It’s safe to say that Halfway Crooks Brewing and Blending is the first beer maker in the history of the beer industry to take its moniker’s inspiration from Mobb Deep and raising sheep, but that’s not even the most notable fact about the forthcoming Atlanta beer maker. Thanks to recent changes in Georgia’s beer laws, Halfway Crooks will likely be the very first Peach State brewery to not rely on distributed beer as its primary source of revenue.
“We really wanna focus on the beer, and I think you can sort of get away from that when volumes get really large,” co-founder Shawn Bainbridge says.
“And when there are people between you and the beer [getting to customers],” co-founder Joran Van Ginderachter adds.
“How’s that beer gonna be taken care of on the way to the bar?” Bainbridge continues. “How’s the bar gonna take care of that beer? Until [the laws changed], the distribution route was the only way to go. This gives us a lot more control and allows us to tell the story about our beer to our customers at our place.”
In the coming months, the pair—who are splitting ownership of Halfway Crooks three ways with co-founder/investor, Tim Kilic—will start building out their space on Georgia Avenue in the much-buzzed-about Summerhill development a couple blocks east of Turner Field, once-home of the Atlanta Braves, who relocated to Cobb County at the start of the 2017 season. (For the sake of clarity w/r/t that Eater Atlanta article linked above, the barbecue establishment is a separate business not affiliated with Halfway Crooks.) Indeed, the brewery will be the very first business to set up shop in the new development just South of downtown Atlanta.
Halfway Crooks will open with a 10-barrel system, and will have a barrel-aging space with a bar. Their business plan calls for them to make 200 barrels their first year, with capacity to eventually triple that production. They’re also planning a rooftop patio space that overlooks downtown Atlanta. They don’t have major plans for food, but hope to source local meats and cheeses to start and to do popups with local chefs in the future. A lot of the other details are currently being worked out with Atlanta architects and interior designers, Square Feet Studio, and they’re currently hoping to open sometime between May and July 2018.
Bainbridge says they'll send the occasional keg to bars, festivals, and special events (they haven’t signed with a distributor for this yet), but that the brewery will sell 99% of its beer through its taproom. As Georgia’s first own premise brewery, Halfway Crooks will “focus on barrel-aging, Saisons, we’ll try and do some spontaneous stuff, and very drinkable Pilsners, Belgian Pale Ales, and lower alcohol beers,” Van Ginderachter says. “But now and then, something odd will pop up.” Bainbridge says this will include blending, though he’s more keen to talk about Pilsners right now.
“We’ll open with a couple Pilsners,” he says. “We really like Pilsner, and we drink a lot of it like a lot of brewers do. We’re hoping that translates to the general population of Atlanta. But we’ll always have Pilsner on for sure.”
Bainbridge is a lifelong Georgian who works in research engineering and has made a name for himself in Atlanta’s homebrewing scene. Van Ginderachter grew up in Belgium on a sheep farm, but has lived in Atlanta for four years, and has been working in beer even before that. The pair met at legendary Decatur, GA beer bar Brick Store Pub’s cellar at a bottle share in 2013. “We hung out the whole night,” Van Ginderachter says of the two becoming fast friends. “And then we started hanging out more and more.” He eventually moved into Bainbridge’s house in 2013 after Blake Tyers—a GBH contributor—moved to Athens to start working for Creature Comforts. Living together, they realized they had a shared philosophy about beer and brewing.
“Shawn’s very technical,” Van Ginderachter says. “So he would [pick my brain] all the time about how things work.”
They hadn’t lived together very long when it became obvious they would one day work together. But Georgia’s antiquated beer laws—indeed, some of the worst in the country—kept it from happening too quickly.
“I’ve tried to do this a couple times, but the economics didn’t work out because of the distribution situation,” Bainbridge says, referring to the fact that, until recently, Georgia breweries couldn’t sell directly to their customers. That law, he says, is the reason Halfway Crooks will exist. “I didn’t wanna raise two million dollars to start a brewery. I wanted to do something kind of small, and he had already done something kind of small in Belgium.”
Van Ginderachter, 31, has a pretty serious beer pedigree despite his young age. Peter Bouckaert (New Belgium Brewing Company/Purpose Brewing and Cellars) is his uncle. He’s one of the three founders of Brouwers Verzet in Belgium. And up until about a week ago, he was Three Taverns Craft Brewery’s brewmaster. Van Ginderachter says it was painful to leave Verzet behind, but he liked the opportunity and excitement of the United States. In particular, he fell in love with Atlanta upon visiting years ago.
“It’s a very underestimated city,” Van Ginderachter says. “And it’s a really fun city to be in. I really enjoy it, and I was never a city guy.”
While he learned a lot at Three Taverns, enjoyed his time there, and made lots of new beers, he was hoping to acquire some ownership of the brewery eventually. “Over time, it became clear that that was probably not a possibility,” he says.
“It’s time for me to try my own thing, and I’ve found the perfect partner to do it with,” Van Ginderachter adds. “I have a ton of respect for Shawn, and we butt heads a lot, but eventually we want to reach the same thing, which is to make really good beer. That’s what I like about this relationship.”
While the pair is excited about the venture, they’re realistic, too.
“I think it will be a challenge in the beginning for us,” Van Ginderachter says of both the brewery’s business model and the development in which they’ll reside, both completely brand new. “It’s kind of a no-man’s land.”
“It’s scary,” Bainbridge says. “If I told you there weren’t moments of sheer terror, I’d be lying.”
—Austin L. Ray