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ACC football power rankings: Best local craft beer

There’s plenty of great craft beer in the ACC, but which is the greatest?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Championship Game-Wisconsin Scenes Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to last season, we ranked the best local beer scenes for each of the ACC’s 14 football programs. There were certainly complaints, as there always are with a) the internet and b) craft beer. But using a wide brush to define the surrounding “region” of a school allowed everyone a nice boost if their specific city didn’t have great options.

Well we can’t have that happen again...

This year, the schools are ranked one through 14 yet again, but this time, solely on the merits of their best hyper-local beer brewed within their city limits (or in the case of Clemson and Boston College, as close as we could get.). So those that were on top last year may not necessarily be there again. And those breweries with one beer that stands out will fare better than a brewery with a more complete catalogue of options. This may remind you of the “Drinking the NCAA Tournament” series Aaron and I have authored for the past two years, and you’d be correct in assuming so.

With all of that said, we dive in:

Ranking Each ACC’s School Best Local Craft Beer

  1. Louisville Cardinals

Sorry, I’m not going to accept another answer here. While Louisville and Kentucky are known for their bourbon, the city also has a bourbon barrel-aged stout you’ll want to take a look at. Against the Grain’s brewery and taproom are attached to the Louisville Bats’ minor league baseball stadium. Their (and Louisville’s) best beer is Bo & Luke, and it’s also among my own favorites. Smoky with vanilla spice and a heavy hand of bourbon flavors (courtesy of the Pappy Van Winkle barrels it’s aged in), it’s an easy way to get away with drinking beer in Louisville and not seeming silly for doing so.

2. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

When you’re done watching a Wake football game, you might need a beer ASAP. Good thing one of North Carolina’s largest breweries is right near campus. Foothills Brewing Co. churns out some of the state’s better staple beers (Jade IPA and People’s Porter, among others). But none touch the hype of Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate. An annual release that brings lines, special release days and a unique sort of frenzy for the area, BA Sexual Chocolate has turned into quite the event each year.

3. Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh-based East End Brewing Co. has been bottling Gratitude (at least) once per year since 2005, and its fans have grown accordingly. The barleywine excels by striking the perfect balance of hops and malt — a hoppy and bitter front end yields to a maltier back end with each sip. The fruity and caramel notes add more nuance as the beer warms. No one’s at Pittsburgh (Panthers) football games anyway. So if you’re in the city, might as well head to East End instead of Heinz Field.

4. Syracuse Orange

“Homer!” - other fan bases. But Syracuse does boast a good collection of breweries all within the city limits, including Middle Ages Brewing Co., which many of you are likely familiar with. The beer to get to nod for SU? Dragonslayer, of course. The bitter, chocolate-y Russian Imperial Stout is the perfect medicine for all those below-freezing evenings in one of the coldest municipalities in the United States. The coffee notes on the back end are the highlight, and at 9.5-percent ABV, it’s easy enough to polish off a bomber on your own.

5. Duke Blue Devils

Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery has plenty to choose from in terms of excellent beers. But since the weather’s pretty nice right now, and will be during football season too, we went with Summer Basil as the choice. A light, basil saison, the beer is unique and also perfectly tailored for the warmer months down in N.C. No, basil isn’t the most standard additive for beer, and it could easily overtake a brew. But here, it manages to work really well along with the lemon and pepper notes the beer creates.

6. NC State Wolfpack

For my money, the answer is Trophy Brewing Co,’s Hop Shake. But since that beer’s been around in limited supply, we’ll go with a more attainable offering from Trophy: Slingshot Porter. Chocolate and coffee notes prevail, and the beer drinks heavier than the ABV (just 7 percent) would indicate. Still, a very enjoyable beer that won’t knock you down for the afternoon/evening, and provides a solid example of the plethora of great local dark beers in the Research Triangle area.

7. Virginia Cavaliers

Fruited IPAs are all the rage right now, but one down in Charlottesville seems to pull it off without being cloying. Champion Brewing Co.’s Fruitbasket IPA is brewed with grapefruit and blood oranges, which only serves to enhance the natural flavors you’ll get with a Mosaic-forward IPA. Like many East Coast pale ales, it’s on the hazy end, providing a nice mix of hoppy bitterness and “juice” that’s a commendable balance amidst the over-fruited/hopped/malted beers many are producing today.

8. North Carolina Tar Heels

Chapel HiIl-based Carolina Brewery brings Christmas in a glass for the holidays each year. So while you’ll miss Santa’s Secret during football season, there’s always December when basketball is in full swing. The beer is light on the alcohol (5.9 percent) but packs a lot of flavor in just the same. Cinnamon, brown sugar and nutmeg notes will remind you of your favorite holiday treats — which you might as well enjoy while drinking it, since you’ve already resigned yourself to dessert.

9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

The Atlanta area has itself a nice selection of beers, though there are plenty just outside of Atlanta we can’t count here as well. Also, we avoid SweetWater, which is pretty ubiquitous in the South, in favor of a more local selection. 5 Seasons’ Hopgasm is a piney and bitter IPA that lives up to the name. With a mix of sweetness and floral notes, it doesn’t just give the palate a lot to handle, but your nose as well. With three locations around Atlanta, it would also seem reasonable enough to find a taste.

10. Clemson Tigers

Dammit, Clemson, get a brewery. Without one in the city limits, we travel to nearby Anderson, S.C. to name the Tigers’ drink of choice. Carolina Bauernhaus Ales, a farmhouse-style brewery, provides several solid options including June Princess. It’s a sour rye ale fermented in wine barrels and aged on apricots. The sweetness and tartness are both tamed a bit by the rye. It’s an interesting wild ale from a brewery that could climb this list plenty in the coming years.

11. Miami Hurricanes

You’re asking “where’s Miami brewery X?” And I’ll tell you, it’s in Miami proper. For the ‘Canes, we use the actual location of campus in Coral Gables to determine the school’s beer representative, so that’s how we arrive on Titanic Brewing Co. instead. Their Boiler Room Nut Brown is sweet and light, giving off plenty of caramel notes both on the nose and with each sip. Given how warm it gets in Miami, you probably won’t want a beer much heavier than this one most days.

12. Boston College Eagles

Last we saw BC’s beer selection, we were giving them the benefit of the doubt on Boston proper en route to a top ranking. Now we hold them to Chestnut Hill/Newton, and get a completely different result. Down the Road is a relative newcomer in craft beer, but already has a solid imperial stout in Darkest Night. A hefty ABV (14 percent), sweet chocolate notes, and a thick coffee and booze aroma tell you what you’re getting within seconds... same as BC football.

13. Florida State Seminoles

Tallahassee’s first brewery also happens to be its best. Proof Brewing Co. gives us Creatures in the Dark, a chocolate-heavy imperial stout that pours and stays smooth and viscous. Proof has messed around with a couple variants of the base beer (coffee, barrel-aged), but the original still seems to be the most appreciated among the brewery’s local fan base. It also won a gold medal at Florida’s Best Beer Championships in 2014 if those accolades are appealing to you.

14. Virginia Tech Hokies

Hey, Blacksburg has a brewery! While on a farm, Rising Silo is not a farmhouse-style brewery, however. Maybe they get there? But for now, it’s farm-sourced, fresh ingredients in their modest lineup of beers. The highlight right now is Brown Chicken Brown Ale, a not-so-nutty brown ale that appears to be a mild (yet enjoyable) representation of the style.


This is beer, and the internet, so surely you have complaints. Lodge any and all grievances below.