As basically everyone following this site knows, I was on a long road trip last week and the week before, journeying into the stifling humidity of the South. While my primary purpose was to be a good family member and attend my cousin’s wedding, I made sure to stop at plenty of places to and fro to get some beers from a region that I had not previously visited as an adult.
My summed up thoughts? The South is not on par with New Mexico when it comes to craft beer, but if you look hard enough, you can find some hidden gems. Due to time limitations (a lot of driving, basically), and the fact that in many of these cities the breweries are hopelessly scattered about, I usually chose a centralized beer bar to make my primary habitat. That gave me the option of trying beers from multiple breweries.
So here is a travel guide, of sorts, focusing on the beer bars I visited in each city, plus additional stops to hit if you ever find yourself in any of these places. Just, maybe, go in the fall. So damn sticky …
Beer Bar: TapWerks
Located at 121 E. Sheridan Ave. in the heart of Bricktown, the huge entertainment district built around their Triple-A ballpark just east/southeast of the downtown skyscrapers, this is where to go to try just about every Oklahoma breweries’ beers. There are 106 taps on the ground floor, plus another 106 on the second level. They do tell you on the menu which beers are the freshest on tap, and the staff was pretty knowledgeable when it came to the freshness of their hoppy beers. The menu was more than just regular bar food, with the portobello mac-n-cheese standing out. Just make sure to check your travel schedule, as I am quite certain whenever the OKC Dodgers (baseball) or Thunder (NBA) are playing nearby, this joint is packed.
Best Brewery: Vanessa House Beer Co.
The buzz I encountered around OKC was that this is the new up-and-coming brewery. Well, Prairie was always mentioned first, but we get that here in ABQ now thanks to the wonderful folks at Favorite Brands, so I was more focused on finding the best that does not distribute west. The Broken Tile DIPA was my beer of choice at TapWerks. It’s basically a hybrid, with a juicy backbone similar to a New England-style IPA, but with a good, hoppy bite. Look for VHBC beers on tap or in bottles around town, as they do not appear to have a taproom at this time.
Best Bottle Shop: Broadway Wine Merchants
Located just north of downtown at 824 N. Broadway, this is primarily a hip, upscale wine shop located in an area where the city is clearly trying to create an urban chic environment. All that being said, the staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and they did have a small but impressive beer selection. The only downside is that most Oklahoma breweries only can in six packs, with few bottles/bombers available. Still, if you are staying near Bricktown (which I recommend), this is the closest and best bottle shop anywhere near it.
(As an aside, I did stop at Diamond Bear Brewing in North Little Rock, but, um, well, it was not worth writing much about.)
Beer Bar: Young Avenue Deli
Located at 2119 Young Ave. in the hipster haven known as Midtown, my one friend who lives in the area brought me here. The food menu is actually pretty solid, so I got to wolf down some BBQ smoked turkey, bacon, and cheese filled wraps. This fueled me up to start hitting up the local taps, but I only got through three beers before my friend, who just became a first-time father, showed signs of falling asleep at the bar. Overall, a solid beer selection from throughout Tennessee, the region, and nation, in a nice, hip part of town. The only downside is there are no hotels nearby, so if you stay downtown like I did, or further east along I-40, you may have to rely on Uber/Lyft. Unless you also know someone who lives in Memphis.
Best Brewery: Wiseacre Brewing
Located at 2783 Broad Ave. near midtown, I did not personally visit this brewery, but I did try three of their beers. My friend Adam swears that this is the best local brewery, and he is originally from Colorado, so he knows good beer. The good news is, you can find it all over town, on tap and for sale in canned six packs. But, he recommends you should visit.
Best Bottle Shop: Joe’s Wines & Liquor
Located at 1681 E. Poplar Ave., due east of downtown, I found this place in a most unusual way. Facebook, upon your arrival in a different city, will now show you where your friends have been in that town (this might not be that new of a feature, but it was the first time I saw it). The first friend it suggested was my late friend Justin Shearer, an excellent human being and beer geek of the highest order. From the other side, Justin ended up guiding me to this great beer store. They had a huge selection of national and Tennessee brands. I loaded up on quite a few bottles with a few tips from the great staff. Thanks for still being my beer sherpa, Justin!
Best Eatery: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
Located at 310 S. Front St. on the south side of downtown, this eatery was recommended to me by none other than La Cumbre’s Jeff Erway. Hey, if someone with his palate says you have to visit a restaurant, you just go. My verdict? Delicious, downright epic. It’s different enough from, say, Nexus, to stand apart. The chicken is perfectly spiced, walking that fine line without getting too hot for this here Anglo-Saxon to handle. The sides were wonderful, and by golly, they had the mythical Gotta Get Up to Get Down coffee milk stout from Wiseacre. Victory was mine!
Best Brewery: Good People Brewing
Even though I was behind schedule, I could not resist stopping at the highest-rated brewery in Alabama’s biggest city. Located at 114 14th South St. (there is an important distinction between the North and South in the numbered street names downtown; they are totally separate streets), right across from the Birmingham Barons minor-league baseball stadium, Good People is a big, expansive brewery with a solid, varied menu. I was challenged to take on their hoppy beers, so I got a flight of their Pale Ale, IPA, Juco Session IPA, and Snake Handler DIPA. Each was pretty solid, though if anything, the DIPA came off as the weakest of the bunch when compared to our local examples of that style. The others could potentially hold up even out here in the Land of Hopchantment. Overall, good beer, good service, spacious taproom, and a ballpark right across the street.
Beer Bar: Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom
OK, I am listing this place for its awesome number of taps (100 plus) and sheer quantity of beer. That is the biggest selling point, because otherwise we had terrible service, and the food took forever (there were reportedly problems with the kitchen equipment). It seems to get good reviews online, so perhaps we just showed up on the wrong day, or had the wrong server. Hopjacks is located at 10 S. Palafox St., which is in the heart of a fairly charming downtown, stifling humidity aside. I went with a pint of the Hop Gun IPA from Funky Buddha. I would tried more, but the slow service killed that opportunity as we had the actual wedding to go to that day.
Best Brewery: Pensacola Bay Brewery
This charming little brewery is the oldest in town. Located near downtown at 225 E. Zaragoza St., it has a simple, no-frills taproom, though its beers can also be found just about everywhere in town in bottles or on tap. My cousin Jenna and I each got a flight. I took on the dark, she went with malty but lighter. The 5th Anniversary Panhandle Steamer ended up the highlight of her four beers, while I was surprised to learn the seasonal Bilgewater Porter was actually barrel aged, and boozy as heck. Among the regular dark beers, the Blackbeard Stout was quite robust for living in such a hot, steamy environment. It might not knock your socks off, but for a small, beach town brewery, it was more than adequate.
Best Bottle Shop: U.S. Navy liquor store
I was allowed to enter this store with my cousin-in-law, who is in the Air Force, and pick out a sixer of Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City. Seriously, though, I have been inside the Kirtland AFB Class Six store with my father (retired Army), and this thing absolutely dwarfed it. The beer choices were ridiculous. My other cousin-in-law and I were paralyzed with indecision for almost 10 minutes. It was a huge, wonderful store, so if you are active duty or retired military, or know someone who is, make sure to stop here. Plus, of course, no tax!
Beer Bar: The Avenue Pub
Located at 1732 St. Charles Ave., just south/southwest of downtown along a major streetcar line, this beer bar was bordering on ridiculous. The food menu was somewhat small, but still tasty as could be, mixing pub favorites with local dishes, both full meals and appetizers. The beer list, though, holy hell it was awesome. There are 60 beers on tap, many of them from breweries throughout Louisiana. The menus even list the days all hop-forward beers were kegged, so you know how fresh your pale ales and IPAs really are. If you somehow cannot find the beer you want on tap, that’s OK, they have eight pages worth of bottled beers to choose from, including many that have been cellared and will be brought upstairs to be chilled before pouring. Seriously, it was ridiculous. Just to save myself the indecision, I stuck to the taps, snagging three beers before the post-wedding hangover/car trip lag caught up to me. The Parish Brewing of Broussard (near Lafayette) was recommended, so I started with the South Coast, a malty red ale. Polling the bartenders, I switched over to Gnarly Barley Brewing (Hammond) for my next two pints. The Brightside IPA could sneak onto taps in New Mexico and pass for a local brew. The Korova Milk Porter was a decadent dessert beer.
Best Bottle Shop: 504 Craft Beer Reserve
Located at 3939 Tulane Ave., just east/northeast of downtown, was this gem of a store. They do not carry six packs of any kind, but you can make your own. They also have growler stations as well. Basically, if you want to bring Louisiana beers home, this is your stop. Just be aware, most days they open at 11 a.m., which may be too late for some.
Beer Bar: Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall
Located at 1010 Prairie St. in the below-ground level of an office building, this was one of the most unique takes on the old food court concept that I have seen. Basically, there are a series of all-local eateries with small stands, where food is made fresh. At the far back is a wall of beer taps, 60 total, with a couple metalheads slinging pints for the mostly young crowd. It was open until midnight on a weekday, and they didn’t even do last call until almost 11:50, so that was nice. The beers were a little more expensive on average than here in ABQ ($6-$9), but overall it was an enjoyable place. They also made sure to keep track of their older beers, even going so far as selling the last of an old IPA keg for $1. The beertenders told me it was almost six weeks old and the remainder would be dumped soon if people didn’t buy it up. The Bulgarian Miak (Milk Stout) from Sigma Brewing was a bit of a disappointment, lacking much flavor and body, but the Bourbonator (BA doppelbock) from B-52 Brewing made up for it. This is definitely a place I wish to have explored further, but I arrived late since I first went to …
Best Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Once upon a time, I had gotten to 25 of the 30 active Major League parks, but recent openings had knocked me back to 22. Well, I got to 23 when I walked over to this rather lovely park, with its wonderful retractable roof (so necessary as the temps outside were brutal). Upon entering, I was pointed to the massive St. Arnold Brewing bar in left field. There were nearly a dozen beers on tap, and while I had to pay ballpark prices ($10.75 to $11.75), I figured it still beat going thirsty, because there was no way I was gonna order a cheaper macro just to say a few bucks. I grabbed some ballpark food, settled into my seat just up from third base, and rooted on Albuquerque natives Alex Bregman and Kenny Giles of the Astros. Sadly, they lost in extra innings to the Mariners, and a key player got hurt, so I probably should never go back since I’m apparently a pox on the team, but hey, I still had fun.
Dallas metro area
Beer Bar: L.U.C.K. (Local Urban Craft Kitchen) at Trinity Groves
Located at 3011 Gulden Ln. #112, just west of downtown Dallas, is an excellent beer bar/foodie restaurant. The food is unique, yet thoroughly Texan, with some true delights on the menu, both appetizers and full meals. The beer selection is outstanding from all over the DFW metro area. If you need a bite and a place to sample multiple breweries’ beers, this is one of the best.
Best Brewery: Lakewood Brewing
Located at 2302 Executive Dr. in Garland, just north of Dallas, is this industrial park brewery, which is on the rise in the opinion of the locals. Having already downed a French Quarter Temptress, their coffee imperial milk stout, at L.U.C.K., I settled in for another of those as it was too good to pass up again. I would have grabbed a different beer for seconds, but it turned out we had just made it in for last call. Many, many breweries in this part of the country close well before midnight on weekdays, so make sure to check their hours before you go!
Best Bottle Shop: Brad’s beer cellar
I’m only half joking, as Brad’s wife Christie seemed to really hope that I would clear out half of his 100-plus Jester King bottles. My beer-loving friend makes a ton of trips down to Austin, and in fact went back again the weekend after my visit. He gave me quite the variety of Texas beers to bring home, and he said he hopes to visit New Mexico later this year to engage in some serious beer trading. In return, I brought him bottles of La Cumbre’s Persica and Hibiscus Quercus. Beer friends are the best friends, right?
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I know there are probably a hundred more places I missed along the way in each of these cities, but I wanted to highlight these as my personal favorites. The beer bars, in particular, are great places to sample a wide variety of local offerings while sparring yourself the cost of transportation all over the place. If I had more time, I am sure there were another dozen places I would have visited.
Until the next ridiculous trip calls my name, I will be keeping it local for the rest of 2017.