Ocmulgee Brewpub Crafting the Downtown Scene
What: The Ocmulgee Brewpub Where: 484 Second Street, downtown Macon Hours: Sun-Thur 11-9, Fri-Sat 11-10
“One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’m a huge Disney fan,” says Jeff Kressin, owner of Just Tap’d and the newly opened Ocmulgee Brewpub in downtown Macon. “What I’m most drawn to is the original concept of what Walt was trying to provide. He was all about making sure everybody had a Disneyworld experience from the moment they entered the park – you escape and enter another world, you’re immersed in the narrative, and all the employees, even the ones sweeping the floor, will stop to talk to you or help if you need it. Customers come first, because without them there’s no business. That’s always been my push with my management team and staff, and we hope it comes across in everything we do.”
If the local love and enthusiasm for Just Tap’d, a craft beer superstore and growler fill station with locations in Macon and Warner Robins (the Macon location also offers a pub menu) is any indication, Jeff’s methods have succeeded with flying colors. And Ocmulgee Brewpub, which opened its doors in December 2016, is already generating a lot of buzz and positivity from customers for its unique and modern ambiance, impeccable customer service, quality craft beers, and delicious, innovative food.
Jeff Kressin has made quite an impact on the middle Georgia community for someone who’s only lived here a handful of years; looking back at his life trajectory, you can see that his confidence and fearlessness when it comes to making sometimes-unconventional career moves, combined with his drive to be the best at whatever he happens to be doing at the moment, have served him well. Jeff and his wife Beth were high school sweethearts in the small farming community of Burlington, Illinois; Jeff joined the Air Force straight out of high school and headed overseas to England, where Beth joined him after her own graduation a year later. They got married in England at the Air Force base chapel and honeymooned in Paris, a fitting start for their dynamic adventure as a couple.
“My entrepreneurial spirit started early, when I was in my 20s,” Jeff says. “We started a lot of little businesses, and we really learned a lot.” After Jeff got out of active duty in the Air Force, the Kressins moved around a bit, both location-wise and career-wise. Flight navigator, IT manager for several Fortune 500 companies, independent IT consultant, franchise owner, alpaca raiser/breeder (yes, the exotic animal), founder of the largest flight school in northeast Ohio – these are just a few of the professional moves the Kressins made along their way.
When Jeff heard of a job opportunity at Robins Air Force Base, he was more than happy to leave the dismal Ohio weather and relocate his family to middle Georgia. The entrepreneur in him knew that he’d want to get involved in some sort of business, but he took his time, surveying the area to see what the community needed. His new career path arrived unexpectedly in the form of a colleague and friend at RAFB who was also a craft beer aficionado; this friend took Jeff to Atlanta to introduce him to the craft beer scene. “I was like, ‘Where has this been all my life?’” says Jeff. “I was hooked, and immediately knew that this was it, this was what I wanted to do. There was nothing in middle Georgia like this, and it was clearly the future of beer.”
The Kressins (Jeff and Beth, along with the couple’s son Nate and daughter-in-law Kaitlynn, all work together to run their businesses) had been considering the idea of a brewery ever since Just Tap’d opened to great customer response, but the Macon location of Just Tap’d wasn’t big enough to house the necessary equipment. Still, once the idea had been floated, it seemed too good to ignore, and sooner than later the pieces had fallen into place and they’d found the perfect space in the heart of historic downtown Macon.
Ocmulgee Brewpub’s menu is simple, but like everything else about this business, it’s the product of much research, education, and experimentation. Burgers and fries are the mainstay of the offerings, but they’ve taken it to the next level; all the meat is butchered, ground, and blended in-house. “We’re the only place in Macon that grinds their own meat,” says Jeff. “You don’t get a fresher burger than you do at our place.” Angus beef isn’t the only option – there are also turkey, bison, veggie, and crab and lobster burgers, all freshly made. The accompanying fries? Hand-cut in house, and served with your choice of a variety of sauces (from Ocmulgee ketchup to peppercorn gravy to smokey BBQ garlic mayo), all of which are made fresh on the premises. Superfood salads are also available, as are a few appetizers – plans are in the works to expand the menu with more appetizers and desserts.
The craft beer is prepared with the same attention to detail – instead of using pre-crushed barley, Ocmulgee Brewpub has their own mill on site to process the barley for maximum freshness. “When you crack the kernel open, it’s like grinding a coffee bean – it immediately starts to deteriorate. If you’re gonna do it, do it right – that’s the whole signature of this business. Fresh, high-quality, and different, in all areas,” says Jeff.
Doug Evans is the man behind all the craft beer creations at Ocmulgee Brewpub. “He’s a true brewmaster in every sense of the word – he’s mechanical, he’s scientific, he’s organized.”
Doug, a longtime Just Tap’d customer and former employee of Strawn Brewery in Fairburn, Georgia, had made an impression on Jeff with his passion, dedication, and tenacity; Jeff remembers Doug coming into the store with a growler of his own homemade beer, wondering if they might be willing to try it and, if they liked it, carry it. “We put his beer on tap perpetually,” Jeff says. “It was one of the few we never rotated out. When we’d have beer festivals, Doug was always there, out and in front of people, trying to get his beer known. I admired that.”
As plans for Ocmulgee Brewpub were firming up, Jeff approached Doug to be part of the start-up; Doug turned out to be available and ready to get on board. While working on test batches of beer for the brewpub, Doug continued to impress. “He’d brewed a stout, and we tried it and gave him suggestions – it wasn’t quite the style we were looking for, we wanted a more easy-drinking American stout, so we gave him notes, he wrote them down, went back, made another batch, and nailed it. It was amazing. He took every single note into account and adjusted the brew perfectly. That beer became our Oxbow,” says Jeff. The team used a similar process on each of their craft brews – the IPA, the amber. “I realize there are beers we could make that are more complex,” says Jeff, “but our goal is to appeal to the masses, to people who are used to drinking just domestic beer, or not drinking beer at all – we want the beer to be accessible to them. Beer snobs – and I love beer snobs, I’m not being insulting! – can check out Just Tap’d, we can get you into what you want over there.”
According to “American Futures,” a journalistic research project done for The Atlantic that aimed to profile small to mid-sized towns to see how actual Americans are adjusting to the challenges and changes of our era, the presence of a brewpub is a solid, optimistic marker of a flourishing city – brewpubs are social hubs; they require lots of space to operate so therefore aren’t usually in the most expensive locations, so they can bring traffic and prosperity to less-popular areas of town; they’re community-building; they create jobs. Macon is fortunate to have an ambitious entrepreneur like Jeff Kressin here working tirelessly to help our city continue to blossom with the addition of Ocmulgee Brewpub. “The whole downtown Macon scene – the Grand Opera House, the music venues, the festivals – you couple that with cool places to get a bite to eat and drink, and it’s a really great, hip scene,” Jeff says. “Hopefully people will start to realize how good they have it right here out in their own back yard.”