The American South is the birthplace of bourbon and spiked sweet tea, but it’s also dotted with dry counties and state liquor laws that restrict beer’s alcohol by volume or bottle size. Georgia increased its beer ABV cap from 6 to 14 percent in 2004; in Mississippi, it was illegal to sell beer above 6 percent until July 2012. As restrictions ease, Southern brewers are flexing their muscles with double IPAs, Belgian quads and, naturally, plenty of barrel-aging.
Great Raft Old Mad Joy
Special releases from the Shreveport, La., brewery are worth watching for, including this Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrel-aged Baltic porter. Open it when first chill hits: there’s peanut shell, cocoa and vanilla on the sip, and a 10 percent ABV to warm it all up.
Tin Roof Rougarou
You’ll mostly find Tin Roof’s brews in cans, but the Baton Rouge brewery’s imperial black IPA stands out in bombers when it’s released at the end of October. Dry hopping lends woody aromatics; on the sip, orange hop brightness adds levity to roasted chocolate malts.
Southern Prohibition Barrel Aged Mississippi Fire Ant
Despite the stinging name, this Hattiesburg-brewed, 8-percent bourbon barrel-aged imperial red ale is plenty smooth. Big vanilla waves crest over the barrel’s woody dryness, and hop bitterness connects with vanilla to give the impression of cocoa on the swallow.
Good People Snake Handler
This 10-percent double IPA has been the Birmingham, Ala., brewery’s most popular beer since its taproom opened in 2011 following the passage of the state’s Brewery Modernization Act; now, it’s available in 12-ounce cans. Pine resin and peppermint aromas are also present in the sip, which concludes with a bitter exclamation point.
3 Taverns Quasimodo
Serve this 10-percent quad brewed in Decatur, Ga., alongside roasted chicken at your fall feast: roasty, chocolaty malts balance raisin, currant and plum flavors in a sneakily drinkable sip.
Monday Night Bourbon Barrel Drafty Kilt
Come November, look for this Atlanta-brewed, bourbon barrel-aged Scotch ale that clocks in at a cozy 8.5 percent. Licorice and raisin aromas echo in the sip; they join caramel flavor and vanilla-laced, stomach-warming booziness.
Goodwood Brandy Barrel Honey Ale
With the name Goodwood and Louisville, Ky., as a home base, this brewery knows barrels. The aroma on this 8.7 percenter dispels any anticipation of sticky sweetness: there’s brandy on the nose, but it’s framed by worn leather and dried apricot rather than honey. The sip is layered with juicy apricot and caramel.
FullSteam First Frost
Released annually in October, this Durham, N.C.-brewed Belgian spotlights foraged persimmon, a sweet-and-savory fruit that’s like a mango-tomato hybrid. The result is a nectarine-sweet ale that deftly conceals its 10 percent strength.
Blue Pants Candy Bar Pinstripe
This ’bama-brewed coffee stout smells like the best vanilla creamer-loaded latte, with candy bar flavors of nougat, vanilla, dark chocolate and a finish that’s pure peanut butter. At 8 percent, it’s the perfect sub for a dessert coffee.
Holy City Yeast Wrangler
There’s brawny hop aroma and flavor to this 9.5-percent double IPA out of Charleston, S.C. The nose is green onion and scallions, rolling into grapefruit pith and citrus bitterness in the sip.