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Southern Craft Breweries Booming

The market for American craft beers is booming, and the Southeastern United States is leading much of that growth as unique beer flavors and styles explode throughout the region and around the world.

Craft beer is attracting customers who -- tired of the multinational pilsner brands -- are looking for exciting beer styles that often incorporate locally-grown fruits like grapefruit and cherries. From 2007 to 2012, annual sales of U.S. craft beers doubled from $5.7 billion to $12 billion, and should reach $18 billion by 2017. Craft beers make up only eight percent of total U.S. beer sales but account for a large percentage of recent growth. In 2013, while national sales of all types of beer dropped almost two percent, the craft beer industry reported 18 percent growth in volume of beer sold and 20 percent in revenue.

American beers are spreading across the country and around the world, with demand particularly high in Asian markets such as China and Japan. The Brewers Association, a craft brewers’ trade group, reported exports of craft beers climbed by 49 percent in 2013 – the tenth consecutive year of higher exports. There are more than 3,000 craft brewers in the United States, with a small but growing number beginning to export their products to overseas markets.

Many of the most exciting new beers are coming from the Southeastern U.S. For many years, American craft beer was led by breweries on the upper Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Midwest. However, the Southern craft brew industry has exploded over past decade, driving local sales, winning national and international awards and spanning hundreds of successful regional breweries.

For example, the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild was founded in 2010, and doubled its membership to 31 producers by 2014. Those members range from the long-established Sweetwater Brewing in Atlanta (which ships a half-million barrels annually) to Eagle Creek Brewing in Statesboro to newer players like Macon Beer Co., which taps into local produce to create a sweet cherry beer called Macon Love. Georgia is a relative newcomer in craft beer, but it has already spawned award winners Sweetwater, Moon River Brewing of Savannah, Coastal Empire Beer of Richmond Hill and Terrapin Brewery of Athens.

Craft beer had a $3.5 billion economic impact in 2012 in Georgia, the Beer Institute reported. However, Georgia is playing catch-up with the established industries in neighboring states such as North Carolina, where breweries have an economic impact of $7.1 billion.

The Brewers Association reported craft beer had an economic impact of almost $34 billion on the U.S. economy in 2012. The group’s website reported there were 28 Georgia craft breweries in 2013, 91 craft breweries in North Carolina, 20 in South Carolina, 13 in Alabama, 66 in Florida and 35 in Tennessee. Dozens more have opened across the South in the past year, and American craft brewers reported an 18 percent increase in production during the first half of 2014 to 10.6 million barrels.

Best Craft Beers of the South

The two leading regional lifestyle magazines, Southern Living and Guns & Garden, recently compiled lists of the best craft beers in the southern United States. Those lists reflect the wide range of uniquely Southern beers and breweries, including:
• Hoplanta from Red Brick Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia. Noted for its large hop content, Hoplanta is said to be “hoppier than a frog in a buggy summer.”
• White Thai by Westbrook Brewing, Charleston, South Carolina. The cuisine of Southeastern Asia inspired this adaptation of the classic Belgian witbier. However, rather than drawing its flavors from coriander and orange peel, White Thai incorporates fresh lemongrass, ginger root and Sorachi Ace hops. The resulting ale has notes of lemon drops, citrus and spicy ginger.
• Mango Cumin Saison from Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville, North Carolina, a city recently voted the craft beer capital of the United States. Wicked Weed features a constant rotation of 20 innovative and eccentric beers in several styles.
• Cack-a-Lacky by Fullsteam Brewery of Durham, North Carolina, an American pale ale (APA, a domestic version of the popular English India pale ale, or IPA) with a fresh ginger taste.
• Snake Handler DIPA (double IPA) from Good People Brewing in Birmingham, Alabama. This imperial IPA is made from five hops and features notes of grapefruit, caramel and papaya.
• 420 Pale Ale, a classic APA from Sweetwater Brewing in Atlanta.
• Tiny Bomb, an American pilsner with notes of honey, created by Wiseacre Brew of Memphis, Tennessee.
• Jai Alai from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida. One of the top American IPA-style beers, Jai Alai incudes tastes of tropical and citrus fruits. Other unique Cigar City offerings that place it among the top U.S. craft brewers include Right Side Up Pineapple Cake Lager, Guava Grove Sour Ale, and Chicory Dickory Choc Brown Ale.
• Hopsecutioner IPA by Terrapin Brewery of Athens, Georgia, a six-hops beer with pine and citrus tones.
• Kolsch by Coast Brewing of Charleston. This take on the traditional German favorite features malt flavors plus honey that creates a flowery hop finish.

With hundreds of Southern craft brewers and microbreweries now in operation – and dozens of new ones opening every month – the future of Southern beer has never been brighter.

(For a list of craft brewers by state, visit the Brewers Association at http://www.brewersassociation.org.)

Questions or comments? Please email Michael Fenton at mfenton@atlantapacificgroup.com