When Justin Hall recalls his time living in Lilburn, he remembers having to head into Atlanta to enjoy a nightlife.

At that time, there were no breweries in Gwinnett. There weren’t many breweries in Georgia — period.

“The closest brewery when I lived there was Wild Heaven in Decatur so you had a little bit of a haul — and that was pre-Uber,” Hall said.

Fast forward eight years, and Gwinnett now has about nine breweries with three more about to open — one in Duluth, one in Lilburn and one in Peachtree Corners — and Lilburn officials are in the early stages of trying to attract another brewery, with a tap room, for their downtown area.

Hall said it’s a big change from what he remembers of Gwinnett.

“If it was like this when I lived here, it would have been awesome,” said Hall, who now lives in Decatur. “That’s one of the reasons why I moved to Decatur — to be closer to breweries, to be honest. There’s a lot of things, like MARTA, that went into it too, but it was to be close to beer and to now see it come out to where I used to live is great.”

Now, Hall — who is one of the owners of Southern Beer Tours — is helping bring visitors into Gwinnett to visit the county’s craft breweries and try some of their beers. Southern Beers Tours has teamed up with Explore Gwinnett officials to launch new beer tours of Gwinnett’s breweries called Gwinnett Brewery Tours — Sippin’ in the Suburbs.

The first tour took place Feb. 13, with tour members visiting Good Word Brewing and Public House in Duluth, Anderby Brewing in Peachtree Corners and StillFire Brewing in Suwanee. Another tour — this one a walking tour of the beer scene in downtown Lawrenceville — took place at the end of the February.

Similar tours took place on two Saturdays in March and, at least for now, they are scheduled to take place on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.

The next Gwinnett beer tour is set to take place April 10 and another walking tour in Lawrenceville is scheduled for April 24. The Lawrenceville walking tour includes stops at Exhibit A(le), Sweet Joy Ice Cream Bar, Ironshield Brewing and Slow Pour Brewing Company

“As they’ve popped up in the last two years, it was just time to finally launch into Gwinnett,” Hall said. “There’s actually enough breweries for us to actually visit to create a tour now.”

Putting a spotlight on Gwinnett’s breweries

Explore Gwinnett Marketing Communications Director Victoria Hawkins said the county’s tourism officials originally envisioned doing the beer tours on their own, similar to the Seoul of the South Korean food tours that it does.

In preparing to do their own beer tours, various Explore Gwinnett staff members went on regional beer tours around the state, and one of them ended up on a tour that Southern Beer Tours did in Atlanta.

“She talked with one of their guys about the fact that we were wanting to do it in Gwinnett, so we just reached out to see if they would be interested in partnering because they’ve been doing it for (eight) years,” Hawkins said.

“They already have guides. They already have payment systems. They already have a large following and it just made sense because we wouldn’t have to rebuild the whole ecosystem. We could just tack on to what they were doing. This is the first time they’ve ever done a tour OTP so we’re really excited about that.”

There are two pick-up locations for the tours, one in Buckhead and another in Gwinnett. Hall said they aim to keep groups for each tour limited to about 25 people or less.

The tours are one of the ways Explore Gwinnett is working to highlight the growing number of breweries that have opened in Gwinnett County in the last few years, and to promote them as tourist attractions. The tourism organization is also planning to hold its inaugural Gwinnett Beer Week, where breweries in the county will promote top or specialty beers, in July.

“There’s sort of a triple need,” Explore Gwinnett Executive Director Lisa Anders said. “One, it’s exposure for our breweries. Two, it’s making sure the people who are here locally are aware that there is a nightlife opportunity because that’s sometimes our biggest challenge — when we’ve got people coming in from out of town and they’re like ‘What do we do at night?’ and you’re like, ‘Go out to dinner.’

“So, now it’s like, ‘You’ve got a brewery here. You’ve got a brewery there. They’ve got live music. They’ve got corn hole leagues. They’ve got a lot of things going on’ ... And, because we’ll be selling them all publicly, we’ll partner with our hotels and some of our hotels will do some packaging where they’ll sell a hotel room and a beer tour combination, so it’s kind of a layered approach to it.”

Good Word co-owner Todd DiMatteo said he sees the tours as a way to raise awareness among people who live inside the Interstate 285 perimeter — or ITP for short — about the brewery scene taking place outside the perimeter.

“The outside of the perimeter has tons to offer,” he said. “It’s really all about exposure.”

Meanwhile, Anderby co-owner Preston Smelt said it’s a good way for beer fans to learn about new brews and brands, and it helps the breweries grow their customer bases.

“Beer tours are great to be a part of because it’s good way to experience a lot of breweries, in a short time period, that you may not have ever made the effort to go to individually,” he said. “So, by being part of a tour, people might be like, ‘Oh, you know what? I’m really enjoying X beer from them. I saw three or fours others that I would like’ and they’ll come back.”

Camaraderie among Gwinnett’s brewers

One common theme among brewers featured on the first Gwinnett Brewery Tour was that they want to see all of the emerging breweries popping up in the county thrive.

Although they could technically be considered competitors, they expressed excitement to not only come up with new products themselves, but to also see what the county’s other brewers are doing. It is, in many ways, a community of beer that has quickly popped up since Slow Pour Brewing Company in Lawrenceville became the county’s first craft brewery in September 2017.

“I love that there’s more and more breweries coming into the area,” StillFire brewer Geoff Heeren said. “It’s a very tight community, the breweries. In the public eye, it’s a small group, but it’s a very tight-knit group so we wish nothing but the best to every single brewery that’s out there.

“(Suwanee has another) brewery down the street called Monkey Wrench. We love to make sure that they’re getting people in. Obviously, we want to fill our tap room, but we want to support them any way we can. Same thing with Good Word. Same thing with Anderby. Same thing with Slow Pour over in Lawrenceville.”

DiMatteo said he’s gotten questions from people who are curious about what he thinks about 6S Brewing Company, which is expected to open soon on Main Street in downtown Duluth, since it will be within walking distance of Good Word. The owners of 6S recently hosted a sneak peak event where visitors could buy some of their beers from a serving window.

“I think it’s going to be dope,” DiMatteo said. “Whether they’re world class, or they’re just trying to get their legs under them, I think it’s going to be good for this area. There’s breweries popping up all over the place. I’m a competitive guy in spirit ... but I want everyone to succeed. I think it helps the beer community.”

Smelt said Gwinnett was underserved for years by the lack of breweries, and he’s happy to see the industry growing so quickly in the county. Like Duluth, Peachtree Corners is also set to get its second brewery in the new few months with Kettlerock Brewing, which recently got its brewing license, set to soon join Anderby Brewing in the city.

“If we can get a density of really good breweries, it will help all of us attract people from more than just Gwinnett County, but also from the rest of the metro Atlanta area to try (Gwinnett’s) breweries,” Smelt said.

With Gwinnett’s craft brewery scene continuing to explode somewhat quickly, Hall said he’s not surprised to see new breweries continue to open in the county and find their own niche.

“It’s a booming market,” he said. “You’ve got the population to support it. I mean look at all of theses cities that you have in Gwinnett. The people are here to support that many breweries easily.”

Tickets for the Gwinnett Brewery Tours — Sippin’ in the Suburbs cost $64.99 per person and that includes a beer at each tour stop, a swag bag and transportation. Anyone interested in doing one of the tours — which will be done once a month at first — can sign up at southerbeertours.com.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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