Blind Man Ales was founded in 1995 by Bob Tibbs in Athens, Georgia on the outside of town out past The Georgia Square Mall in a small building at 255 Commerce Boulevard. The building was made of metal siding and concrete slab, was non descript, and you had to know where you were going to find it. Bob hired local home brewer and owner of Normal Brew, one of two local home brew stores at the time, John Gayer, to run the operation.
The brewery was put together as only a home brewer could in a magnificent way utilizing tanks and other food grade equipment that many a professional brewer would shake their head at in a puzzling way. The brew kettle was a converted tofu boiler, a huge square contraption as I remember it that was heated by large electric probes. The fermenters were Pepto-Bismol tanks, and at first when bottling was done the brewery would have to invite the friends of Blind Man to come and have a bottling party. Five gallon buckets filled with priming sugar and the fermented beer from the Pepto tanks were hand capped by the friendly crew of bottlers and then packaged. At one point an old bottling line from a North Carolina Coca-Cola plant was brought in to aide in the process and speed things up, but at times sanitation issues would arise as well as technical opportunities.
John’s creativity shinned at Blind Man, and his recipes were well received in the local Athens market. The first beer was Blind Man Ale, a hoppy pale ale, unfiltered, cloudy, and wonderfully bottled conditioned. “Look for the Cow” was the companies saying – and the tap handles were easy to recognize in local bars as most of the initial beers was sold as draft. A large cow, white with traditional black spots, made the tap handle design easy to find in the local bars and restaurants. One review raved, “This is one of the best pale ales that I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. I had this on draft at Smith’s Olde Bar, and it is delicious. Cloudy and opaque in appearance, a unique floral smell that smells very musty and sweaty but in a good way. Tastes extremely sweet and bitter all at the same time, with a nice yeasty finish, because of the layer of sediment unique to Blind Man Ales.”
The second offering from John and Blind Man was an India Brown Ale. Described by William Orten Carlton, local Athens beer writer and good friend of John’s as “Blind Man’s Brown Ale was an absurdly, heavily hopped rendition of the style: sort of like Newcastle on steroids. It was made from Two Row Pale, Munich, and Caramel Malts and Roasted Barley (their caps) and was stupendously, stupefyingly good. As a wondrous aside, Copper Creek Brewing offers India Brown Ale periodically: it is brewed to the old Blind Man recipe. After all, Copper Creek brewer Matt Buley was John Gayer’s assistant (as was Jamie Bartholomaus, who now brews at Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem, N. C.).” The beer was a deep brown color, imparted from the use of Roasted Barley and Munich malts, and was hopped like an IPA with Chinook, Cascade, Mt. Hood, Liberty, Tettnanger, and Columbus. It was a great combination, but one that at the time was before it’s time in the South.
The third offering was one of my personal favorites, Blind Man Espresso Stout, brewed with coffee from the local coffee house Jittery Joe’s. It had an intense roasted character, outstanding coffee flavor, and was hopped perfectly to balance all of the malt and coffee flavors offered from the brew.
Several great assistant brewers worked their way up through the ranks as assistants for John at Blind Man Ales. Namely Matt Buley who went on to brew for Burnt Stone Brewing Pub in Athens, and now at the same location named Copper Creek Brewing, as well as Jamie Bartholomaus who brewed at many of the other breweries profiled on www.thelostbeers.com such as Vista Brewing in Columbia, SC, Blueridge Brewing in Greenville, SC, Olde Hickory in Hickory, NC, and now running/owner of Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem, NC. Jamie worked 30 hours a week and was paid with beer. These two assistants are still making their mark on the Southern Brewing scene to this day.
In the end financing caused the demise of Blind Man Ales, but to this day folks are still “looking for the cow”!