Brewing Craft Beer Scene

Brewing Craft Beer Scene

North Carolina is home to 100 breweries

It may be hard to bottle a place, but it seems like we do it every day across North Carolina.

The truth is you’re never far from refreshing, intriguing local beers and people who love to wax poetic about ales, lagers, porters, stouts, and the occasional seasonal experiment or collaboration your neighborhood brewmaster has on tap. The heady aroma of malted barley, bitter hops and fermenting yeast wafts from 100 brewpubs and production breweries – more than any other Southern state and still growing – spread across big cities, coastal villages, mountain towns and rural communities. Their tantalizing variety and award-winning quality have earned the state an esteemed place in the world of craft brewing, and more than a few honors.

North Carolina’s embrace of brewing also has attracted the attention of the beer world’s bigger players, with New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues setting up operations in and around Asheville. That eclectic mountain town has become a center of brewing activity, with more than a dozen breweries up and running, and more on the drawing board. For four consecutive years, Asheville reigned as Beer City USA, which furthered awareness of its hardcore brew culture.

Home to a handful of beer festivals, Asheville also ranks among the “24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer,” according to Gadling, the world’s top travel blog. Asheville even boasts informative guided tours that take visitors to a selection of the city's innovative microbreweries.

When you lift a pint to toast to North Carolina’s abundant breweries, you’ll have plenty of interesting choices, with many creative and far from the ordinary. There are ales and lagers galore, reflecting a range of styles and approaches, as well as porters and stouts that stretch the traditional boundaries.

Several forward-thinking breweries are looking back, crafting new beers based on historical beer recipes. Oyster House Brewing Company cooks up Moonstone, a dry Irish stout brewed with, you guessed it, oysters. This 19th century English recipe hearkens back to a time when oysters were cheaper than peanuts and stout was the common man’s ale of choice.

A few North Carolina breweries are ignoring styles altogether. Durham’s Fullsteam specializes in “plow to pint” beers that use local ingredients and often don’t fit neatly into any particular beer category. Carver is brewed with 500 pounds of North Carolina sweet potatoes, producing a surprisingly subtle, hoppy-yet-malty lager. In Black Mountain, Pisgah Brewing Company brews an ever-changing repertoire of unusual and delicious beers, many of them higher in alcohol and worthy of aging like fine wine.

Collaboration is a growing trend in the brewing community. For example, Olde Rabbit’s Foot is a collaboration between three leading North Carolina breweries: Olde Hickory (Hickory), The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery (Farmville), and Foothills (Winston-Salem). The beer is a blend of Olde Hickory’s imperial stout, Duck-Rabbit’s Rabid Duck, and Foothills’ Sexual Chocolate. The blended boozy beer is aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrels.

And then there are those that specialize in traditional European-style lagers and ales. Breweries that adhere to the Reinheitsgebot (the German Purity Law of 1516) include coastal Weeping Radish, the Piedmont’s Red Oak, and Heinzelmännchen in the mountains. Asheville’s Green Man and Chapel Hill’s Top of the Hill specialize in traditional English-style ales. Highland Brewing Company brews Scottish-inspired beers as well as seasonal releases.

The state’s brewmasters also are an imaginative bunch, adept at taking local products (think bacon, for example) and using them to inspire new brew flavors. It’s impossible to predict when something new and unique is going to pour from a local tap. More breweries and restaurants are putting together menus and even special dinners that pair brews and dishes for a special taste sensation, while chefs are experimenting with beers as ingredients that produce often startling results. Since this is North Carolina, don’t be surprised to find beers paired with a traditional local favorite, pork barbecue.

A great place to sample regional favorites is at one of many annual events that now take place around the state throughout the year. In fact, the entire month of April is devoted to a statewide celebration of beer and brewing under the banner of North Carolina Beer Month, with activities at venues from the mountains to the ocean. The North Carolina Brewers Guild is another good source for information about local beer and its community of brewers, wholesalers, retailers and enthusiasts.

What’s readily obvious is that If you like beer, you’ll find a beer or two to love in North Carolina.

Joe Rada and Sean Wilson contributed to this story

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