Taking it to a new level

John Cochran turned his home brewing into an (almost) overnight sensation

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Taking it to a new level

John Cochran. Photo by Rick O'Quinn

John Cochran is a beer geek. He loves the taste of beer, the smell of beer, and he loves sharing and talking about beer with others. Cochran (BBA ’93) is the co-founder and president of Terrapin Beer Company.

Cochran started home brewing in college, but it wasn’t until he moved to Seattle to sell life insurance that he realized his fascination and awe for the brewery business.

“I was amazed by the number of breweries in the Northwest,” Cochran says. “There was such a variety and quality to the beers, and I knew I wanted to play a part in bringing that to the South.”

So Cochran moved back to his home in the peach state and started volunteering in Atlanta microbreweries, sweeping floors, cleaning kegs, and working on the bottling line, anything to learn the ropes of the beer business.

In 1998, he met Brian “Spike” Buckowski, another home brewer. The two men developed a plan to open their own brewery. Buckowski would work on the formulas, and Cochran would do the marketing and long-term strategic planning.

Having no luck attracting investors, they started the company as a contract brewery, using other companies’ equipment to brew their beer. In Spring 2002, they released their first beer, the Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, at the Classic City Brewfest. Six months later the Rye Pale Ale was awarded the American Pale Ale Gold Medal at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival.

“It was so cool because people started calling us and wanting to find out where they could get the best American Pale Ale, and I just kept telling them, they’d have to come to Athens because that was the only place selling it on tap,” Cochran says.

In January 2008, Cochran and Buckowski opened their new 45,000 square foot Terrapin brewery, named after Buckowski’s favorite Grateful Dead album “Terrapin Station.” Cochran said they knew they had to be located in Athens. “It’s a great beer town with a great music scene,” he says. Terrapin went from producing 160 barrels of beer in 2002 to about 12,000 in 2008.

Terrapin gives tours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. “There’s always live music and beer sampling,” Cochran says. “It is a great time and for us, a way to showcase our beer and tell people how we got started.”

The Terrapin tasting room is meant to jump start the evening. “People can come and taste our beer, and then from here, they hopefully go out and buy beer and food from our clients downtown,” he says.

While the company still can grow, Cochran says it will stay local.

“It is unreal to walk into a place that was your idea, and see that your dream came into fruition,” he says.