It's a typical Georgia summer, hot and humid and punctuated with sudden downpours. It rained yesterday. And the day before. Eric Johnson, Wild Heaven's brewmaster, is prepping their Fall seasonal, a Marzen brewed with mission figs.
Inside, the tasting space is church-like, open-air rafters with their slender beams bathed in wide bands of first morning light.
There's music playing and the bready scent of steeping grains fills the space. The acoustics bring back memories of singing in the high school stairwells, where the choir kids held practice, soaking in the echoes of adolescence and waiting on adulthood. That is to say, I feel small, and vulnerable, and open to a multitude of possible futures. It's a good feeling.
More and more these days I feel like I'm waiting on a Hallelujah. And for me, the tangibles of an early-morning brewhouse are about as close as it gets. I don't ascribe to any particular faith, but if the brewhouse could be my church, I'd give it all my Amens.
Although the space is newly opened (they christened it with a grand opening this past June), Wild Heaven was officially on Georgia's new breweries list as far back as 2010 and has been brewing and distributing beer since May of 2011.
Today at least, there's nothing "wild" going on at Wild Heaven--not in the raucous sense. More in the way open fields make way for wild flowers, seeds finding their way to a neglected space and creating something tangled and beautiful. And as for heaven... I think they've got that part covered.
Honey-colored hexagonal tile lines most of the flat surfaces in the space, including the serving counter, brewing floor, and check-in areas. It's like being inside a giant honeycomb, the nectar of celestial bees flowing through sweating caramel-colored pipes to the row of taps.
The "spirited" honeycomb aesthetic carries over onto their website and all aspects of the brand. Their logo, a glass endowed with wings, is only missing the angelic halo, and their company and social media tagline (#serveyourneighbor) invoke the historical and current underpinnings of the South--where religion (and religiously drinking) are finding an overlap in the craft beer community.
It's a trend in branding, though to varying degrees of visibility, that's echoed in other Georgia breweries including Reformation (naming Protestant Martin Luther as their inspiration), Eventide (whose name is also the title of a common Lutheran hymn), Three Taverns (which comes from the Biblical story of Paul and shares its name with an unaffiliated local church), and Monday Night (whose founders met through Bible study and brew beers in the spirit of moderation, arguing that "beer, at its core, is a relational beverage").
In a historical context, this trend is a return to beer's origin, since alcohol was first used as a tool for accessing the divine, as Steven Buhner outlines in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers which covers 30,000 years of fermentable history (I highly recommend it).
Regardless of religious affiliation (no one seems to be looking for converts, except in the way of good beer) the craft beer community seems to hold a shared belief: that making and sharing beer for and with each other is worth something deeper than dollars (though there is certainly money to be made, as efforts to co-opt the term "craft beer" by large producers has shown).
Craft beer as a whole seems to be redefining what it means to drink responsibly--which includes an emphasis on quality ingredients and hand-crafted processes, as well as giving back to the community. Coming together over our love of craft beer--and the people who make it--seems like a kind of liquid transcendence we can all commune over.
I for one plan to engage in some divine imbibing when that Marzen from Wild Heaven hits the taps. Share a beer with me?
View the full gallery of images (prints available).