Immerse yourself in the craft beer scene with a little industry know-how and a lot of strategic guidance from renowned brew expert Dennis Malcolm Byron, aka Ale Sharpton.
Where can we be sure to find the most authentic craft beer experiences?
Climate, water sources, and accessibility to hops made states like Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and California pioneering entities and they still are. However, states with bone-chilling winters are just as powerful. Michigan is amazing and a top-five destination for craft beer production. New York has also been a significant state; Maine, Massachusetts, and others have brewers nationally paying homage to the way their hazy India pale ales are produced. I have been documenting Georgia’s growth since the mid-'90s, Florida is flexing muscle, North Carolina is no joke (especially Asheville), and Charleston in South Carolina is bananas!
Are the big brands facing new challenges?
The “big brands” are either joining forces with smaller craft breweries or downright buying them. For some, it’s a “Can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” mentality, while others work to provide more expansive avenues for distribution, including internationally while benefiting from the collaboration. The bottom line is craft beer’s inventiveness has its sales pointing northwards, while the macro brands are losing popularity. The handful of giants in the industry want to either be a part of the movement or have an agenda of stopping the bleeding.
Are there new trends on the horizon?
No doubt. Brewers are geniuses to me. They have to develop expertise in chemistry, biology, horticulture, the culinary arts, and even marketing. The craft beer scene is getting so much love for their ability to make experimental small batches instead of brewing for almost a billion people. Hence, we see beers made with peanut butter, chocolate, jalapenos, exotic fruits, vegetables, spices—you name it! And I don’t even want to get started on the different yeast strains, grains, and hops they are fusing to come up with other mind-blowing concoctions. To name trends, sours; flavored stouts; aging beers in barrels used for rum, bourbon, whiskey, tequila, and even wine are extremely popular; the aforementioned hazy IPAs are dominating beverage menus; and now lagers are making a comeback.
Are there different options on the table during the cooler months?
The cooler months bring so many different flavors to beers, and the alcohol levels tend to rise to warm the soul. I recommend trying imperial stouts, beers made with coffee are very popular, pumpkin beers are a big deal, and anything else with “double” or “triple” descriptions could be a treat to combat the cold. Oh, and like I said before, barrel-aged beer is a biggie!
You’ve worked with several breweries to create beer pairings with multi-course dinners. What are your golden rules?
My palate has been developed since birth thanks to [my family] and my Jamaican heritage. Matching beers that can emulate virtually any flavor when brewed right with a plethora of dishes makes it that much more exciting. On a whole, it’s all about the “three Cs”—contrast, complement, and cut—when pairing beer with food. Fried food? I tend to go light and crisp. Sweet? Maybe a sour beer or, say, a chocolate cake, go with a fruit-based beer or coffee stout. Seafood? Tripels, saisons, and other lighter beers work best. If you have a spicy entree, IPAs enhance the heat and stand up to that dish’s dominance on the palate. In the world of beer, there are so many options to the point that anything is game—and that’s why I love this beverage.
What are your current favorites?
I love beers that are either a limited-edition release, collaborations, or just ageless classics that I know will be flawless no matter where I go, like Stone's Enjoy By IPA series, the very limited Creature Comforts, and Interboro collab with Run The Jewels called Stay-G-O-L-D IPA I just had, or a Bells Two-Hearted IPA.
[Images: Joeff Davis; Natrice Miller/Cultured Lens]