From Virginia’s diverse wine region to Kentucky’s booming bourbon scene, the Southeast is ripe for exploring through the lens of craft beverages. Whether you’re an avid ale drinker or a top-shelf whiskey enthusiast, escape Atlanta this summer and taste your way along one of the Southern states’ wine, beer and spirits trails. Go thirsty and drink responsibly. Appoint a designated driver or, better yet, all the trails mentioned here have tours available — book one and leave the driving to the pros.
Surry County Wine Trail
Perched in the Yadkin Valley, a parcel in the Blue Ridge foothills less than an hour from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the Surry County Wine Trail runs through a cluster of small towns, including Dobson, Elkin, Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain. The birthplace of the Yadkin Valley appellation — North Carolina’s first American Viticultural Area — the Surry County Wine Trail consists of 19 wineries, four breweries and a distillery. The region’s terroir is excellent for growing European vinifera grapes, from Pinot Grigio and Riesling to Merlot and Sangiovese, the versatile Italian variety.
Reserve a tasting at JOLO Vineyards and sample the winery’s crisp rosé or an award-winning red alongside Pilot Mountain vistas. But don’t skip Round Peak Vineyards in Mt. Airy, a producer known for bold reds. It’s one of two wineries in the Yadkin Valley making Nebbiolo, the high-tannin grape most identified as the fruit of Barolo and Barbaresco in Italy’s Piedmont region.
Surry County provides its share of fun annual events in wine country, such as the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival in May, the Reevestock Music Festival in August, and the Autumn Leaves Festival in October. Go for the celebrations, but stay for the wine.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
The state with perhaps the most celebrated stretch of distillers in the country, Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon, so it’s no surprise it has become synonymous with the grain-based spirit. Many bourbon fans think it’s the limestone-rich water — which adds to its sweetness — that sets it apart from other whiskeys. Still, others get caught up in the spirit’s fabled past. Whether it’s the liquor’s smoothness on the palate or the history, bourbon is ubiquitous in the state, with dozens of distilleries and tasting rooms dotting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail from Lexington to Louisville and beyond.
An excellent place to begin your bourbon trip is in the heart of Derby City. After a stroll or ride through downtown, anyone would find it tough to believe that prohibition nearly annihilated Louisville’s bibulous culture. But these days, visitors can witness the town’s bourbon renaissance. Beyond the availability of the drink in bars and restaurants, downtown features 10 urban bourbon experiences at Michter’s, Angel’s Envy, Evan Williams and Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co, among others, all within a walk or short Uber ride of each other. Outside the city, discover a spree of producers in small towns, like Four Roses in Lawrenceburg and Woodford Reserve in Versailles. Distilleries feature both tours and tastings.
Jax Ale Trail
Jacksonville’s burgeoning craft beer scene proves that Florida has more to offer than theme parks and sunny beaches. Featuring 26 breweries around the metro area, the Jax Ale Trail has become a popular beer and cider destination, outranking the scenes in cities like Atlanta and Chicago, according to Fodor’s Travel.
Bold City Brewery, the first Jacksonville brewery to be locally owned, is beloved for its brown and cream ales. Meanwhile, Intuition Ale Works taps more beer styles than one can count, but the seasonal IPAs and stouts are frontrunners. At Aardwolf Brewing, taste the Belgian pale ale, hard seltzers and barley wine; at Southern Swells Brewing Co., order a coffee porter and strawberry ice cream sour ale; and at Lemon Street Brewing, go with the pilsner, fruited lager and Hefeweizen. Flights are always a good idea.
Pick up a passport at any brewery and collect stamps from each one you visit to collect prizes including koozies and T-shirts.
Tennessee Whiskey Trail
Although Kentucky is the iconic state for whiskey (all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon), Tennessee has long held its own in the brown spirit category. Its history dates to before the Civil War, but the state enforced its own prohibition twice before the national act was established in 1920. Today, whiskey lovers can choose from more than 25 distilleries and a variety of whiskey and other spirit-tasting experiences on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.
The trail is organized by region, with most distilleries and tasting rooms in Middle and East Tennessee. Distillers range from boutique operations such as Pennington, a Nashville producer of small-batch whiskey, vodka and Tennessee cream liqueur, and Knox Whiskey Works, Knoxville’s first legal distillery crafting heirloom corn whiskey, gin, vodka, coffee liqueur and seasonal spirits.
In Lynchburg, visit the iconic Jack Daniel Distillery, heralded for making Tennessee whiskey for generations, and Nearest Green, carrying on the legacy of Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved person and the first African American master distiller.
There’s also plenty of moonshine, the name given to the illegal, homemade, un-aged and un-taxed whiskey that today is now legal and taxed, but the moniker remains. Find more than your share of “shine” along State Hwy 66 from Kodak to Gatlinburg.
Visitors can keep track of their stops and collect stamps with an analog or a digital passport that awards a prize once they finish the trail.
Loudoun Wine Trail
Weaving through the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Washington, D.C, the Loudoun Wine Trail in Loudoun County, Virginia, is a world away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. Marked by rolling hills, acres of lush vineyards and storybook small towns, Loudoun is a wine-drinking traveler’s dream.
This picturesque region offers more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms, with vintners mastering white, red and rosé wines. Dominant white wine grapes range from Viognier to Petit Manseng, with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and the native Norton — America’s oldest grape — dominating the reds. But these grapes are merely a sampling of what’s growing in this diverse, up-and-coming region.
At Walsh Family Wines in Purcellville, husband and wife Nate and Sarah Walsh create Sauvignon Blanc, Tannat and Twin Notch Red, a well-structured Bordeaux-style blend. Just 10 minutes away, Bluemont Vineyard is the ideal stop to sip a crisp Albariño or jammy Chambourcin while soaking in breathtaking views.
Don’t miss Sunset Hills Vineyards, where winemaker Jason Burrus leads the sustainable production of Cabernet Sauvignon rosé and white blends. And at the Wine Reserve at Waterford, taste the Cab Franc and the producer’s award-winning Steel Magnolia Chardonnay.
Managing close to 100 acres of vines while focusing on classic French varieties, Stone Tower Winery boasts an elaborate 400-acre property outside the charming town of Leesburg. Wine pros pour everything from Blanc de Noir to Merlot and Pinot Noir.