Buckhead Brewery & Grill Tallahassee, FL, Cumming and Stockbridge, GA

 

Gary Essex
Buckhead Brewery & Grill
Tallahassee, Florida, Cumming and Stockbridge, Georgia

 

The concept of a brewpub is still somehow new in certain parts of the world, like Cumming, Georgia. Sitting at the comfortable bar, locals visiting The Buckhead Brewery & Grill, which opened in November 2000, for the very first time marvel at the fact that the beer rolling from cool pint glasses into their awaiting mouths was made under the same roof suspended two stories above. Most importantly, they liked what they drank, for many good reasons. One of which is Gary Essex.

Gary’s real title is Director of Brewing Operations for The Buckhead Brewery & Grill. That may sound like a plush office job for this growing brewpub chain, but it’s not. Gary spends most of his time brewing. When he’s not brewing, he’s training someone to brew. And he’s not complaining.

His three 15 barrel  brewhouses are nearly identical. That makes his job a little easier, though he often wishes he could be in two places at once. With a third Atlanta-area Buckhead opening soon in Alpharetta, his personnel hunt to find a brewer-trainee is taking on personal importance. Until he finds help, the former-homebrewer will continue to work at both of the Atlanta-area brewpubs. The Tallahassee brewery is capably manned by an Essex protegé, Wayne Wambles. That’s where Gary brewed Buckhead’s Renegade IPA, which scored a 2000 GABF bronze, because Georgia has a limit on alcohol content at 6% abw. Three and growing, it appears that the Florida-based chain will continue to multiply for the foreseeable future. That’s what Gary calls job security.

A visit to Buckhead Brewery & Grill in Cumming (about 30 miles north of Atlanta on Highway 19) found Gary busy cleaning his new turnkey brewhouse. He keeps five beers on tap at the adjacent bar. Mostly ales, they make perfect accompaniment to the Grill’s full menu. Selections include an array of salads, sandwiches, steaks, chops and delicious appetizers, including fried Gator Tails served with horseradish sauce.

asn_banner_new

Buckhead’s Hefeweizen is unfiltered, cloudy with potent sour peach flavor lurking with its thin body. The ubiquitous tricycle brew, Buck Light is a clean, golden ale with out a preponderance of either bitter or malty extreme. Dry-hopped Hop Island IPA, presents a big hops frontal attack. Medium bodied, this deep golden brew leaves residual bitterness as well. Seasonal Winter Ale hit big in Denver in 2000, bringing home GABF gold in the Scotch Ale category. Thick mouthfeel, though medium bodied, Winter is silky smooth and ultra malty. A touch of smoked malt is buried deep in the mix. Flat and smooth, Black Diamond Stout is heavy with coffee beans-meet-roasted malt. Mocha flavor is obvious long after the final swallow.

Buckhead serves no Budweiser. It’s their brew or no one’s. Other beers in the regular and seasonal rotation include Red Hills Amber (malty, dark, almost a UK Brown Ale), Ten Point Porter (low hopped, complex malt bill), Panther Pale Ale ( a dry hopped but toned down version of Hop Island IPA) and Oktoberfest (traditional recipe, made with toasted grain).

Essex became serious about home brewing in the late 1980s. Along with two other all-grain brewers, he started a homebrewers club in Niceville, Florida. Founded in 1991, the Home brewers Underground is still active today. Two years later, the tireless brewer became a BJCP judge and an award-winning homebrewer as well. Some of his homebrew recipes were adapted into Buckhead beers. Gary helped open the original Buckhead, 1995 in Tallahassee, before leaving the company, returning to his hometown of Destin, Florida to brew for short-lived HarborDock. When that high-overhead mall brewpub failed, Gary went back to the Buckhead corporation, this time in the southwest Atlanta suburb of Stockbridge where Buckhead #2 was under construction. Less than two years later, the Cumming Buckhead was added to his Brewing Operations responsibility. Now he’s making several 120 mile round-trip journeys to keep four fermenters and five serving tanks full, times two.

Buckhead’s shiny new brewhouses are tight, orderly inside a glass-lined cubicle right up front for all to see. From atop his brewing platform, Gary has a nice view of the 300-seat hall. A large C-shaped bar, with exuberant, beer-knowledgeable bartenders greets patrons as they enter. A central fire place with flickering gas logs is surrounded by high bar tables. Mounted deer, buffalo and other wild game heads adorn the shiny shellacked log walls. Pool tables have their own room along the far wall. The upstairs loft, which overlooks the dining room below, has additional dining space and a private room as well. The net effect is comfortable, inviting. Buckhead – any of them -are a great place to drink great beer.

Buckhead Brewery & Grill
872 Buford Rd.
Cumming, GA
770/887-6070

Buckhead Brewery & Grill
1757 Rock Quarry Road
Stockbridge, GA
770/389-8112

The Beers

AHA-webbanner-468x60