Something feels wrong about telling the Halfway Crooks story. The unorthodox air of mystery that surrounds the brewery is part of its charm. You can ask questions, but they only provide some answers. Did these brewery owners ooze from a speaker as sonic sludge and assume human form? Did they emerge from the hills on a moonless night beneath a thick woollen cloak? Is the brewery’s Instagram account actually powered by artificial intelligence? What is even going on here?
Alas, evidence points to them just being men. Men who, for the longest time, wanted to do something illegal. Something impossible. But impossible is a transient state. Just as the laws of physics are eroded by the whims of the mind, so too are the laws of man by the will of the people.
That’s the way it goes. Things that were not possible suddenly are. Things that could not be suddenly can.
“At the time, breweries here couldn't sell direct to consumers, so our ideas were kinda pipe dreams,” Shawn Bainbridge admits. “But we started throwing stuff out there, just talking about what we felt would make a good brewery, about what we felt was missing from the Atlanta beer scene.”
Part of what was missing was a small brewery experience. In 2015, there was no such thing. It was still strange times in Georgia. Own-premise breweries were illegal. Brewers could not sell beer to drinkers. There were workarounds, sure, like charging the equivalent of two beers for a brewery tour and pouring some “free” beer into a pint glass that the drinker could take home as a souvenir. But that’s truly as stupid as it sounds.
The whole scenario stifled a revenue stream where profits should’ve been maximized, which meant a brewery’s distribution footprint had to be large enough to make up for those losses. That, in turn, raised the barrier to entry and discouraged small breweries from coming online. Where states like California, Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina, and many others had tiny beer makers, Georgia did not.
But a small brewery is exactly what Bainbridge was dreaming up, along with his friend Joran Van Ginderachter.
The two first met one evening at the Brick Store Pub and fell into a fast friendship, bonding over Belgian beer and a shared attention to detail. Within a few months, Van Ginderacther had moved in with Bainbridge. “I had this four-bedroom house in Inman Park that was really expensive,” Bainbridge admits, “and I had to keep finding roommates so I could afford to live there. But the basement there was huge, so I had a pretty serious homebrewing setup.”
During the day they’d both attend to their jobs. Bainbridge was an engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Van Ginderachter was a brewer at Decatur’s Three Taverns Brewery, the place that brought him to the U.S. following his time at Brouwerij 't Verzet, the brewery he co-founded in his home country of Belgium, and of which he’s still a part owner. (Van Ginderachter is also, incidentally, the nephew of former New Belgium brewmaster Peter Bouckaert.) At night, they’d head down to the basement. “We’d do some brews together,” Van Ginderachter wryly puts it.
It should be noted here that the two Crooks have a certain Wayne’s World kinda vibe about them. Van Ginderachter is Garth (earnestly coy and highly intelligent, but more Belgian, and with shorter hair) and Bainbridge is Wayne (more outgoing and boisterous, but more of a hacker, and also with shorter hair). It’s easy to imagine, if they happened to keep a Davenport in that basement next to the homebrew kit, them hosting a similarly goofy-yet-hilarious Friday night talk show, quipping about pH instead of partying and schwinging to pictures of Saison Dupont instead of Claudia Schiffer.
But in the place of all that, in this actual world we live in, there was brewing and tasting and tweaking and planning. And the plans reached a pretty realized state pretty quickly.
Those plans called for a focus on Lagers and Belgian beers—specifically Pilsners and mixed-fermentation ales. Clean, simple, traditional beers crafted to within a Planck length of perfection. (A Planck length is the smallest possible size for anything in the universe. The mathematical equivalent is around a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter. Imagine a decimal point followed by thirty-four zeroes and then a one.)
Ah, but there were two problems. The first was that they wanted the brewery to be small, with little-to-no distribution, but own-premise was not in the cards. The second was that they wanted the brewery to be successful, but neither had much experience with starting an American business, nor the red tape involved.
Enter Tim Kilic, who was COO of Three Taverns at the time. Kilic is a kind man whose slow, Southern drawl matches his disposition to a tee. He’s made up entirely of “gosh” and “golly” and “aw, shucks,” all melted down and mixed together and poured into a human-shaped Jell-o mold. But a serious tone underlies his genuine sincerity.
Prior to his role at Three Taverns, Kilic was in medicine for 34 years, first as an emergency room doctor, then as an anesthesiologist. During that time, he handled all the finances for his practice and developed a keen business acumen and a dogged work ethic. A passion for homebrewing led him to become an initial investor in Three Taverns.
“I was still practicing medicine,” he explains. “So then I retired, and two days later I was running the whole operation.”
He was there from the jump and helped Three Taverns navigate the many complexities of starting a business and getting it off the ground. Van Ginderachter would eventually introduce Kilic to Bainbridge, who ended up building a pilot system for Three Taverns.
Kilic moved on from Three Taverns after about two years (he’s still an investor), right around the same time a serious effort to change Georgia’s antiquated beer laws came into play. After years of stops and starts and backs and forths, Senate Bill 85 was passed into law in late 2017, providing for the limited sale of malt beverages and distilled spirits directly to customers. That’s when the Crooks approached Kilic with their business plan.
“Joran and I had been talking about doing something together pretty seriously,” Bainbridge explains. “And then when the laws changed, the margins made sense. But getting to know Tim is what made me realize this thing can become a reality. He was providing us with an insane amount of advice.”
Kilic was taken with the Crooks and with their concept. He believed in their philosophy on beer, their point of view on Atlanta, and how the two intertwined. He showed genuine interest and support. “And then one thing led to another,” Kilic chuckles, “and they said, ‘Hey, do you want to join us?’ So I said, ‘My wife's gonna divorce me, but sure.’”
And with that, Kilic became the third Crook, lending his insight, experience, and belief—as well as a significant amount of financial backing—just as their vision became a legal possibility.
Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood is a special place. Nestled in the southeast corner of the I-20 and 75/85 exchange, it sits due south of Downtown. Back in the 1960s, It was home to the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth to become baseball's all-time career home run leader. (Fuck—and I cannot stress this enough—Barry Bonds.) Perhaps more famously, Summerhill was home to the Centennial Olympic Stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, as well as that year’s track and field events.
“It was a great cultural center back in the day,” Bainbridge explains. “But ever since the Olympics happened there were a lot of broken promises to the neighborhood. When we came through looking for spaces and saw these buildings again, we saw them in a whole new light.”
As fate would have it, the day after the Crooks rode through, Bainbridge got a phone call from the group that was redeveloping the area. They wanted a brewery to be an anchor of the redevelopment. “It was kind of serendipitous in that way, I guess,” he chuckles. “We had just looked at these buildings the day before. This space that we're in now just really spoke to us. So we signed the lease in December of 2017.”
That ended up being one of the only moments of serendipity during the entire buildout. Delays, setbacks, and outright disasters plagued the Crooks on their way to opening. To be perfectly honest, it was a total shitstorm. Construction on the building began in earnest in November of 2018. The goal was to have everything completed by February or March of 2019. They didn’t end up opening until July.
The first issue was Mother Nature herself. The winter of 2018 was a wet one in Atlanta. Unbelievably wet. Historically wet. Damn near biblically wet to hear the Crooks’ architect, Holden Spaht of Square Feet Studio, describe it.
“At one point, the building was leaking from every plane: floor, walls, roof.” A tinge of terror still lingers in Spaht’s voice. “There was a three-day weekend where it rained like crazy. And when they got back in the space, all the plumbing they'd spent the better part of a week setting was floating. Just red dirt and floating plumbing.”
That was just the beginning. A more serious, borderline-catastrophic issue appeared (or, rather, didn’t) in the form of the brewing equipment itself.
The Crooks had contracted fabrication of their brewhouse, fermenters, brite tanks, and lagering tanks with Diversified Metal Engineering. DME went bankrupt in December of 2018 and fell into receivership. That meant all the Crooks’ equipment was in a kind of limbo. It was all built and paid for and ready to ship, but unable to be delivered because there were no longer employees at DME.
The added insult: the equipment was scheduled to be delivered in November, prior to the bankruptcy filing, but had to be delayed due to the aforementioned flooding.
While all that was happening, a shipping company contacted the Crooks to let them know that they were in possession of some of their equipment. But in order for it to be delivered, they would have to cover the shipping cost. Again. It had been included in the original DME contract, and paid in full, but DME never paid the shipping company. So the Crooks paid for shipping twice.
And then the following week, the shipping company told them that, in order to secure their order in full, they’d have to pay for all the equipment again. “It was impossible for us,” Bainbridge laments. “We had already paid for everything.”
“We were held hostage,” Van Ginderachter adds.
“They basically tried to extort us,” Bainbridge concludes. “So we had to hire a Canadian lawyer, and DME eventually came to their senses and that got resolved.”
Another hurdle included zoning. Even though Georgia’s new laws allowed breweries to sell directly to customers, a lot of other laws that helped facilitate an own-premise brewery had yet to catch up. Because breweries had previously needed to produce a large amount of beer in order to make sufficient margins, they needed large spaces, and were zoned industrial. The Crooks’ space was small, and mixed-use. They couldn’t, technically, occupy it. So they had to get a law passed in the municipality in order to have a brewery in that location.
“What else happened?” Bainbridge asks himself, rewinding all the months of frustration and anxiety and uncertainty in his brain. “Oh, yeah. Our original contractor went out of business, too. So we had two companies go out of business, and we had to change the beer laws, and rezone. And immigrations! Joran had to get his green card for this whole thing to work.”
The catch was that Van Ginderachter had to bridge the gap between his work visa and his green card, but he had left Three Taverns shortly after Kilic exited. He needed another job that would be willing to take over his visa to keep him in the country, but would also let him spend a considerable amount of time planning the new brewery.
Enter Monday Night Brewing.
“[They] took over Joran’s visa after he left Three Taverns,” Bainbridge explains. “They allowed him to work there for, like, a year and a half while this whole project was going on.”
After all that, the Crooks finally made it to February, when they originally thought they’d be opening. But they weren’t even close. So Bainbridge and Van Ginderachter both quit their jobs, pulled Kilic out of red-tape land, and dedicated themselves to the brewery. It was time to push that original pipe dream across the finish line and into reality.
The most noticeable thing about the Halfway Crooks space is the bank of cathode-ray tube TVs. There are 12 of them—three across, stacked four high—and they basically smack you in the face when you open the door. Then there’s the floor. The tile, more specifically. It’s mesmerizing. Beautiful to the point that it seems you shouldn’t step on it, but then you realize you already have and you worry you’ve ruined it.
The canary yellow, pale green, and deep forest diamonds interlock to form little cubes beneath your feet. The effect it creates is one of jumping from block to block while either ascending or descending, depending on the direction you turn. So yeah, those first few steps are a little disorienting.
There’s also the fact that it doesn’t look like a brewery. It doesn’t not look like one, either, sorta. It feels like somebody’s personal space—somebody’s home that has beer and, frequently, loud rap music. You’ve just been invited in to have some of both.
“The space is an extension of us. It’s who we are,” Bainbridge explains.
“We wanted to make it a really warm and welcoming place,” Van Ginderachter adds.
“Lots of times you go into some place and it feels like a Chili's or something,” Bainbridge continues. “It’s this curated thing for consumerism. We just want people to come in here and feel like it's a real place.”
As it so happens, Halfway Crooks finally became a real place on July 6. For the longest time, the brewery was only an idea that lived in the minds of two men: an electrical engineer and a shepherd’s son. Along the way, they picked up a third: a retired doctor. Then, suddenly, it was everyone’s. The neighborhood of Summerhill’s. The city of Atlanta’s. The state of Georgia’s. It was something unique they could all claim—in concept, in approach, and in execution.
Following the tile past the CRT TVs leads to the taproom, where the space opens up and the vibe becomes apparent. To the right, tables and sitting areas with mismatched chairs beneath the original plaster wall. Two gigantic Altec Lansing “Voice of the Theatre” speakers hang in each corner as an ode to the Golden Age of audio.
To the left, a bright, warm, quartz-topped bar with classic, dark-stained stools to contrast. Behind the bar, 16 unmarked Micromatic taps jutting from mirrored tile, flanked by gobs of stemmed glassware hanging upside-down like crystalline bats. (There are an additional 10 taps upstairs on the rooftop patio, which offers a delightful view of downtown ATL and an adjustable roof in case of showers.) At either end of the bar, a digital ASCII-coded menu shows the available beers. Overlooking it all is the barrel room, with undulating green molded wood on the outside, and red icicle lights on the inside.
There are things to notice everywhere. Signs with odd phrases. Plants. Pillows. Vases. The cubbies framing the kitchen window are filled with knick-knacks and there’s a permanent plaque that reads: “MAYONNAISE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.”
“Everything here has a story,” Van Ginderachter claims. “If you walk in here and ask, ‘What's this?’ or ‘Why do you have that?’ everything has a meaning.”
“The space draws from their personalities and from their biographies. And that's really what we hoped would be apparent,” Spaht adds. “We ended up creating a sort of ad hoc and lived-in quality with the contrasting patterns and palettes and things that are in the space, which really came out of Joran’s Old World Belgian cafe concept. And then overlaid on top of that is the lighter, little bit more ephemeral, weird Shawn layer with the TV wall and the glitchy computer coding.”
The charming weirdness extends to the brewery’s branding and merch as well. “We wanted it to feel a little bit like a European grandpa in a computer lab, just wandering around,” explains Alvin Diec, partner at the design agency, Office of Brothers, Inc. Brothers designs all of Halfway Crooks merch and menus, and has advised on other design decisions the brewery’s made so far.
So much of that merchandise has a certain playfulness to it, like the t-shirt that shows foam overflowing down the side of glass to form a sheep at the bottom, or the popular LAGER LAGER LAGER LAGER hat that’s already sold out twice over. “I don't know if whimsy would be something that you see a lot in the beer industry, but that's definitely something that fits both Shawn and Joran,” Diec continues. “They don't take themselves too seriously, but the quality of their beer speaks for itself.”
Meanwhile, so many of the Crooks’ beers are accessible and drinkable, but at the same time, contain an incredible level of nuance and complexity. The Pilsners and Table Beers have a mineral quality to them that is barely noticeable at first, but grows with each sip, while each subsequent glass makes the aged hops more prominent. The Pale Ales, both Belgian and American, feel familiar, yet new, more crisp and concise than expected, but somehow more expressive, too.
“You go to a brewery and you see like eight 7% IPAs with mango or coffee or something,” Bainbridge sighs. “It's like they just threw a bunch of shit in a beer. We're really just trying to make simple, beautiful, elegant beer.”
“All our beers are very flavorful,” Van Ginderachter adds, “but we don't use a ton of hops. The end goal for every beer is to be very balanced and quenching and drinkable. You can have a couple. And I think that sometimes gets forgotten, that you can still make really good beer that way.”
But just because the two are on the same page from a conceptual point of view doesn’t mean they agree on the final form. Going back to what brought them together in the first place, the guys are very detail-oriented, and often disagree on the subtleties in their beers. “Joran brings more of an artistic view,” Bainbridge explains, “as opposed to my engineering view. But we’re able to talk about every single detail of a beer. I think we learn a lot about each other through that process. It's definitely hard sometimes. It's kinda like we're married.”
“They both have great ideas,” Kilic jokes, “but when they disagree, I'm the tiebreaker. It’s tough, though. They’re like my children.”
To turn their pipe dream into a reality, the Crooks encountered more hurdles than Allen Johnson on his way to the Olympic gold in 1996. But, like Johnson, they triumphed in the end. Or at least they seem to be triumphing so far. Looking at it that way, it’s tough to be too upset about the journey. After all, the brewery’s existence wasn’t even possible a few short years ago.
Now that they’re open and fully operational, dialing in their recipes, aging beer, and developing a customer base, Halfway Crooks stands as an interesting potential case study for the state of Georgia. If this brewery succeeds, it could mark a turning point for the way beer is made in the Peach State. No longer relegated to large, industrial spaces dedicated to cranking out cases of IPA for distribution, this humble, unusual business in Summerhill might lead a pack of small, adventurous producers pushing back against everything this region’s beer scene is known for. And if it fails? Well, maybe Georgia just wasn’t ready.
For now, these Crooks are dreaming about long-term goals. The pie-in-the-sky idea is a farmhouse brewery somewhere in the country—a bucolic spot where they could grow their own fruit to add to the beers.
“Joran’s already started looking at fancy pictures of places,” Kilic jokes, “I’m like, ‘We can’t! We don’t have money yet.’”
But isn’t that the way it always goes? Things that aren’t possible, eventually, one day are. Things that can’t, eventually, one day can. That is, if it all goes well. But in order for it to go well, someone has to have a dream. Impossible is a transient state, after all.