First Draft with Dennis Malcolm Byron, aka Ale Sharpton
Atlanta's prolific beer personality shares his origin story, industry diversity, and more
Dennis Malcolm Byron hustles for a living. He shows up to Argosy bearing gifts: custom glassware from a recent event he threw, a bottle of Schlafly Double Bean Blonde from a recent trip to St. Louis. As we talk and drink I ask him what pays his bills. Is it the car reviews he does for magazines, the beer-oriented blogging/events/etc., his branding and consulting agency, AllWays Open Creative?
"It's all of those, all together," says the "forty-ish" man who, in 2002, branded himself Ale Sharpton. Speaking of which: "Beer has been such a part of my life in so many different ways. I've always been into art and things that are different from the norm, and I knew beer was going in that direction ... Beer can tell you a lot about a city it's from or the person who makes it."
As it turns out, Byron can tell you a lot about this city and the beer that's made in it. When we sat down in East Atlanta Village, we talked about the Peach State's brewing rise, the lack of diversity in the craft beer industry, and what the future might hold. After that, we got back to the hustle.
Describe your first beer.
I don't think anybody forgets their first beer. I was hanging out at my uncle's in Brooklyn, and he was drinking Miller High Life in those little stubby bottles. He was like, "You'll probably think this is disgusting," gave me a sip, and I was like, "Mmmmm!" He was pissed! But I knew that's what I was gonna drink when I was older. That's all I've ever really liked. I never had a taste for spirits.
Tell me the "Ale Sharpton" origin story.
When I was writing for Cypher, I had a pen name because back then rap journalists were getting beat up. laughs My nickname was Justin Case. I had a rap section and a beer section ... I was an editor for the Atlanta Voice, too. I was an editor there, but really, I'm a lifestyle writer. This magazine J'Adore approached me with an executive editor job, and I took it. The deal I asked for was that I could have a separate column under a new name. After a couple blunts and two Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stouts, at two in the morning one night, it hit me: Ale Sharpton. That was 2002.
What do you hope for the future of Georgia beer?
We need a little more unity in some areas. I don't want us to get to the point where we're hating on each other, and I'm glad Atlanta hasn't fallen to that yet. What's whack is that there are so many events happening at one time. If we could stagger them, that would be cool. It's a growing industry here, but we could be working together to make a calendar and really reap the benefits of being a great beer city.
You've touched on diversity — or the lack thereof — in the beer world. How can we improve that?
That's another one of my goals. I'm a writer who's spreading that love to a lot of communities that aren't often exposed to it. I truly believe it's where you set up these beer bars. It's diverse at Argosy right now. If it's a diverse neighborhood, you're gonna get diversity in the crowd. It's about having access to good stores in predominantly black neighborhoods. There's an opportunity there. My events are so diverse. It's like some "We are the World" type shit.
Depot Park Beer Festival
When: Sat., April 2, 1-5 p.m.
Where: Historic Depot Park, Kennesaw
Burnt Hickory celebrate four years with more than 30 of its beers, collaborations with Georgia breweries, even more beers from the likes of Cigar City, Wild Heaven, Cycle Brewing, and Founders, and KISS tribute band, Mr. Speed.
Wrecking Bar Brewpub Wood-Aged Wednesdays
When: Every Wednesday
Where: Wrecking Bar Brewpub
Price: Depends how many wood-aged beers you drink
Each week, the Little Five Points brewpub serves up a special small-batch beer that’s been aged in a wood barrel.