Trappeze's Mike Vernelson and Eric Johnson love great beer.
Brewtopia Events LLC

The Daring Young Men of Athens' Trappeze

Athens' Gourmet Beer Pub

By Owen Ogletree

Originally published in Southern Brew News
See the new Trappeze flash video below.

"Trappeze is, in many ways, an extension of my passion for beer and our desire to share it with Athens."
- Eric Johnson, Trappeze co-owner.

Photos, Video and Text by Owen Ogletree - Posted in 2008

Brewtopia Events
City Beer Guides


By Owen Ogletree

Friends Eric Johnson and Mike Vernelson were told over and over by Athens bar owners that any Athens pub not offering light beer and trendy shot specials would lose money.  Eric and Mike held fast to their vision of a gourmet beer bar in the university town of Athens, Georgia.  Late last December Eric opened Trappeze Pub at 269 W. Washington Street in downtown Athens, and the response has been tremendous.

Trappeze offers a phenomenal selection of the best beers available in the Georgia market. 200 delicious beers grace the bottle menu, and the 29 draft taps have already poured remarkable brews such as St. Bernardus Abt 12, Dogfish Head 90 Minute, La Chouffe, Gulden Draak, Old Rasputin, Victory Prima Pils, Urthel Samaranth, Spaten Maibock, Allagash White, La Merle, Maredsous, Trois Pistoles, N'ice Chouffe, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy (with cherries), Terrapin Wake-N-Bake, Maudite, Ommegang, Hennepin, Maudite, Aventinus Eisbock and Laguinitas Hop Stoopid and Imperial Red Ale.

Why were these two beer lovers daring enough to open a high-end, European-style, specialty beer bar in Athens, Georgia?  Vernelson offers, "Eric and I both wanted to have a place downtown that we could go get a great selection of beer and enjoy conversation. We kept waiting for someone to open this type of place.  It never happened, so we decided to go for it."

Video tour of Trappeze with co-owner Eric Johnson.
Video by Owen Ogletree

Johnson adds, "Over the past few years, especially since the change in beer alcohol laws in Georgia, we've waited for an Athens bar to begin carrying exciting American craft beers as well as the beers from abroad. Very few of the bars in town seemed interested in plugging into these new beers. We'd heard from many folks that Athens only cared about dollar pints and shooters. My sense was that there were many people who were looking for good beer and plenty of others that would love these beers once they were exposed to them. I've been a brewer for 13 years and have been in love with great beers even longer. Trappeze is, in many ways, an extension of my passion for beer and our desire to share it with Athens."

Johnson is very serious in regard to his commitment toward beer education.  Trappeze's beer menu is a dozen pages long, and each beer listing includes detailed tasting notes regarding color, aroma, flavor and finish.  Many patrons sit down in Trappeze and often take 15 minutes picking out a perfect beer based on the rich menu descriptions.  "I've spent quite a bit of time building a beer menu with good descriptions in the hopes of making the beers accessible to newcomers and also to stimulate conversation for veteran beer geeks. We also offer our patrons samples of the tap beers in an effort to help everyone find a beer that they will love," said Johnson.

Johnson and Vernelson both have extensive backgrounds in carpentry, and the Trappeze owners did 75% of the construction work on the pub themselves.  The cozy pub includes one room with a large central bar lined with attractive pressed tin.  Bar stools surround the front and left side of the bar, and dark wood, custom booths are located in the front of the pub.  These booths offer privacy and a chance for conversation while enjoying the fine brews.  To the left of the pub is a small outdoor patio.

Johnson and Vernelson located Trappeze in Athens out of their love for the city. They believe that there is a specific flavor to Athens that can't be found anywhere else, and their greatest wish was to bring the best beers in the world to their city. Johnson was raised in Athens and has always felt a strong connection to the community. "I'm sure that there may be more profitable places to open a bar like this, but our desire was to stay in Athens – even if it takes time to build the Trappeze customer base and the concept. In the same way that the pubs in Europe and across America have been a gathering place for the community, we hope that Trappeze becomes a place that people from all different corners of Athens can gather to connect," said Johnson.

When asked why great beer is important, Vernelson replied, "Beer matters to me for its complexity, variety, and taste. It matters because when people drink good beer together, it's an event. It's an experience that breaks down barriers and draws people closer together."

"Beer is such a simple beverage but is also so complex. There is an amazing amount of creativity that goes into a great beer that gives it a very personal touch. You are experiencing the vision and passion of the brewer in a very tangible way, and this adds greatly to the whole experience," explained Johnson. "Social barriers immediately come down when you encounter a fellow beer lover and start down a conversational path revolving around different types of beer."

Trappeze hopes to tap cask-conditioned beers on a regular basis -- initially 2-3 a month. The owners are also hoping to have regular beer and food pairings, tastings and educational beer seminars.

Trappeze offers a limited menu of interesting food selections - all prepared with beer.  When the kitchen was completed in early 2008, the opening time of Trappeze became 11 AM (noon on Sunday).  "We have tasty, beer-inspired food -- not pretentious, but simple foods prepared with beer or designed to go with beer. We want to keep our food items affordably priced and very unique," Johnson said.

Trappeze opened its doors the week before Christmas last December, and the owners thought this would allow for a soft, quiet break-in period.  They were shocked at the big crowds who showed up to sample the exciting array of craft beers.  Johnson adds, "We've been thrilled with the support from the Athens beer community as well as all of the people who have come out to explore something new. We launched Trappeze during what we thought would be a dead time and have been really pleased to find so many people who are passionate and curious about great beer."

Johnson sums up his thoughts by offering an invitation.  "Come by Trappeze soon and try a great new beer. Also, let us know how we can make the pub better. If you find an interesting beer that we don't have, please let us know. If we can get it, we will. We want everyone to feel loved and appreciated when they visit Trappeze, and our goal is to offer patrons the highest quality beer experience in town."


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