Top 10 craft breweries in the South
Editor’s note: Friday, we discovered a beer that would have made the Top 10. We updated the list with a delicious find from Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.
My name is Alan, and I love beer.
When I moved south from New York about 20 years ago, Florida was a beer desert. Never mind craft beer – even my favorite imports, such as the Belgian Trappist ales, weren’t available thanks to the state’s restrictive bottle size laws. That seems like a very long time ago now, with booming craft beer scenes in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami, Jacksonville (an excellent, underrated beer town) and elsewhere.
Though the South is still lagging behind much of the country, it’s making progress: You can find damned good beer within a short drive of nearly every major metropolis and college town.
That makes coming up with a top 10 a challenge. How on Earth do I narrow it down?
I’ve set a few ground rules. One, I’m limiting this to states with SEC schools. That means nothing from North Carolina, which pains me no end – I’m gutted to not be able to include Fonta Flora, Wicked Weed, Burial and several others.
Two, with apologies to outstanding gypsy brewers such as 3 Sons and Mazurt: only breweries with actual standing facilities.
And three, no cheating – only breweries I’ve visited, or whose beers have reached me. (On my must-visit list: Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.; Ozark Beer Co. in Rogers, Ark.; Southern Prohibition in Hattiesburg, Miss. More will undoubtedly pop up.)
I haven’t come close to sampling everything the South has to offer. If you think I’ve missed something, there are two equally strong possibilities: I haven’t had their beer; or I’m a moron who doesn’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Take yer pick.
Oh, and rather than ranking them, I’m listing them alphabetically. Too hard.
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Where: 2501 Southwest Blvd, Kansas City, Mo.
Distribution: Most of the U.S., and increasing.
— Boulevard Brewing Co (@Boulevard_Beer) August 9, 2016
Flagship beer: Unfiltered Wheat.
The skinny: One of the biggest craft brewers in the country, and my respect for them isn’t remotely grudging: Their beers are consistently flavorful, and they do wheat beers and tart, funky styles such as saisons and wild ales about as well as anyone.
Burnt Hickory Brewery
Where: 2260 Moon Station Court NW #210, Kennesaw, Ga.
Distribution: Georgia only.
One minit old Didjits cans tomorrow by 1pm? Wow. Stop up to BHB. Get some pic.twitter.com/xbOb8nO6bB
— BurntHickoryBrewery (@BHB_brews) August 8, 2016
Flagship beer: Ezekiel’s Wheel pale ale.
The skinny: Owner Scott Hedeen financed this brewery by selling off his punk rock collection, which I wish I’d known about at the time. Some of his beers bear the names of favorite acts like Die Kreuzen, Killdozer and the Didjits (a blood orange IPA that wowed me at Hunahpu’s Day).
Cigar City Brewing Co.
Where: 3924 W. Spruce St., Tampa, Fla.
Distribution: Limited up the Eastern seaboard.
— Chris Wright (@FilmRoomEditor) December 31, 2015
Flagship beers: Jai Alai IPA, Florida Cracker Belgian-style white ale.
The skinny: I freely admit my bias – CCB pretty much kicked off the craft beer craze in my hometown.
Their Double Barrel Hunahpu imperial stout is the flavor I want on my lips when I die.
Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
Where: 271 W. Hancock Ave., Athens, Ga.
Distribution: Georgia only.
— Habanos Cigar Lounge (@HabanosCigar) June 25, 2016
Flagship beers: Tropicalia IPA, Athena Berliner weisse, Reclaimed Rye rye amber, Bibo pilsner.
The skinny: Beer lovers are flocking to this young brewery just blocks away from the University of Georgia campus. For good reason: the beers are stellar across the board. Athena is truly mouth-watering, tart and quaffable – a perfect summer beer.
Cycle Brewing Co.
Where: 534 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Distribution: Florida only.
$3 pints of Patch Kit all night tonight. pic.twitter.com/nDwySAmLjp
— Cycle Brewing (@CycleBrewing) January 13, 2015
Flagship beer: Fixie, a session IPA.
The skinny: They started by brewing beer for a small Mexican cantina in the neighboring town of Gulfport. Now they have their own taproom in downtown St. Pete, but be warned: Bring cash. If you’re very lucky, one of their Pallet imperial stouts will be on tap.
Good People Brewing Co.
Where: 114 14 th St. S., Birmingham, Ala.
Distribution: Alabama and Tennessee; limited in Florida.
— Good People Brewing (@GPBrewing) August 5, 2016
Flagship beers: American Pale Ale and Snake Handler DIPA.
Sampling the Good People Brewing Snake Handler Double IPA. High IBU 100 and ABV 10 puts this treat right in my wheelhouse. #WellDone
— @HopHunter (@HopHunting) April 28, 2016
The skinny: My first Good People experience came at the minor-league Birmingham Barons’ ballpark, which, happily, is across the street from the brewery. Their IPAs are excellent, their imperial stouts memorable, with big coffee and cocoa flavors.
Jester King Brewery
Where: 13187 Fitzhugh Road, Austin, Texas.
Distribution: Very limited distribution outside Texas.
— Jester King Brewery (@jesterkingbeer) August 1, 2016
Flagship beer: None, really. They’re so seasonal that they don’t have a year-round lineup.
The skinny: This brewery is all about spontaneous fermentation, a risky process that imparts a distinctive sense of place and time to the beer. In other words, if funk is your thing, these beers are catnip. Also, their labels kick ass.
J. Wakefield Brewing Co.
Where: 120 NW 24th St., Miami.
Distribution: Florida only.
— The Jeffrey NYC (@TheJeffreyNYC) July 30, 2016
Flagship beers: Stush Berliner weisse, Hops 4 Teacher IPA, UJP smoked porter.
The skinny: Though the brewery is young, Johnathan Wakefield is an experienced brewer who interned at Cigar City. His Berliner weisses are famous, for good reason – they’re almost dangerously drinkable.
Side Project Brewing Co.
Where: 7373 Marietta Ave., St. Louis, Mo.
Distribution: Virtually all of it is sold at the Side Project Cellar.
— STL Craft Beer Week (@stlbeerweek) August 5, 2016
Flagship beers: Like Jester King, they’re so seasonal it’s difficult to choose one, but Saison Du Fermier and Saison Du Ble farmhouse ales might qualify.
The skinny: This was started by the head brewer at Perennial, and I thought about combining them into one entry but felt like that would be cheating. Side Project’s barrel-aged wild ales and saisons are earthy, crisp and beautifully balanced.
Westbrook Brewing Co.
Where: 510 Ridge Road, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Distribution: South Carolina, Georgia, New York, New Jersey; limited in North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky.
— Beer Exchange CBX (@BeerExchange) July 15, 2016
Flagship beers: One Claw rye IPA, White Thai Belgian witbier, IPA.
The skinny: I had great timing when I last visited Westbrook: I got there the day they were releasing their famed Mexican Cake imperial stout. Believe me, it lived up to the hype.
A post-deadline surprise
We published this list Thursday. I came across a lovely surprise Friday at a local organic market: a bottle of Noble Cuvee from Blackberry Farm, a much-buzzed brewery in Walland, Tenn. (I was told they started distributing down here just within the past few weeks.)
I’ll cut to the chase: If all their beers are like this, I’ll need to bump someone from my top 10. It’s a distinctively hoppy saison with an almost Champagne-like fizziness, a mildly sweet entry that gives way to a lovely grassy, spicy (peppercorns?) taste and a long, bitter finish. The funk is there but somewhat muted, making it very approachable.
— TNCraftBeer (@tncraftbeermag) July 15, 2016
It’s really exceptional stuff. According to their website, the brewery doesn’t have a taproom, so you’ll have to seek this out, but it’s worth the effort.
(For Tampa Bay residents: The market is Rollin’ Oats, 2842 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N., St. Petersburg.)
Aardwolf, Jacksonville, Fla.: COAST, North Charleston, S.C.; Country Boy, Lexington, Ky.: Fairhope, Fairhope, Ala.; Funky Buddha, Oakland Park, Fla.; M.I.A., Doral, Fla.; NOLA, New Orleans; Orpheus, Atlanta; Parish, Broussard, La.; Perennial, St. Louis; Schlafly, St. Louis; Swamp Head, Gainesville, Fla.; Terrapin, Athens, Ga.; Yazoo, Nashville, Tenn.; and countless others I’ve undoubtedly forgotten about. (Drinking will do that.)
— Ryan Pecot (@rjpecot) August 6, 2016
If you think I missed one or want to let me know about your favorite, drop a note in the comments section. We plan on talking a lot about beer throughout this season. Follow us on Twitter @BeerGuySDS.
(Distribution information taken from seekabrew.com.)