If you grew up in Atlanta you are probably familiar with the beautiful 20th-century Victorian-style home just a stone’s throw south of Little Five Points on Moreland Avenue. Built in 1900, “The Marianna” was a private home, then a Methodist church, a dance school, and in 1970 opened as The Wrecking Bar, a great salvage spot for unique architectural antiques and hardware. Many of us were disappointed in 2005 when The Wrecking Bar closed its doors and the building became vacant.
So, we were thrilled to hear that Inman Park residents (and homebrewers) Bob and Kristine Sandage had purchased the property to create a brewpub/event space, while keeping the integrity of the structure intact. The new Wrecking Bar Brewpub opened June 19, only seven weeks ago, and has quickly become an artisanal gathering spot for the community.
As always, Nicky and I are about cocktails, but you know you have to get your history lesson in before the drinking!
A prominent Atlantan, philanthropist, community leader and entrepreneur, Victor Hugo Kriegshaber had a bio that would rival Mr. Woodruff. Let’s just say, the man was a big deal in Atlanta. Kriegshaber commissioned the “Marianna” (named after his daughter) to be built in 1900. Designed in the spirit of Beaux Arts Classical Revival, the former residence is one of the finest surviving examples of late Victorian architecture in Atlanta.
The Kriegshabers moved out in 1924, and the building underwent some structural changes for commercial use. From 1929 to 1940 Centenary Methodist Protestant Church called the building home and in 1940 Jack Rand took over the space using it as a dance school and a home for his family until 1964. The Wrecking Bar (store) opened in 1970 and remained in business until 2005.
Following years of neglect, the Sandages purchased the building in 2009. Through painstaking hard work and massive renovations they have brought new life to this historic property.
Making new history
The Wrecking Bar Brewpub is located in the basement of the original home and features several distinct “areas,” each of which is set apart by antique sconces, Stone Mountain granite, heart pine, and cypress green walls, a color true to the original home’s exterior. The Pine Room is the main dining area, featuring beautiful pine floors and custom table tops crafted from heart pine. Obviously Nicky and I are most attracted to the fabulous wrap-around pine bar. The bar is broken up by sturdy granite columns that add a touch of intimacy to the back sections of the bar. The place may only be seven weeks old, but the bar feels like you’ve stepped back in time.
The upstairs main floor of the building is being transformed into a charming special event space and will be named, “The Marianna.” The work should be completed this fall.
Time to make the beer
Overseeing all the beer-making magic at the Wrecking Bar is Beer Master Chris Terenzi. Self-educated, Chris began his passion for beer making at home then moved into several successful commercial arenas. In his book “The World Guide to Beer,” former journalist Michael Jackson named Chris’ beers as some of the city’s best (2001-02). His love for the craft shines through each of his whimsical and unique recipes. The guy has a passion. And a really cool lab.
The Wrecking Bar garage/basement area houses the brewpub’s seven-barrel (BBL) system along with a two BBL pilot batch system used for specialty brews. Sounds all fancy and technical, but the nice thing about the beer making process is that it doesn’t really change much based on volume. The steps you take in the home brew kitchen are pretty much the same steps you take in a brew room.
The malted grain (sprouted and dried to break down the sugars) is placed in a mash tun with some 150+ degree water for mashing, making a sort of cereal mash. The rich sugar water – the wort – is moved/pumped to the next vessel, a copper kettle tank. Then the fun happens with the boiling of the hops and the addition of other flavors – herbs, sugars, whatever. It’s an important stage because this is where your beer gets its flavor, color, aroma and all-around personality. Then you quickly cool the wort down so you can add the yeast and let the fermenting process begin. The next step is racking the beer by moving it into a conditioning tank where for about three weeks the beer “finds itself.” No filtering here at the Wrecking Bar brewery; they just clarify to save the full flavors. The whole process takes about three weeks.
Now, because this is a brewpub, and because Nicky and I are all about cocktails, we thought it best to bring along our favorite home brewer, The Piper. The Piper was completely engaged with this larger version of his home toys. He may still be lurking in the shadows of the brewery making notes on how to transform the home garage or basement into his own beer lab.
The Piper worked his way through many of the featured Wrecking Bar beers on tap. He started with the Abbey Dubbel, a full-bodied Belgian brown ale. Emulating the classic Trappist Dubbel, the Abbey Dubbel is rich and malty, with the flavors enhanced by a house-made candi sugar.
Next up was the Jemmy Stout. This full, black ale boasts of coffee and chocolate notes. Terenzi uses a Crisp Marris Otter malt with a bit of wheat to smooth things out. The Piper enjoyed this one greatly.
Also on the menu for the evening was a Golden Nelson Ale (light bodied), the King Louie IPA (brassy in color, bold, bitter, sweet malt), and a Belgina Wit (wheat beer). All well played!
Several of the beers on tap are available as a shorty (8oz) as well as a full pint pour. The menu rotates various new recipes in and out, usually including wheat beers, amber ales, stouts, Belgian ales, German-style beers and cask ales. Tours of the brewery are held Saturdays at 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. (Check the website for tour details.)
And the cocktails!
Honestly, we don’t enter brewpubs with high expectations of handcrafted cocktails, so we were really take aback by the terrific offerings and creations behind the bar! The bar is in great hands with General Manager Stevenson Rosslow, certified sommelier and certified mixologist. And he has a passion for bourbon which gives him bonus points in our book. His background includes 12 remarkable years with Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. He doesn’t just have the know-how, but he has the love and conviction of doing handcrafted cocktails the right way. He is smart and keeps the menu fresh, varied, short and tight. The specialty cocktails cover a range of base spirits and the high quality is consistent across the menu. And the options for whiskey made me smile – about 20 bourbons, six ryes, and over a dozen single malts.
We always like to try the house version of some of our favorite cocktails to see what the approach is by the bar staff. We were not disappointed. Our usual litmus test is a Negroni or a Manhattan. On both counts, Rosslow used Carpano Antica which makes us happy. The Negroni paired the Antica with Old Tom Ransom gin (a nice, dry choice) and Campari. The Manhattan blended High West Rendezvous Rye with the Antica, orange bitters and house cherries. Nice.
The menu rotates, so we actually were able to try an older drink, two or three current drinks and get a preview of a new drink to be added this week. All the cocktails were balanced, creative when original, and true to form when vintage. For instance, daiquiris in general are not our favorite, but Rosslow displayed authenticity in his recipe of the original Hemmingway and it was delicious!
Another nice discovery on the menu is the In Fashion. A take on an Old Fashion, this drink showcases Four Roses bourbon, with agave nectar, and Fee’s Brothers cherry and orange bitters playing supporting roles. There is no muddling, just stirring, so the end result is clear and not cloudy. Presented with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry and orange twist, this is a winner.
A menu favorite is the In The Park, which blends gin, fresh basil, grapefruit and soda. The change-up here is the use of the grapefruit, which provides a nice and very slight bitter edge on the back end.
New to the menu will be The Hummingbird. This is the second cocktail this month we’ve stumbled on that uses the Bison Grass vodka, and, may we add, uses it really well. Bison Grass vodka pairs well with apple flavors. Rosslow uses freshly pressed apple cider, lemon juice and honey with the presentation finished with an edible flower floating on top. The grassy sweetness of the bison grass does work well with the apple and initially seems sweet, but is balanced out with the lemon. Well played. This was a big hit at our table and will no doubt do well on the menu. (See our recent article on Bison Grass Vodka for more information on this unusual spirit.)
A delightful twist on the classic Pisco Sour, is the Macchu Peachu, a Georgia peach version of the sour. Porton Pisco is blended with lemon juice, peach nectar, apricot nectar, apricot brandy, bar sugar and an egg white. The frothy cocktail is presented in a flute and topped with Fee’s peach bitters and Angostura bitters. Light but complex, this was a favorite for me.
And there is food
Not to go unnoticed, Chef Steve Mayer’s craft pub food menu is excellent with a variety of beer-centric options to delight and pair with the craft beers and cocktails. Beer and cheese soup, beef short ribs braised in stout, golden ale grain mustard sauce, and other ale-inspired items make up the fresh and local minded menu.
A sense of community and family
What really struck us about The Wrecking Bar Brewpub was the sense of family with the staff and the easy feel of community. These people truly love what they are doing and are passionate about it. When you are that passionate and committed, it comes through in every aspect of your organization.
Owners Bob and Kristine Sandage have long had a pastime of brewing. The neighbors have always called him “Bob the Brewer.” They are sociable, generous, personable and knowledgeable. They live down the street with their kids and still cook and brew at home. And renovating the old building? No sweat for Kristine who is actually a structural engineer by profession. She worked with Bob at his engineering company for about 12 years.
It’s nice to walk into a place and see the owners, the general manger/mixologist, the beer master and everyone actively involved with the operation and most importantly with the customers. There is truly something special about this little basement pub. Check it out for yourself and you will agree.