It’s customary to celebrate a birthday with the equivalent number of spankings. You turn six, you get six spankings. I’m not sure where that ritual came from—one theory is that the spankings were originally meant to cleanse the birthday boy/girl of a year’s worth of previous sins. But that’s an internet fact, so who knows.
BRO is turning 20 this year, and while I would like to go around to each and every one of our readers and deliver 20 spankings per, our lawyers tell me that there are some legal issues inherent with that plan. So, instead of spankings, I offer 20 birthday beers, which is probably a more fitting tribute considering our region has become a craft beer powerhouse in the last few years. Virginia alone now has more than 100 breweries. I think North Carolina stopped counting. There are so many breweries, crafting so many delicious beers; it would be great if you could drink them all. Not healthy, but great. So start with these 20 essential beers of the Blue Ridge (and beyond). And remember to pace yourself.
Highland Brewing Company
If you’re looking for a true classic beer from the Blue Ridge, look no further than Highland’s Gaelic Ale, an easy drinking amber that is more balanced than a yogi on a slackline. This could be the South’s greatest gateway beer—the one that lures people over to the dark side of craft beer. Side note: Highland turned 20 in 2014! highlandbrewing.com
Ten Fidy Imperial Stout
The whole world owes Oskar Blues a debt of gratitude for ushering in the can revolution with Dale’s Pale Ale—a fine beer even without that aluminum legacy. But it’s their Ten Fidy that gets us excited. This roasty, chocolaty stout comes in at a whopping 10.5 percent (thus, the name), and offers an intense rush of both malty sweetness and hop complexity (the stout registers at 98 IBUs). It is a true BBB (burly, beautiful beer). oskarblues.com
Devils Backbone Brewing Company
Devils Backbone pulled down serious hardware at the most recent Great American Beer Festival (Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year!). Their flagship, Vienna Lager, which has plenty of medals of its own, is the ultimate craft lager—mellow, crisp with a hint of sweetness and a clean finish. Add the low ABV (4.9 percent) and you’ve got the ultimate post-adventure beer.
Long Leaf IPA
Appalachian Mountain Brewery
Not long ago, the High Country was short on quality craft beer. Then Appalachian Mountain Brewery opened its doors. And it was good. Long Leaf hits you harder with the sweet side than the bitter, thanks to the aggressively citrus nature of the hop profile. Plus, the tallboy cans have the official state toast of North Carolina. Respect.
Blue Mountain Brewery
I first had this beer at Trail Days in Damascus when it was homebrewed by a friend of BRO. Now, it’s simply one of the best pale ales you’ll find in a can. Anywhere. It’s creamy, spicy in a hop-centric sort of way with a dry and bitter finish. Blue Mountain built their house around this beer. And it’s a damn sturdy house.
Little Red RooStarr
This is a milk stout that uses locally roasted coffee from Red Rooster Coffee Roasters in Floyd. Like all milk stouts, it’s slightly sweet with added hits of chocolate and caramel, but it’s balanced out by that coffee acidity and bitterness. My only criticism of this beer, is that it’s on a limited release schedule as part of Starr Hill’s All Access series. So you’ll probably have to wait until next winter to give it a go.
Hop, Drop ‘n Roll
Holy hop bomb, Batman. This IPA from Charlotte-based NoDa is hopped to the be-Jesus throughout the entire brewing process. The result is a beer that punches hard and fast with sweet and tangy citrus. It’s no surprise, then, that Hop Drop ‘n Roll took gold at the World Beer Cup for best IPA last year. We’re super psyched these babies can be found in cans now.
Gold, baby, gold! That’s what Pisgah Brewing won with this chocolate stout at the most recent Great American Beer Festival. This is a big beer—a Russian Imperial Stout that’s aged on raw cocoa nibs from local chocolatier, French Broad Chocolate Factory. Bring a friend—Chocolatized measures in at over 11 percent ABV, and is best shared.
420 has been around since the late ‘90s, so it’s easy to overlook when you’re standing in a beer store packed with sexy new limited release beers brewed with real monk’s tears. But 420 helped pave the way for craft beer in the South.
This Belgian pale ale hits most of the style high notes—a little bit fruity, a little bit grassy with a bit of tartness, and a spiciness from the hops—all of which is mellowed by a pleasant malty sweetness. If you’re looking to venture into the world of Belgians, look no further.
The Great Return
The Great Return follows the West Coast IPA tradition of being a citrus bomb and provides a massive dose of grapefruit, which comes off as being both bitter and sweet. The best aspect of this beer, though, is its freshness. Hardywood releases a new batch of cans every three weeks so you can get the most out of the fresh hops used in the brewing process. Maybe even better, a portion of the proceeds go to the James River Association.
Terrapin Beer Company
It was a little surprising when they released this straightforward session ale. And by straightforward, I mean “kick ass.” It’s surprisingly citrusy for a session ale, with just enough malt to keep it all together. Plus, there’s a turtle hiking through the mountains on the can.
Sweet Baby Jesus
Chocolate. Peanut butter. Need we say more? Sure, things could go terribly wrong when additives like chocolate and peanut butter are thrown into the brewing process, but DuClaw shows amazing restraint with this beer (aside from the name, of course).
This is easily the weirdest beer on this list. Gose is a traditional German style of sour beer that also uses salt and coriander. It’s tart as hell, but also salty and incredibly complex. It’s also refreshing and way sessionable at 4 percent ABV. Call it a hipster beach beer.
Genesis Blonde Sour
Wicked Weed Brewing Company
Wicked Weed has become the king of sour beers in the South, even opening a facility dedicated to sour and barrel aged beers. Genesis is fruity as hell, with all kinds of citrus notes and a wickedly good tartness coming from the wine barrels that the beer spends eight months aging in.
AleWerks Brewing Company
If you want to taste AleWerks at its finest, wait for fall and grab their seasonal Pumpkin Ale. This is an unabashedly pumpkin beer, full of pie spices and brown sugar. It also registers at a burly 7.4 percent. That’s my kind of pumpkin pie.
Hop Beard Mountain Man IPA
These brewers take a local-first approach to brewing, using local farmers and even scavenging the surrounding mountains for ingredients whenever possible. The only bummer? They’re not canning or bottling and their distribution footprint is small. Road trip.
Creature Comforts is a relatively new brewery operating out of the world’s greatest college town, but they’ve already made waves with their huge IPA, Tropicalia. It’s juicy, fruity, and not nearly as bitter as you might expect a bold IPA to be. Consider this the softer side of IPA’s: more juice, less pucker.
Three Notch’d Brewing
It’s all about the malty sweetness with tons of caramel and toffee notes, but in a surprisingly drinkable package. That’s the beauty of the English Brown Ale style—sweet, but quaffable.
Holy City Brewing
Washout is a hefeweizen that’s bright and zesty without the use of the traditional adjuncts of orange peel and coriander. Instead, you get a mouthful of creamy, wheaty goodness. It’s named after the best surf break in South Carolina.
BONUS BEER: Blonde Hunny Ale
Wild Wolf Brewing
As the name suggests, this unfiltered wheat beer is a light, easy drinking ale loaded with honey sweetness and just a knife’s edge worth of spice on the backend. It’s a great summer beer, even if it does come at you strong with 6.8 percent ABV.