South's Best Breweries
Cahaba Brewing Company (Birmingham, Alabama)
Cahaba Brewing was founded in the summer of 2011 by a group of friends—an engineer, a salesman, a fireman, an entrepreneur, and a lawyer—each with a deep passion for craft beer and home brewing. After finding space in Birmingham’s popular Lakeview/Pepper Place district and purchasing equipment from a Huntsville brewer ready to upgrade, Cahaba Brewing opened to the public in September 2012. The canned American Blonde flagship beer is the lightest of the ales, while Oka Uba IPA is hoppy, floral, and citrusy, but not bitter. Each Friday, the brewery releases a small batch beer, sold until all 10 gallons are gone.
4500 5th Ave. S.; cahababrewing.com
Back Forty Beer Company (Gadsden, Alabama)
Southerners know all about the back forty, that plot of acreage that doesn’t get worked as much because it’s hard to reach (and is especially rich since it hasn’t been overworked). That’s how Jason Wilson saw craft beer in Alabama when he established his brewery in 2009—fertile ground with unrealized potential. Since its 2009 launch, Back Forty Beer has become the largest producer of alcohol in Alabama, crafting the popular Naked Pig pale ale, as well as Truck Stop Honey brown ale, brewed with Alabama wildflower honey. In 2014, the company introduced small-batch beer vinegar that works so nicely on a plate of steaming greens. Hats off to Wilson for using his company to provide jobs and help revitalize his hometown.
200 N. 6th St.; backfortybeer.com
Fairhope Brewing Company (Fairhope, Alabama)
Native Southerners Michele and Brian Kane were working as attorneys in Juneau, enjoying Alaska’s prodigious beer scene, when they decided to bring that beer culture home to Alabama. Since their first batch of beer was brewed in December 2012, they’ve opened a snazzy taproom and expanded to bottling beers like Take the Causeway IPA and Fairhope 51 pale ale, each label featuring their signature pelican dressed in unique duds.
914 Nichols Ave.; fairhopebrewing.com
Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, Florida)
Joey Redner, a beer-lover-turned-beer-writer, decided to make yet another turn when he opened Cigar City Brewing in 2009. The flagship IPA, Jai Alai, is a favorite. Many beers on tap in the brewery’s tasting room reflect the city’s cultural roots: Florida Cracker Belgian-style white ale, a sweet stout called Nitro: Café Con Leche, and Wiregrass “post Prohibition ale,” to name a few. One Cigar City beer even pokes a little fun at a popular Tweeter of weird news from the Sunshine State, with the label for Florida Man double IPA “crazy hoppy” bearing the mug shot of its namesake.
3924 W. Spruce St.; cigarcitybrewing.com
SweetWater Brewing Company (Atlanta, Georgia)
The idea for SweetWater was sparked in Boulder, Colorado, when college roommates Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney spent their time “studying” beer. But the humble beginnings of a real-deal brewery began in Atlanta in 1997. During the building process, Bensch kayaked down Sweetwater Creek, just west of the brewery, and the name—along with the motto “Don’t Float the Mainstream”—was born. Sweetwater’s current home in Midtown can turn out 400,000 barrels a year, including the year-round Georgia Brown, “smoother than a Bill Clinton apology,” and Blue, made with a hint of fresh blueberries, which “ain’t just for breakfast anymore.”
195 Ottley Dr. NE.; sweetwaterbrew.com
Creature Comforts Brewing Co. (Athens, Georgia)
Located on Hancock Street in a 1940s warehouse that had been a Chevy dealership and then a tire company, Creature Comforts salvaged and refinished original wood to create panels, bar tops, and tables. Available year-round, the Athena Berliner Weisse has become the brewery’s personal salute to its home city. This German-style wheat beer has what the brewers describe as “a blend of citric and fruit notes with nods to cider and Sauvignon blanc.” The Reclaimed Rye is aged with French oak for a lightly toasted finish.
271 W. Hancock Ave.; creaturecomfortsbeer.com
Burnt Hickory Brewery (Kennesaw, Georgia)
The Burnt Hickory Brewery started in 2011 as a homebrew project from founder Scott Hedeen, a 20-year veteran of TV news. Anchored by such crowd favorites as Ezekiel’s Wheel pale ale (affectionately called Zeke) and Big Shanty graham cracker stout, made with real graham cracker crumbs and honey, Burnt Hickory has grown from a nano brewery (less than 200 barrels a year) into a micro brewery. A recent expansion will ramp up production even more, to 2,000 barrels a year.
2260 Moon Station Court NW. #210; burnthickorybrewery.com
Service Brewing Co. (Savannah, Georgia)
This veteran-owned-and-operated brewery donates a portion of its revenue to organizations that support servicemen and women. Besides several seasonal brews, loyal customers enjoy year-round glasses of Ground Pounder pale ale, Compass Rose IPA, and Rally Point Bohemian-style Pilsner. The company’s creative marketing director is a SCAD graduate and artist, as well as a beekeeper who supplies the honey used in such experimental batches as Honey Saison.
574 Indian St.; servicebrewing.com
Great Raft Brewing (Shreveport, Louisiana)
These Louisiana brewers aim to reflect their native culture and complement the bold flavors of local cuisine. Awkward Uncle is a Belgian strong dark ale that Great Raft promotes as “BIG AND BOOZY, just like the best and worst family gatherings.” A coffee brown called Creature of Habit is a collaboration with local Rhino Coffee, whose blend of slow-roasted Kambata and Sidamo beans were added to the tank, creating a brown ale that coffee lovers adore.
1251 Dalzell St.; greatraftbrewing.com
NOLA Brewing Company (New Orleans, Louisiana)
This New Orleans Brewery cheekily boasts “craft beers made by hand in a warehouse on the lake side of a street tourists can’t pronounce.” The tucked-away, modern taproom on Tchoupitoulas Street was founded by New Orleans native Kirk Coco, who opened the business after Hurricane Katrina shuttered the city’s last in-house brewery. The Hopitoulas IPA is accessibly refreshing and pays homage to the street, while the Irish Channel Stout is a love letter to the neighborhood.
3001 Tchoupitoulas St.; nolabrewing.com
Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company (Kiln, Mississippi)
Mississippi natives Leslie and Mark Henderson started making beer by chance when Leslie bought her husband a beer brewing kit for Christmas. Now, the company is Mississippi’s oldest packaging brewery—and the first in the state since Prohibition. The Hendersons have been serving their products since 2003, brewing in the flavors of their home state. The Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale is crafted with whole roasted pecans, and the Backwoods Belgian is brewed with an infusion of honeysuckle flowers.
7030 Roscoe Turner Rd.; lazymagnolia.com
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery (Farmville, North Carolina)
Duck-Rabbit’s logo has ties to founder Paul Philippon’s former career as a philosophy teacher, when he encountered an illustration that could be seen as either of two different animals, depending on the viewer’s perspective. Is it a rabbit or a duck? That’s for the drinker to decide. The brewery specializes in dark beers, like the creamy Milk Stout brewed with milk sugar. The Porter, brewed in July and December, is beer’s answer to chocolate—dark, flavorful, and silky smooth.
4519 W. Pine St.; duckrabbitbrewery.com
Fonta Flora Brewery (Morganton, North Carolina)
Check out Fonta Flora’s Facebook page and you’ll likely see requests from the brewers to their many loyal customers: Anybody have extra figs on your tree? Could you save us the seeds after you carve that Halloween pumpkin? Steeped in the artisanal heritage of Appalachia, the farm-focused team behind this brewery forages the countryside for wild seasonal flora and works to take beer brewing back to its agricultural roots. Depending on the season, you might find on tap Wisteria Porter or maybe Beets Rhymes and Life local beet Saison.
317 N. Green St.; fontaflora.com
Fullsteam Brewery (Durham, North Carolina)
Experience the farm-to-table movement in liquid form, as Fullsteam delivers what it calls “plow-to-pint beer from the beautiful South.” A brewery and tavern (that’s kid-friendly till 9 p.m. and dog-friendly always), Fullsteam uses locally sourced ingredients as much as possible, buying from nearby farms and encouraging Facebook followers to help produce its Forager series, which incorporates persimmons, pears, and other fresh produce contributed by fans of the brewery. (Foragers receive market price for their goods, a souvenir hat, and a pint or bottle of the beer when it’s ready.) Fullsteam beers include Carver Sweet Potato Lager (a tribute to Dr. George Washington Carver), Hog Wash Hickory-Smoked Brown Porter (try it with Carolina barbecue), and Working Man’s Lunch everyday chocolate ale (a nod to the ultra-Southern combo of RC Colas and Moon Pies).
726 Rigsbee Ave.; fullsteam.ag
NoDa Brewing Company (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Suzie and Todd Ford founded NoDa Brewing Company in 2011 and quickly outgrew their initial home, expanding into a second one—now their main location—in a 1930s warehouse on the North End. Each Tuesday, the taproom at NoDa’s new home rolls out a “NoDable” small-batch beer. The staff announces each week’s unique brew on NoDa’s YouTube channel. Past NoDables have included Chai Me a River, Hop Fun in the Summertime, and Yam Session. The first NoDable of each month also benefits a nonprofit of its brewer’s choice, with NoDa making a donation every time the promo video is shared on Facebook or retweeted. The Fords’ year-round Hop, Drop ’n Roll IPA was a 2014 World Beer Cup® Gold Award winner.
2921 N. Tryon St.; 2229 North Davidson St.; nodabrewing.com
Outer Banks Brewing Station (Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina)
Founders Eric Reece and Aubrey Davis were Peace Corps volunteers before starting their brewery on the Outer Banks, where Aubrey grew up spending summers at his grandparents’ home. The two recruited brewmaster Scott Meyer to create an extensive line of beers— from light, crisp pilsners to funky IPAs—along with a menu of steamers and pub grub.
600 South Croatan Hwy.; obbrewing.com
RJ Rockers Brewing Company (Spartanburg, South Carolina)
Mark Johnsen says he had a revelation during a chairlift ride atop a mountain in Idaho: If he opened his own brewery, he could enjoy free beer for life. RJ Rockers Brewing Company opened as a brewpub in 1997, but evolved into a full-fledged brewery whose current location in the Grain District has a large-enough capacity to make RJ Rockers available across the Southeast. The brewery’s chocolaty, caramel-laced Brown Eyed Squirrel has won the silver medal at the Best of Craft Beer Awards.
226-A W. Main St.; rjrockers.com
Wicked Weed Brewing (Asheville, North Carolina)
Brothers Walt and Luke Dickinson joined forces with their friend Ryan Guthy and his parents, Rick and Denise, to launch Wicked Weed Brewing in 2011 and now have three different facilities in the Asheville area. The original brewpub features a tasting room, bottle shop, and full-service restaurant with upscale pub eats. The aptly named “Funkatorium” focuses on sour and funky brews. And the newly opened 50-barrel Production Brewery is focused on just that—production and distribution—but has future plans for tours and tastings.
91 Biltmore Ave.; 828/575-9599; wickedweedbrewing.com
Big Bend Brewing Company (Alpine, Texas)
You might think a community of just over 5,000 couldn’t support its own brewery. But this high-desert town between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park has become a tourist mecca, sharing the artsy vibe and wide-open-spaces appeal of neighbors like Marfa and Fort Davis. Big Bend Brewery began in 2012, creating beers that agree with the West Texas heat. The Terlingua Gold Ale is crisp and refreshing, while the spritzy and spicy Hefeweizen offers the perfect antidote for any Texas heat wave.
3401 W. Highway 90; bigbendbrewing.com
Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
Prairie Artisan Ales was founded and created by brewmaster Chase Healey and his brother, Colin, who wanted to create their own great beer without involving lots of investors. After borrowing space and equipment from Choc Beer Co. in Krebs, Oklahoma, where they continue to brew, the brothers ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and now have their own Tulsa brewery—a no-frills, white metal warehouse where the taproom offers a rotating roster of such drafts as the Raz Vous farmhouse ale with raspberries and Foeder Weisse oak-fermented Berliner Weisse.
1803B S. 49th W Ave.; prairieales.com
Jester King Brewery (Austin, Texas)
Situated in the Texas Hill Country, Jester King is a small farmhouse brewery that prides itself on using native yeast, grains that are locally grown and malted, and water from its own well. The brewery specializes in wild ales and spontaneously fermented beers—each showcasing the flavor profiles and unique characteristics of the area. Figlet is a farmhouse ale fermented with Texas figs smoked by Franklin BBQ in Austin, while Bière de Merlot uses Texas-grown merlot grapes to re-ferment a barrel-aged sour beer. Jester King has created a cult following, often resulting in a “bottle-per-person-per-day” rule for limited-batch releases like the Montmorency vs. Balaton beer, a barrel-aged sour, fermented with cherries.
13005 Fitzhugh Rd. Bldg. B; jesterkingbrewery.com
Strangeways Brewing (Richmond, Virginia)
This Richmond brewery has been on a mission to create craft beers that satisfy inquisitive drinkers with the most persnickety of tastes. The taproom rotates over 25 beers, including everything from a Belgian-style brown ale to a chocolate lager. The Room 237 Bière d’Hiver that took “a little less than five miserable months to contrive” was inspired by the movie The Shining.
2277A Dabney Rd.; strangewaysbrewing.com