BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Just a short hour drive north of Jacksonville on I-95 sits the Golden Isles of Brunswick Georgia. Stunning beaches and marshlands surround the city, which has a sizable craft beer community. Prior to March 26, that community either drove north to Savannah or south to Jacksonville to visit a brewery. Now, the hops are coming to them, through Hop Soul Brewery.
Justin Crandall and his wife Doctor Elizabeth Crandall set forth on a journey to bring local craft beer to Brunswick. Now, Hop Soul Brewery is their creation. Occupying a former Shoney's Restaurant, it no longer resembles that Americana restaurant spot, with one little exception, there is still a buffet.
Like Auggie's Draft Room in St Augustine, you use a pour card to activate the taps. There is even wine on tap here. The average price per pint is roughly five dollars. There are a few more expensive offerings, but that's due to the cost or ABV of the beer itself.
But more on that in a second, for those not in Brunswick, getting to Hop Soul is easy peasy. Basically, head north (or south) on I-95 to exit 36 in Georgia. Exit the Interstate and turn at the first right east of I-95. It's next to the Cracker Barrel and back from the Krystal's. It's about 3 minutes from the exit to where you park, making it easy to find if you're driving from the First Coast area.
There is a fairly large parking area, which shares space with the neighboring Cracker Barrel restaurant.
When you walk in, you go to the order area and purchase your Pour Card. They come in any amount in $5 increments, don't worry you can reload if you don't get enough the first time. You can also order food at this time or whenever you feel like it at the counter. Pizza, wings, a kid's menu, and salads dominate the offerings. You can order either a whole pizza or just a slice, the prices are comparable to other pizza joints.
We had a long trip home, so we decided on two five dollar cards and a pizza. FYI we ended up reloading one of them. If you are a local, you could load a card and take it home if you haven't used up the balance, we saw a lady in line who had been Friday night with her card. If you are done, just drop the cards at the counter or the handy little bin by the door.
It was packed. They did a rotating soft opening, inviting friends and family to choose a time that fits their schedule. So it was a weekend timed soft opening. Saturday evening was popular, we stood in line to get to the counter. But the wait wasn't long and it gave us time to pick a pizza.
We found a spot to sit and made the trip to the "Beer Buffet". A touch screen above each tap gives you information about that beer. When you are ready you simply place your card into the slot and pull the tap. By the way, they even have glass rinsers on the Buffet.
Between my husband and I, we sampled seven of the 12 offerings. I must confess, my top two favorite kegs blew while we were there, they were pilot batches, I think that should be a good indication of what to brew next!
When you get your pour card, you also are given a pint glass, I opted to try several 1-2 ounce samples. We saw many people pour a taste, then fill their glass. Don't worry if you don't know what to do, there was a Hop Soul employee helping folks pour or assisting if there was a problem.
I started with "Cinnamon Dolce", a Baltic porter. It was rich and warm from the cinnamon and vanilla, but not so strong that you felt you were taking the cinnamon challenge! It was quite drinkable, not sweet, simply a nice solid porter.
Ed chose the "East Beach Coconut Wheat", listed as a fruit beer, I felt it was simply a nice hoppy wheat beer with copious toasted coconut flavor. Again, coconut enhanced the beer but did not cover up the flavor.
At this point, our pizza arrived. Considering how packed the taproom was and how many people ordered dinner I was shocked. The pizza was pretty darn good! The crust was crunchy and chewy, the toppings were plentiful and tasty. You could tell it was handcrafted. On the menu, they offer side sauces of Marinara or Beer Cheese, I wish I had ordered the beer cheese to dip the crust ends into! I love the chewy, doughy crust and I'd have loved to dip it in what I suspect is a top notch beer cheese!
The two blown taps were "Chunky Monkey" an English Brown Ale with tons of peanut butter goodness. The other was "SaiSun Citrus Farmhouse Ale" which was fresh and crisp with that good ole Belgian yeastiness that I love. The citrus was such a nice addition to a Farmhouse, it reminded me of the smell of orange trees blooming. I was assured they were making more!
"Altamaha Amber" is an American Red Ale. For those of you who follow such things, it is dry hopped with Mosiac hops. It was citrusy hops with just enough malt. I'm generally not a huge hophead, but this is a drinkable red ale for me.
"Captain Cranberry" is a fruited cider, tart and dry with no syrupy sweetness. Being a sourhead by nature, I found this to be tart enough to satisfy my sour tooth.
For obvious reasons, I did not sample the amusingly named "Hophthalmologist 20/400" or "Hophthalmologist 20/200" Double IPA's. I did not make the connection until later, Dr. Crandall is an ophthalmologist surgeon. Now I get the 20/400 and 20/200 as well as the name!
For background, Justin has been a home brewer for many years and he even volunteered at a commercial brewery to learn the process. He has since become a certified Master Brewer from the American Brewer's Guild.
Overall, the taproom is large, with a ton of seating outside and a green space for those with children and dogs. The giant Connect 4 will be a big hit! Plus Cornhole and inside there are other board games. The back section of the beer buffet has a couple of big screen TV's which were obviously tuned to NCAA Basketball. Soft drinks are also available for those not drinking beer.
The Brewery is located at 271 Warren Mason Boulevard in Brunswick Georgia. It's located just east of Interstate 95 at exit 36 off Highway 341. If you go and don't feel like driving south to Jacksonville, there is a Red Roof Inn right next door!
They have Crowlers for sale pre-packaged in a cooler near the front door or ask at the order counter and they will fill you one to go. For locals, their Pizza is available to take out (make sure to add your beer order to go as well).
After the Grand Opening, they'll be open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Friday and Saturday they are open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed on Mondays.
I'm so excited for Justin and Elizabeth and all the staff at Hop Soul Brewery. Congratulations on the opening Y'all!