by Ginger Kaderabek
A love of craft beer inspired friends to open Georgia’s first all-craft-beer store in Decatur. “We’re beer lovers. We’re excited by today’s beer renaissance and wanted to make a go in the all-craft business,” said co-owner Eddie Holley.
Ale Yeah! at 906 West College Ave. opened Dec. 15 and had a “great first week,” according to Holley, who runs the store along with co-owner Cisco Vila. Shoppers in the store expressed excitement at having more than 500 beers to choose from, and one was buying a large gift certificate as a Christmas present for a beer lover.
Craft beer is defined as beer made by an independent brewery that produces fewer than 2 million barrels a year. Beer styles are varied by factors such as the type of malt (grain that is germinated and dried); hops; method of fermentation; aging; and the addition of other ingredients such as fruit, pumpkin and spices.
The United States had thousands of small brewers at the turn of the 20th century, but only a relative handful of large brewers survived Prohibition. American beer became characterized by the products of these large brewers, mostly similar pilsners and lagers, while the rest of the world kept brewing a wide variety of tastes and styles.
Then in the 1980s, brewers such Anchor Steam in California and the Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams, brought back the idea of the small specialty brewery. Over the past decade, the craft beer industry has exploded and there are now almost 1,600 U.S. craft breweries.
A craft beer store like Ale Yeah! can offer knowledge and service to help beer drinkers make sense of the growing number of craft beers. “We’re educated on beer,” Holley said. “We can suggest the right beer for the food you’re planning and help you learn about new beers.” Ale Yeah! is also a place where “you can hang out with other beer nerds,” he said.
The goal of the store is to encourage people to try new beers and look at beer differently. To encourage customers to try new beers, Ale Yeah! lets them build their own six-packs.
The store is organized by beer type, with shelves for such categories as lagers, pale ales, Belgian-style beers, spiced beers, porters and stouts. Holley said this arrangement gives customers the chance to try different brewers’ approaches to the same beer style. He said it also helped ensure that Ale Yeah! stocked a variety of each type.
The store proprietors are happy to introduce novices to the world of craft beer, Holley said. “If you’re not a craft beer drinker, I’ll suggest that you start with beers like lagers and pilsners that are most similar to what you’re used to,” he said. After that, he’d suggest more similar styles such as wheat beers and pale ales, then moving on to more intensely flavorful beers.
Beer, he noted, has been a second-class citizen to wine, but craft beers offer similar artisanship and are often easier to pair with food. While current Decatur laws won’t permit beer tastings in the store, the owners plan to ask the city to amend a current ordinance that allows wine tasting. Before then, Holley said, “We may line up alternate venues for tastings and beer-food pairings.”
Ale Yeah! also offers foods that pair with beer such as cheese, cured meats and chocolate. “We want to offer as many locally made foods as possible.” The store stocks supplies for home brewers and plans to eventually offer home brewing classes.