Matt Buley, 926
On the first Sunday of every month Athens League of Extraordinary Zymurgists meet to sample and critique each other’s efforts at the art of home brewing¬¬ –– one of these people is Matt Buley.
He is a tall, gaunt man in his late 30’s. He sports a naturally tan complexion and a goatee with patches of gray.
Late into the meeting, Buley lifts his glass to sample the last beer of the night, a beer spiced with chocolate and mint that one of the participants brought.
Buley puts the glass to his lips, takes a sip, and recoils in shock, “It taste’s just like those f***ing cookies Girl Scouts sell to my wife.” Buley said.
Buley turns to the beer’s creator and offers up these sage words: “It’s not bad, it’s just the base beer doesn’t really come through. Beef that up and see what happens,” Buley said
His opinion matters for a reason; Buley is not just another club member, but the brewer at Copper Creek, the only brew pub in Athens-Clarke County.
Buley has been a part of the Athens craft beer and home brewing community for over 15 years, and as such, has had an avid interest in seeing the laws concerning alcohol change.
While he is disappointed that the recent repeal of Sunday alcohol sales was shot down in the state of Georgia, there is another alcohol law Buley is more concerned with –– the sale of beer growlers.
A growler is a glass jug that comes in either 64 ounces or 1 gallon sizes and some kind of pressure seal mechanism. These jugs are meant to hold beer pulled off of a keg tap.
These jugs were used traditionally as vessels for people to carry beer from breweries and pubs to their homes.
When Buley came to work at Copper Creek, the allowed alcohol content for beer in the state was capped at 6%.
“I was asked if I thought the beer percentage would be raised first or growlers would become legal first,” Buley said. “At the time I believed growler legalization seemed more promising.”
Nearly a decade later the alcohol percentage for beer is capped at 14 % in the state of Georgia, but growlers are still illegal in their traditional capacity.
Recently, however, the state of Georgia declared that the county could decide if growlers could be sold buy designated growler shops.
Currently, Athens-Clarke County is the only place in Georgia that has decided to allow this, thanks in part to Buley and Copper Creek.
Before Georgia passed the new state growler law, Buley and Copper Creek got the county to allow growler sales.
It didn’t work out the way Buley had planned.
“Since [Copper Creek] is considered a production facility, we couldn’t sell growlers under Georgia law,” Buley said.
Copper Creek still can’t sell growlers under the revised law because they would be bypassing the distributors.
“There is a push to get limited self distribution for breweries and brewpubs in Georgia,” Buley said. “Breweries would be able to sell something like a 6-pack per person to people who toured the brewery, and brewpubs would be able to sell limited growlers.”
As it stands now, Buley is wary about limited distribution coming to fruition.
“Georgia has a conservative government; you would think arguing free enterprise would be an easy sell, but it doesn’t seem to be in this case,” Buley said.
However, Buley does believe the recent allowance of growler shops could only help. “It allows the public to get familiar with a growler and hopefully will spark more demand from the public,” Buley said.
Though Buley demonstrates a strong passion for beer these days, it wasn’t always this way.
“When I grew up in Florida I hated beer,” Buley said.
That started to change in his late teens because of a grocery store near his childhood home.
“This store had stuff that was a wide step up from a keg party. It totally changed my perception,” Buley said.
This same store also came to carry something else Buley found intriguing: brewing kits.
“I was underage. I didn’t just want to walk up and buy a kit,”
Buley said. Eventually one of Buley’s friends purchased a kit and they started brewing together.
When Buley moved to Athens to come to college, he left the brewing kit with his friend, but brought with him a growing fascination with the art of home brewing.
“I started going to Athens Home Brewing Supplies, and that’s where it all started,” Buley said.
It was through that first connection that Buley became a part of the brewing community in Athens, eventually becoming the brewer of Copper Creek.
Now, Buley looks toward the future of beer in Athens, and he believes that future lies in brew clubs.
“If you do [the club] right, a strong brewing company can only grow out of it,” Buley said. “From that, festivals can be started, beer awareness can be raised –– the sky’s the limit really.”
Back at the meeting, festivities are coming to an end.
Before everyone picks up their bottles and empties their tasting glasses, Buley makes a short speech about the direction of the club and about brewing in general.
Everyone listens quietly, not speaking over him. He finishes what he has to say and everyone gets up to leave.
Only when the meeting is over does Buley pull a small bag of tobacco and rolling papers out of his pocket. He doesn’t smoke during the meetings.
“I don’t want to hurt my palate with cigarette smoke,” Buley said.