THERE’S NO DOUBT the craft beer craze is here to stay; with more than 150 breweries and counting across the state of Georgia, there’s always something new brewing, and the possibility of stumbling across something unique is always just a sip away. It’s an adventure full of creativity and endless possibilities—for both the beer drinker and the craft brewer.
Tom Fennell was on one of the first crests of the Georgia craft beer wave when he started brewing in 2012, but before that, he toyed with the idea of opening a winery and even planted a small vineyard at his home in North Georgia. Though he eventually turned his full-time attention to beer, opening Fannin Brewing Co. in Blue Ridge in 2014, he was eager to experiment with ingredients that blended his two favorite beverages.
Fennell drew inspiration from a beer called Midas Touch by Dogfish, which incorporates the ingredients found in the 2,700-year-old drinking vessels of King Midas found in the Middle East—barley, grapes, saffron and honey. But Fennell’s version would also pay homage to North Georgia with as many ingredients as he could source locally, including grapes from nearby Cartecay Vineyards in Ellijay. “I’m a big proponent of sourcing local stuff and doing stuff together locally as much as possible,” says Larry Lykins, Cartecay Vineyards’ owner. As the first vineyard in the area, Lykins has long been a champion of synergy among local businesses, particularly as other vineyards have emerged, helping to make Ellijay into a flourishing wine country. “I really believe that as the water in the harbor rises, all the boats rise,” he says. “Everybody works together—the more the merrier.
”So, when Fennell approached him several years ago about collaborating, Lykins was all in. The result? Cartecay Sol—which means sunshine—the perfect local brew for those hot summer days.
VINES OR HOPS?
The process begins at Cartecay Vineyards, where Lykins harvests, crushes and destems his estate Vidal Blanc grapes. He then turns over the must—the unadulterated unfermented grape juice—to Fennell, who works his magic at the brewery, adding honey from Blue Ridge Honey Co. in Rabun County along with barley and saffron. “It has hops in it, but very little,” Fennell explains. “Some people don’t like hoppy beer.
”But is it beer … or is it wine? Legally speaking, because of how it is fermented, the final product is classified as a beer, but it’s a rather unique offering you won’t find in many other places. In fact, unlike pyment (a blend of wine and mead) and braggot (a blend of mead and beer), this sort of beer/wine hybrid doesn’t even have an official name.
“As far as I know, it’s relatively rare and doesn’t get done very often,” Lykins says. The result is a beverage that appeals widely to both beer and wine lovers.
“I have a lot of people who come to the tasting room who say they don’t like beer, but they like wine,” Fennell says. “This satisfies them.”
BETTER WITH AGE
Though Cartecay Sol is technically a beer, Lykins says it ages like wine, so each new release really reaches its peak as the season slips into summer.
“I best describe it as a ‘sitting-poolside-on-a-hot-sunny-day’ type of beer,” he says.
Fennel adds, “It’s a very clean, easy-drinking and unusual beer.”
The flavor profile has also changed a little through the years, just as you would expect with different vintages of a beloved wine.
“The main ingredient is Cartecay’s grapes, so the grapes are going to differ from year to year,” Fennell explains. He also plays around with the complementing ingredients with each batch, sometimes switching wildflower for clover honey or changing the proportions of saffron.
The latest batch of Cartecay Sol was brewed earlier in 2021, but Fennell waited until the season was just right to put it on tap at his Blue Ridge tasting room and beer garden, where you can enjoy an ice-cold glass in an open-air environment reminiscent of a German Biergarten. You’ll also find it on tap at Cartecay Wine & Craft, Lykins’ tasting room with locations in Downtown Ellijay and Blue Ridge. And now that Gilmer County has loosened up its laws, you’ll find Cartecay Sol among other Georgia craft beers at Cartecay Vineyards’ on-site tasting barn. We’ll toast to that!
FOR MORE INFORMATION
5704 Clear Creek Road
CARTECAY WINE & CRAFT
19 S. Main St., Ellijay
598 E. Main St.
FANNIN BREWING CO.
3758 1st St.