Knocking at Heaven’s Door
Wild Heaven occupies a unique niche in the Georgia brewing scene. “Bold and complex” are terms often used to describe successfully distinctive beers that more than meet expectations, but in this case they equally well describe the company brewing them. In previous issues we’ve reviewed most of their beers but I wanted to learn more about the company itself.
Their website offered the following: “Wild Heaven aims to be one of America’s great breweries as well as helping raise the profile of beer in the South,” “…designed in the great tradition of European brewing but with a distinctly American creative flair,” “…world class beers designed to offer something new to the beer landscape.”
Bold goals — but if you have tasted their beer you realize that they are well on their way to accomplishing just that. In less than two years since launch, Wild Heaven is the premier brewer of high-end craft beer in Georgia and quite possibly in the South.
Wild Heaven’s public debut was in September of 2010 when they released both Invocation golden Belgian style ale) and Ode to Mercy (an imperial brown ale) in eighteen locations known for their craft beer selections. In just nine months demand for both beers was strong enough (now over 100 restaurants and bars) that distribution was broadened to include 4-packs of 12oz. bottles. Eschaton (a Belgian style quadruple) was released September 2011 and Let There Be Light (a sessionable pale ale) followed in February of 2012.
Wild Heaven founder Nick Purdy was kind enough to give me an interview and answer some of my questions about Wild Heaven’s success and plans for the future.
Q: Nick, when I first tasted your beers the first comparison that occurred to me was the Unibroue line of beers, perhaps because of a shared complexity or Belgian origin?
A: I take that as a compliment. Unibroue does an impressive job but we don’t really consider ourselves a Belgian brewery — a European style brewery might be more accurate. Each of our beers is unique and we feel that if our beer tastes like someone else’s then we haven’t done our job.
Q: Most of the beers you have released to date have been high-end craft beers — a Belgian ale at 8.5 ABV, an imperial brown at 8.2% ABV, and a quadruple at 10.5% ABV might be described as niche beers, even in a craft brew market. Do you feel that will limit your appeal?
A: No, not really. The high-end craft beer market is growing at 15% a year and our beers appeal to a large part of that market. A lot of people are still learning about craft beer. Additionally, we recently released our Let There Be Light beer which is very drinkable at only 4.7% ABV.
Q: Wild Heaven released a “light” beer?
A: Let There be Light is not a “light” beer in the caloric sense. Calories did not even enter our mind in creating this beer. We were far more focused on getting the flavor profile we wanted when challenged to do so with a reduced grain bill which was necessary for keeping the ABV below 5%.
Q: Let’s talk about distribution just a little bit. Like a number of craft brewers you first went to market via draft but then within only nine months your beer was also available in bottles. During this time we have also witnessed the advent of a number of growler stores. Has the availability of growlers cannibalized any of your bottle sales?
A: I don’t think so, and it certainly has not hurt our draft sales. We didn’t want to go into bottles until the demand was there. Once people started asking for bottles we began to package them.
Q: What is your opinion on the recent growth in growler sales?
A: Growlers continue to grow in popularity. They are becoming common place now at gatherings and they open up the local craft beer market to “non bar” craft beer drinkers — people who enjoy fresh craft beer but not necessarily the bar atmosphere. I am looking forward to the day when brewpubs and breweries can sell their own product for off premise consumption and growlers may play a role in that.
Q: As your distribution has grown I notice that your beer is now available in a growing number of restaurants in addition to taverns.
A: Yes, and that is a very good thing. Chefs are artists so we get excited when they choose our beer to use as part of their medium. We recently had the opportunity to showcase our beers with the chefs at Le Cordon Bleu which is a unique and wonderful opportunity.
Q: So with all your recent growth and popularity, where are you in regards to your plans for the Wild Heaven Brewery in Decatur?
A: We have had the building for a while but we’ve now completed our blueprints and selected our equipment, so we are shooting for the second quarter of 2013. Until then, we will continue to use Thomas Creek and add additional production at Lazy Magnolia in Mississippi.