April 7 is a great day for America. Yes, it's a Friday, which is never a bad thing, but it’s also National Beer Day, which sounds like something made up by beer-drinkers just so they can drink more beer, but there’s actually historical significance that justifies raising your glass in commemoration.
On March 21, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale of low-alcohol beer (up to 3.2 percent alcohol-by-volume, or ABV) in the U.S., for the first time since Prohibition began in 1920. Cullen-Harrison was enacted three weeks later on April 7, and when he signed the legislation, Roosevelt famously said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”
Beer authority Dennis Malcolm Byron, popularly known as “Ale Sharpton,” would certainly agree. As a beer writer and consultant, he’s used to celebrating it every day of the year, keeping an eye out for exceptional brews whether they’re made in the metro Atlanta area where he resides or various cities across the country and beyond.
As more breweries arrive throughout the Southeast, residents have more options than ever before, and to anyone with moderately adventurous taste buds, the task of separating the best from the rest can be a challenge. Always ready to talk about great beers (especially India Pale Ales, or IPAS, as he’s an admitted “hop-head”), Byron shared five of his current favorite beers available now at bars and beer shops around the South. Cheers to beers!
Photo Credit: Natrice Miller
Having won a Gold Award at the 2014 World Beer Cup®, this golden American-Style IPA – a style which usually boasts a pale or amber-red color and is balanced on hops and malt – is “the beer that started it all” for NoDa Brewing. The rich color is courtesy of its base malts (a blend of English and American), and the flavor profile is hop-heavy because they add those bitter green nuggets before, during and after the boil part of the brewing process. Byron says it’s one of the most well-balanced IPAs on the market, which is probably what makes it one of Charlotte’s most popular beers. He also loves the fact that there’s a bit of a bonus if you purchase it at a store. “It comes in 16-ounce cans, so you get more bang for your buck.” He also says it’s hard to get it, but “if you do, you’ll be happy,” so try to beat the crowd.
This Double IPA comes in at 8% ABV, and features a variety of hops (Simcoe, Idaho 7, Mosaic, Cascade and Chinook), which means it’s stronger (“It’s a sipper,” Byron warned), and has an intense flavor for palates that like a little punch. Georgia residents will find it on draft and in 12-ounce cans in the Athens and Atlanta markets. But like other Creature Comforts beers, including their infamous citrus IPA Tropicalia, you’ll want to act quickly. “It’s one of those joints you have to get while the getting’s good. And the can is dope!”
Beer Advocate shows a score of 90, or “outstanding,” for this relatively new West-Coast-style American IPA, which first made its way into cans in early fall, 2016. It’s got a “heady, danky bite” according to Burial, and gets two pounds of dry hops per barrel, so you’ll definitely notice the bitterness, although its tropical notes give it a soft and sweet balance. And as for his opinion, Byron said that although Asheville is known for having a stellar beer scene, Burial stands out for how they handle their hops. "They know how to truly utilize flavor and aroma notes," he said, and he swears he intended no pun when he told us “Burial is killing it right now."
Named for a Spanish game that was once very popular in Tampa, in which players try to catch quick-flying balls exceeding 180 miles-per-hour, Jai Alai is brewed to resemble ales sent from England to British troops based in India, and is known for having a crisp taste and a fragrant bouquet. You’ll get Valencia orange, papaya, and rich, malty caramel in the flavor, and it may be the least-difficult beer to find in this list. “It’s accessible everywhere, pretty much,” Byron said. “It’s also gonna be pretty damn fresh, because they run out of it a lot. And the whole key to IPAS is freshness.”
There are notes of biscuit and caramel in this bitter, medium-bodied Double IPA, and you’ll get lots of aromas, from pine to pineapple, with a bit of citrus, flowers and spice and grass. You can find it not only in its home state of Alabama but also Georgia (Atlanta and Athens), and Tennessee, in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and surrounding areas. The Birmingham brewing company says this is their most requested beer, and Byron gives it the nod “because it is consistently solid and they are literally Good People.”
Mike Jordan is Southern Kitchen's associate editor. He has written for publications including The Huntsville Times, American Way, Time Out, NewsOne, Fatherly and Thrillist, where he served as the founding Atlanta editor. He lives in East Point, Ga., and loves cooking, craft beer and cocktails.