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The Unlikely, Sustainable Rise of Terrapin Beer

“As long as you’re happy in what you do, you’ll love your job.” That was the advice that Brian “Spike” Buckowski’s father gave him in the early 1990s. 

Originally a Connecticut native, Spike moved to Atlanta in 1992 where he worked in audiovisuals in the nineties. He can still recall his deep sense of dissatisfaction with the job. One year later, he delved into the world of homebrewing as a hobby – a common launch point for some of the country’s greatest breweries. Quickly, Spike realized brewing eclectically unique beer – a flavor for everyone – was what he loved, and he was determined to follow his father’s advice. 

Buckowski is a tall man with an athletic build. His hair is consistently “spiked” in a similar fashion in almost every photograph (the connection to the nickname remains unclear). Above all else, he is invariably flashing a genuine smile. His love for beer radiated outward towards customers and made them happy to experience the brews as much as Buckowski did. Back then, he would quickly become the co-founder of one of America’s most well-known craft breweries and a staple of the Georgia beer scene.

“Spike” Buckowski, right, alongside rock musician Jason Isbell // Photo courtesy Terrapin Beer Co. 

In 2002, Spike and his friend John Cochran decided to make a long dream: owning their brewery in Athens, Georgia. After a disagreement with their boss over the lack of innovation in the company’s product offerings, Spike recalls being more motivated than ever to do things his way. Cochran shared the goal of brewing uncommon flavor profiles. 

In Spike’s own words, he and his new business partner were motivated by a tad of redemption: “We were like, we’ll show him. We’ll build our own brewery.” They wanted an American-made product that was different from what they say was an oversaturated and underwhelming offering of diluted beers, lacking any boldness and adventure. They knew their brews would have to stand out, as would their company. 

Terrapin started at a location nearby Spike’s home at the time. The name refers to the diamondback terrapin – a specific species of turtle living on the northeastern and southeastern coasts of the U.S. 

Terrapin quickly won the race (although presumably did stay steady, as the saying goes).

Six months after launch, Cochran and Buckowksi represented Terrapin at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival, an annual event hosted by the beer industry’s leading authority – the Brewers Association. The turtle-inspired company that no one had ever heard of took the gold medal. 

Terrapin’s Rye Pale Ale was the only beer the company had. It knocked out 92 other beers to take first prize in the American Pale Ale category, which remains one of the most prestigious categories in the competition. “It really put us on the map,” Spike writes.

Great growth ensued in the following years, but with that came great responsibility – not just business responsibilities, but environmental ones too. Beer is an inherent resource-intensive product and process. Its high water content demands a steady supply of potable water and a multi-week (sometimes month) brewing process requiring consistent energy sources across a usually large manufacturing facility. As such, breweries find themselves in a unique position to practice conservation and employ renewable energy as much as possible, particularly those breweries that are more connected to the communities surrounding them or lean into a local identity, as Terrapin does. 

Today, Terrapin takes sustainability seriously, arguably a component of its identity contributing to its great successes in recent years. 

Photo courtesy Terrapin Beer Co. 


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