia Beer Co., which was founded by Chris Jones and J Ryce Martin and sits just a 75-mile drive from Tallahassee, was awarded the gold medal for their "Destress Express" coffee milk stout in the prestigious U.S. Open Beer Championships over the weekend in the "American Stout" category — which is arguably one of the most competitive divisions in the entire competition.
The honor marks the first medal in the coveted U.S. Open for Georgia Beer Company, which opened in February 2019. GBC also becomes just the second craft brewery in our local North Florida and South Georgia area to ever medal in the competition, which draws thousands of entries from around the country every year. In 2020, Apalachicola's Oyster City Brewing Company earned two medals in the event: one gold each for their Mangrove Pale Ale and Millpond Dirty Blonde.
But it never gets old seeing one of our area breweries shine on the big stage — and lately, Georgia Beer Company has been on the big stage a LOT.
Just last month Destress Express also won a gold medal in the annual Can Can Awards — a competition where only cans can be entered, while the U.S. Open format dictates you can enter canned or bottled beer.
Jones said he's elated with the recognition from both.
"Winning two gold medals is a true testament to how good this beer really is," said Jones of Destress Express, which was developed in Martin's garage in 2016 when the two were homebrewers. "I think that it’s a combination of expert brewing principles and solid ingredients, including fresh roasted coffee beans. And when I say fresh, I mean that the coffee is roasted less than 24 hours before the beer is brewed.
Georgia Beer Co. opened in 2019
"When we heard that it had not only medaled but took home gold — and against some fierce competition — we were beyond excited. It was a proud moment of confirmation for us and the entire brew staff. We’ve always thought this was one of our best beers — even if the (warm) climate of South Georgia isn’t ideal for enjoying it."
Jones isn't even bragging when he says it's one their best beers; we know first-hand that it is. We were there for Georgia Beer Company's Grand Opening on Feb. 4, 2019, and at the time, dark beers were still a little hit or miss for us. But from the moment the first sip of Destress Express touched the lips of everyone who carpooled with us to Lowndes County that day, it was clear this beer was next-level.
Even though it clocked in at 6.5% ABV, it drank like a smooth 4-percenter. The roasted coffee was strong on the nose, but not overpowering in taste. Though what stood out the most was the smooth finish it had, leaving a wonderful milk chocolate aftertaste.
Winning coffee and chocolate notes
We asked Jones to give us HIS tasting notes on the beer, and here's what he said: "I think the beer starts off with an abundance of aromatic activity from the coffee. A slight bitterness from the coffee and chocolate malts is quickly overshadowed by the silky sweetness of the milk sugar we add to it. And the head clings to your glass as you set it down. It's just a savory full-bodied, well-balanced beer."
Jones then paused and added with a laugh: "Or you can simplify it and just say, 'The coffee punches you in the face and the lactose-laden chocolate malt cleans up the mess. Boom!' "
Destress Express has been one of GBC's core beers since Day 1 — meaning it's available year-round in the tasting room on draft, in cans, and also for crowler and growler fills. But it's the cans you'll want to pay most attention to if you go out and try to stock up after reading this. Destress Express is distributed statewide in Georgia, meaning all you need to do is cross state lines and stop at just about any store that carries craft beer and you'll be able to find it.
Even better? It's typically no more than $10 or $11 a 6-pack.
And even though Jones and Martin were the brains behind the beer initially, they credited former Georgia Beer Company head brewer Mike Delf (who is now retired but still serves as a consultant to their brew team) with helping refine the recipe.
"Back in 2016, I had been studying up on some dark beer options for homebrewing and remembered reading an article in Zymurgy Homebrewing Magazine about different stouts and how the combination of coffee and milk hadn’t really caught on yet," Jones recalled. "So I said to J. Ryce, 'We should do that, we should brew something that’s not common.' But while it was J. Ryce and myself who developed the initial recipe, Mike Delf definitely had his hands on it to scale it from our 15-gallon garage batches to the 10-barrel batches we make now."
Destress Express was even chosen by famed rapper Ludacris' restaurant "Chicken and Beer" in the Hartsfield Atlanta Airport in early 2020 to be featured among their all-Georgia tap list. Jones said he didn't think it was currently on tap there anymore, but "it was available in Terminal D for at least a year, allowing travelers from all over the world to potentially sample it."
Not available in Florida yet
This was GBC's second-ever attempt to medal at the U.S. Open, the first coming in 2019 shortly after they opened. They didn't medal that year, but they didn't give up, returning this year to enter eight beers and strike gold with one. In the Can Can Awards, meanwhile, they actually struck pay dirt four times — Destress won gold, as did "Southern Isles" tropical IPA and "Bramble On" fruited sour. Their fruited blonde ale, "Blueberry Field Party," earned bronze.
Three of those four beers are currently in cans, leaving us in Florida to wonder: When might we be able to buy it in stores, bars and restaurants in the Sunshine State?
Jones wouldn't put a timeline on it, but he said the wheels ARE in motion.
"We would love to see our beer in Florida tomorrow, but realistically it will probably be 2022 before it happens," he said. "Jumping across state lines involves identifying and then negotiating with new distributors, identifying territories, and ironing out logistic details. We really want to be in Florida —Tallahassee to Lake City first, and then beyond would be our plan."
This beer is truly great, and we are thrilled that Georgia Beer Company has earned this kind of recognition.
Oysters at Oyster City? Yes, on Sunday
One quick note about an event we're involved in Sunday at Oyster City Brewing Company's new location that just opened at 603 W. Gaines St. (the former home of GrassLands Brewing).
As promised by their new management team in the lead-up to the grand opening three weeks ago, Oyster City will begin regularly featuring something that's only fitting in our opinion: fresh, raw, locally farmed oysters!
The plan is to have a local oyster farmer in the beer garden on Sundays shucking oysters for patrons to pair with OCBC's award-winning beer. The oysters will be sold by the half dozen and dozen, and this Sunday (the beginning of the 2021 NFL season) the series kicks off with Oyster Mom's farm-raised oysters, which are harvested almost daily in Wakulla County.
But wait, there's more!
Yours truly — the Tallahassee Beer Society — will be Sunday's (air quotes, eye roll) "celebrity shucker." So come on out any time from 1-4 p.m. and we'll shuck you a dozen or two (or three or four) to slurp down with your Tallahassee brew!