Ahead of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, we asked beer writers from across the country to offer lists of can’t-miss breweries in each region showcased at the festival — and add a few wild cards they want to check out. This is our sixth of eight previews.
John Frank helms the craft beer ship at The Denver Post and in an earlier life he wrote a weekly craft beer column for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He also is a homebrewer and craft beer hunter and collector who makes scouting trips across the country for good brews, particularly the Southeast region. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnFrank.
The Southeast beer scene is exploding with great breweries, with much-hyped beer from Wicked Weed, Cigar City, Funky Buddha and Bayou Teche — all of whom are attending GABF. Hit them early before the lines form, but there are plenty more to add to your list this year.
Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Booth M32: Have you had Sexual Chocolate? Well, now you need to try Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate. The brewery has mastered the imperial stout, and at the same time, Foothills is pushing the hop envelope, which is no surprise given the hype surrounding Jade IPA, a great example of the New Zealand variety. This year, also look for the session IPA and the “Hop of the Month” series featuring Mt. Hood in a pale ale.
Holy City Brewing, Charleston, South Carolina, Booth M28: Even with more and more breweries, not all are good. And it makes you realize that great beer is great beer — so visit Holy City, a South Carolina mainstay that is innovative and delicious at the same time. The Paradise session IPA has an intricate flavor profile (not just a citrus bomb) that will make you wish for a beach chair and an umbrella, and the Pluff Mud Porter is a personal go-to. Two beers on the list that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time: Casco Viejo, a saison with lactose and coconut, and Madam Basil, a basil saison.
NoDa Brewing, Charlotte, North Carolina, Booth Y23: Venture out of the region to try a North Carolina brewery in a different section of the festival. NoDa Brewing is famous for it’s World Beer Cup gold medal IPA, Hop Drop ‘N Roll. But owner and head brewer Chad Henderson is not a one-off beer guy, so let’s hope they bring their Mojito-inspired witbier, NoDaJito, and the rich porter, CocoLoco. It’s OK to get in line again.
J Wakefield Brewing, Miami, Florida, Booth M27: It’s tough for a young brewery to live up to the huge hype at the start. J Wakefield does. Each beer I tried from the brewery at GABF a year ago fit the bill, exhibiting nuance and big flavor. I’m looking forward to trying Stush, a Berliner weisse with lemon flavor and tartness.
Mystery Brewing, Hillsborough, North Carolina, Booth M16: Brewer Erik Lars Myers is president of the North Carolina Brewers Guild and wrote the book on the state’s burgeoning beer scene. His take on beer is always different, and the craft brews Mystery produces reflect his style. Myers’ appreciation of off-beat styles and willingness to push the envelope will keep your palate guessing. The different approach makes it worth the visit for aficionados
Torched Hop, Atlanta, Booth J9: Torched Hop opened earlier this year and Atlanta’s newest brewpub made an immediate mark. Brewer Chris Bivins left the award-winning White Street Brewing in North Carolina to join his brother in this venture. I’m hoping they bring the cucumber cream ale, as a refreshing cleanser to the bigger-is-better beer trend at GABF.
Other breweries (from other regions) I’m excited to try: Outside the Southeast region, there are plenty of great breweries to try — from California’s Societe to Colorado’s Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales and Illinois’ Scratch and Minnesota’s Surly. But I’m interested in trying three ones I’ve never tried before:
Two Roads, Stratford, Connecticut, Booth R29: Right now, I can’t get enough New England-style IPAs, with their soft bitterness and blooming flavor. The region is sorely under-represented at the festival, but I’m hoping Two Roads will satisfy the craving. And the eclectic line up should keep me in line for a while.
Friem Family Brewers, Hood River, Oregon, Booth L15: On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, my suitcase was too full to bring a bottle of pFriem home with me. So I want to try their unique beers (particularly the sours) at GABF this year.
Three Notch’d Brewing, Charlottesville, Virginia, Booth B27: California’s Stone Brewing is not the only one expanding to Richmond, Virginia, which is competing to be the beer capital of the South. Three Notch’d Brewing from up the road in Charlottesville is expanding to the state’s capital. I want to try 40 Mile IPA and Jack’s Java Espresso Stout, which are favorites of my brother who lives in Virginia. And put Bourbon Biggie S’Mores on your bucket list.