Gone are the days when good brewskis were solely synonymous with Milwaukee beer barons. The craft beer revolution inspired beer lovers to open new, local breweries in cities all over the country— and some of the best have cropped up well below the Mason-Dixon line.
Southern breweries are slaying on fresh, inventive can styles that blend a variety of hops and malts with local waters to produce some truly inventive beverages. From old Southern standbys like Charleston and Savannah to emerging icons of the so-called New South like Asheville and Chattanooga, every city worth its salt (not to mention fried chicken and pimento cheese) is putting its own take on what beer can be.
We rounded up our favorite brewery in 12 Southern cities so you can decide for yourself what the best beer is from the Atlantic coast past the Mississippi River. Whether you're drinking on draft or popping some cans into your beer cooler backpack fro a weekend adventure, we're sure these brews will help you beat the heat:
What happens when a pair of rickshaw business owners weld together a brewing system from old bicycle parts, realize they love making beer, and team up with a biodiesel entrepreneur and a trained brewer to do this thing for real? You get Holy City Brewing, an establishment that has earned its place in a city known for truly stellar food.
Their a wide variety of brews (not just IPAs!) draw inspiration from such low-country localisms as "pluff mud" (a kind of marshy soil found near Charleston) and the oysters of Bowens Island. That said, you'll find big city flavor and technique here, too, and non-alcoholic treats like their hopped root beer. Holy City also partners with members of one of the other great Southern industries— pig farmers— to make use of their spent grain.
Savannah's first production microbrewery, Southbound was founded by Georgia natives who cut their teeth at the famous Sweetwater brewing company wanted to build something new close to home. A 2017 legislation change allowed small brewing operations like Southbound to open tap rooms where thirsty beer lovers can sample their wares, and the rest is history.
Now you can pop a few cans of their Mountain Jam lager into your beer cooler backpack next time you head outside. It's a refreshing sipper that exemplifies Southbound's love of jam bands, Southern rock, and great beer.
Abita may be New Orleans most famous brewery, but Bayou Teche is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the Big Easy's best. That makes perfect sense given that Bayou Teche's goal wasn't just to make great beer, but great beer that will pair perfectly with Cajun and Creole cuisine. These refreshing, complex beers stand up to the spice and multi-layered flavors of jambalaya, étouffée, boudin, and maque choux. In fact, we couldn't agree with their slogan more— "what happens in the swamp ought to be in your cooler!"
Sip their Joli Blan Blonde Ale, named for the traditional Cajun waltz played before football games at McNeese State University for almost seventy years. Their other beers are also named with nods to Cajun history and heritage, from an ode to Louisiana's cajun cousins in Arcadia, Canada to brews made with duck blinds, alligators, and the Pelican State's version of Sasquatch in mind.
Sour beers are having their moment, and few southern breweries do them better than Orpheus. That's not the only thing on their draft list, however. Orpheus also makes stouts, pilsners, Belgians, and IPAs with the best of them, because the craft that goes into nailing any one particular style is what drives these brewers to make such great beer.
That perfectionism is how Orpheus earned the distinction of rolling out the first lambic process Méthode Traditionnelle 3-year blend in the Southeast, as well as the first packaged sour in the state. Bring that cutting edge vibe to your next tailgate, picnic, or party.
Not far from Birmingham's famous Schloss Foundry, Good People Brewing has figured out how to can Southern charm, warmth and wit. Their good-natured brews have a sense of spunk and humor, like the Bearded Lady American Wheat that's described as "light bodied and full bearded," or the Snake Handler double IPA.
Now the oldest and largest brewery in Birmingham, Good People's goal is to cultivate conversation over enjoyable drinks, whether you're hanging out in their Parkside neighborhood or bringing the beer further afield.
In the last decade, Nashville has gone from a town known almost primarily for country music to a cultural powerhouse and foodie destination. Bearded Iris lives up to the funky, electric thing that Music City has become with collection of IPAs that explores the genre with an auteur's eye for detail. Their hazy, funky brews are best served up fresh, whether in their industrial tap room bedecked with wild wallpaper and chandeliers, or at one of many excellent campgrounds near Nashville.
It's very appropriate that a town once known for its steel foundries and since selected as Outside Magazine's Best Town Ever in 2015 should be home to Naked River Brewing. This new craft brewery is located in one of Chattanooga's oldest buildings, a former railcar factory built in 1875. And if the paddle in the logo is any hint, this is a brewery that has a passion for not only great beers, but pride of place.
Their Sturgeon General IPA nods to one of the native fish protected by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, while the Whea-Teas is blended with herbal "Happy Tea"made by another local beverage maker, Positiffitea. And for anyone trying to beat the famous southern heat by heading up to the Ocoee or Chickamauga Lake, there's the Paddletude Pale, whose name speaks for itself.
Even in a city well-known for mountain views and brewery culture, Burial Beer stands out. It's grown by leaps and bounds— expanding facilities twice in 2016 alone. And their quirky space, decorated with antique farm implements, hits Asheville's flare for rustic eccentricity, blending historic preservation with a touch of the memento mori.
That sweetly morbid attitude comes across in the beautiful illustrations on all of Burial Beer's packaging, and the names of the brews themselves— like the Born from Death Saison with Citra, Crystal and Wai-Iti hops blended with Southern peach and nectarine blossoms.
It can be hard for a beer, however delicious, to truly taste like a place. Unlike wine, beer doesn't come from one or two hyper-local ingredients— which is one reason there's such stunning variety for fans of hops and malt in cities around the world. A brewery can support the community, bring beer fans together, and make magical recipes you can't find anywhere else, but true terroir can be harder to come by.
Cigar City shakes that assumption up, however, with brews that instantly transport you to Tampa, Florida, no matter how many hundreds of miles away you're sipping on a can of juicy brews like their signature Jai Alai. Thanks to Florida's distinct, flavorful water, Cigar City's brews are subtly unlike similar styles you'll find anywhere else. If you can't afford a beach vacation this year, just pick up a sixer and head to the lake with your beer cooler backpack. We promise it's the next best thing.
Fans of stouts and porters sometimes describe their favorite brews as "bread in a glass," but that descriptor is especially accurate for the beers coming out of West Sixth in Lexington, Kentucky. This brewery is housed in the old Rainbo Bread Factory, but it has a deeper connection to the community than that.
West Sixth also grows its own hops on a farm an hour outside of Lexington, near Frankfort, Kentucky, where they also have a tasting room and host community events. The property is big enough to have room for a a 4 mile mix-use trail system for intermediate mountain biking, trail running and hiking built in partnership with the Kentucky Mountain Biking Association.
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