at Summits Wayside Tavern
The Creature Comforts Tropicália India Pale Ale and Scofflaw Basement IPA taps at Summits Wayside Tavern in Snellville, Georgia, sit on the island bar, where bartenders can get to them easily. Most weeks one of them is Summits’ best selling beer.
They are Flagships at work.
“I think they (Flagships) are making a comeback,” says Summits owner Andy Klubock, who began pushing the beer envelope in the Atlanta area when the US had fewer than 200 craft breweries. “A lot of customers, the first beer or the last beer, it’s one they know. It’s a lot like comfort food.”
There are a dozen taps on the island bar, 116 along the wall Klubock is sitting next to. This place was called Taco Mac when he opened it in 1993, so a bit of history is in order. The first Taco Mac began pouring beer in Atlanta’s Virginia Highlands neighborhood in 1979, the owners keeping the name of the previous restaurant rather than pay for a new sign. Eventually there were more than a dozen Taco Macs, and many of them — including the original — still operate today.
Klubock took ownership of the Taco Mac in Sandy Springs in 1989. Inspired by a visit to the Dublin Pub in Portland, Oregon, he decided Atlanta was ready for a tavern with 100 beers on taps. “Everyone told me, ‘You are crazy, you’ll end up throwing it away,’” he says. “I knew better. Atlanta was a young culinary city and the timing was right.”
He later opened his Taco Macs in Snellville in 1993 and Cumming in 1998, renaming them all Summits Wayside Tavern in 2000. The Sandy Springs tavern closed in 2006.
When my wife, Daria, and I visited the Sandy Springs location on a Sunday 25 years ago, we sat at the bar and chatted about beer and the upcoming Olympics. We were simply customers, not people who wrote about beer, but soon the bartender offered us a tour of the beer cooler. “Our lines are only this long,” he said proudly, holding his hands not far apart.
“Our staff gets so excited when customers get excited about beer, and customers get excited when the staff is excited,” Andy said years later when I told him the story.
We live in the middle of an obtuse isosceles triangle in Atlanta with well-known beer establishments on each corner of the triangle. They are great places to dine and to drink beer, but at the beginning of the month, although each of them offered a Creature Comforts beer on tap, none of them was pouring Tropicália.
It can be hard to understand what role Flagship beers are expected play today. Tropicália certainly is one, accounting for more than 60 percent of Creature Comfort sales. The beer is brewed about 70 miles away in Athens, but it has become an Atlanta staple. It’s one of three beers in the end cap cooler at a Target four blocks from our house and the cans there, or at a nearby Kroger for that matter, are seldom more than two weeks old.
Change the name of a top selling beer, change the city, and the story seems to be the same. “Rotation nation,” the notion that drinkers always need something new, is not what Andy talks about when he says he understood the need from the outset to be fanatical about rotating stock.
“It’s good to be a little compulsive,” he says, talking about clean lines and fresh beer.
“It was an exciting time,” he says about the 1990s. Early on, he might have had four Sierra Nevada beers on tap, five Anchor beers. Long before “tap takeovers” became a marketing tool, there were 17 Rogue beers on tap in Cumming. (The late Jack Joyce, Rogue’s founder, designed the Summits logo.) Taco Mac also poured plenty of imports, because the number of American-brewed beers, let alone Georgia beers, was limited. Now, more than 50 Georgia beers may be on tap at any time in Snellville or Cumming. “It still exciting because there are so many local brewers producing great beer,” Andy says.
It’s easy to keep pouring flagship beers, he admits, because he has plenty of taps. “People still want to know what’s new, what’s different,” he says. “You have to evolve. You have to evolve with your customers.”
Creature Comforts Tropicália represents American IPA evolution. Its bitterness is softer than the IPAs of the aughts. It is juicy, but not like drinking orange juice and certainly not juicy/hazy. It’s more like biting into a ripe apricot. You almost feel like you need to wipe some juice off your face after you take a long drink. Per its name, Tropicália’s aroma is fresh and tropical, its flavor full of juicy (there’s that word again) fruits — take your pick of mango, banana or melon.
The first time I had the beer in December of 2014 was when a friend brought some to St. Louis, where we lived at the time. The second was in Yakima in 2015. I am not working from notes. This is the kind of beer you remember when you only drink it once a year.
The third time, Daria brought it home it after attending a conference in Atlanta in the summer of 2016. She was about to give up trying to find it when she discovered they kept it behind the counter at the liquor store, doling it out one six-pack at a time. “We had a higher allotment (of kegs) and we would still run out,” Andy says.
We moved to Atlanta since then. Creature Comforts has built a larger brewery. Tropicália isn’t the new kid any more. It is a friend that seems destined to become an old friend.
“Not everybody wants esoteric,” Andy says. “They come in. ‘I just spent 10 hours in front of a computer. I want a Trop and a burger.’”
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.