It’s NC Beer Month — Five Ways to Celebrate

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Brewer during a tour

Tour a brewery to celebrate NC Beer Month.

April is NC Beer Month, and there are many ways to celebrate. So whether you’re a new or seasoned craft beer lover, here are five ideas for how to celebrate.

Tour a local brewery. Not all breweries offer tours, but many do, and some do a really great job of showcasing how their product is brewed. Most brewery websites will give the time and details of the tours. Some charge for their tours, usually with a beer reward (and a glass) at the end. Others offer free tours, but you buy your own beer. Know what a mash tun is? The four ingredients in beer? Yeah, you definitely need a tour!

Visit your local bottle shop and try some NC beer. Some grocery stores now carry a good selection of NC beer, but without the expertise you’ll find in a bottle shop. Explore the different ingredients that give beer its taste – are you more of a hoppy — bitter, citrusy — beer person, or do you prefer the caramel, coffee flavors of malt? Not sure where to start? Take this NC Beer Month quiz to find out your beer style.

Attend a beer tasting event. There are lots of them in April, from the mountains to the coast. Take the opportunity to try something you haven’t tried before. Some events offer unlimited tastings for the price of a ticket; at others, you pay as you go for what you taste.

Set out on a beer trail. Find an NC community with several breweries, maybe even some within walking distance of each other. Could be one of NC’s beer meccas, like Asheville or Raleigh. Some areas offer incentives to visit all their breweries, like the Raleigh Beer Trail. A new app from Our State Magazine helps you find breweries around North Carolina.

Experiment with beer and food pairings. Love Mexican food? Ask for something light and refreshing to offset the heaviness of the food. Chocolate dessert? Try a nice dark porter or stout. Whatever you do, make sure that your favorite restaurant serves a good selection of NC beer.

Two beer glasses

What’s your favorite beer? Try something new for NC Beer Month.

Winter wine tour in the Lake James area

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front porch of winery

Lake James Cellars is located in a 1915 textile mill that also houses an antique mall.

We recently spent a little post-holiday time in the foothills of North Carolina near Lake James and visited a few of the small wineries that run along both Hwy. 70 and Interstate 40, roughly between Morganton and Marion.

Like all winter winery tours, you have to pay attention to the days and hours the wineries are open, and it varies quite a bit, especially right after the holidays. Some wineries will just shut down their tasting rooms during the winter, so it’s a good idea to call ahead.

The first winery we visited was Lake James Cellars in Glen Alpine, just a few miles west of Morganton. You’ll recognize the names of these small communities from the names on the Interstate 40 exit signs you pass on the way to Asheville. Lake James Cellars was open regular hours the week after the holidays.

The winery tasting room is located in a 1915 textile mill and has something for everyone, including an antique mall that takes up a sizable portion of the building. The wine making facility is in the level below the tasting room, and tours are available by appointment. There is also a nice covered porch for a picnic in warmer weather.

There is no vineyard here – the winemakers buy most of their grapes from nearby Yadkin Valley. There are 525 vineyards in North Carolina – more than double the 186 wineries — so there are many opportunities for winemakers to buy others’ grapes.

The bottles from Lake James Cellars include an image of local landmark Shortoff Mountain in the Linville Gorge wilderness area. We got a glimpse of the mountain and rock face leading to the gorge from an overlook at Lake James State Park, just a short drive from the winery. Shortoff Mountain is one of five “winter hikes” that the town of Morganton is using to entice winter travelers into the foothills during the colder months.

shortoff mountain

The distinctive Shortoff Mountain, seen from Lake James, is the image on the Lake James Cellars bottles, seen below.

lake james cellars bottleFrom Lake James Cellars, we chose a Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Of the other wines we tried, I also enjoyed the Brown Mountain White, an N.C. Viognier and Turkey Tail Red, a White Merlot with a light salmon color.

The other nearby wineries are Silver Fork Winery in Morganton, South Creek Winery and Belle Nicho Winery in Nebo. Silver Fork was closed, South Creek opened later in the day, but we found that Belle Nicho, a small winery, was actually open at 11 a.m. on a Thursday.

Like so many winery trips, we had to wander around a bit to find our way to Belle Nicho. The tasting room is small, but has nice outdoor space for a glass of wine and picnic in nicer weather. There is a small one-acre vineyard, and the winemakers here also buy some grapes from other vineyards. We were lucky to get there when we did — after New Year’s, the winery is closed through mid-February.

The tasting include a nice selection of Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Rose made from Cabernet Franc, and Sweet Dog Red, a blend of Chambourcin and Cab Franc. We chose a bottle of the Seyval Blanc that we’ll hold for lighter summer drinking.

tasting room with two people

Tasting room at Belle Nicho Winery.

The bookend towns of the Lake James region are Marion to the west and Morganton to the east. We stayed at a little Airbnb house – Backyard Bunkies – in Marion. We did some hiking in the area as well – Lake James State Parks and Catawba Falls near Old Fort.

Morganton is probably the more happenin’ town, with a wealth of downtown restaurants and coffee shops, art studios, a brewery and a seven-screen movie theater. We had dinner one night at Wisteria Southern Gastropub, a nice farm-to-table restaurant that was really hopping even on a weeknight. We really enjoyed the food there.

With a little more time, there are other wineries only a short drive north or south of the interstate. Overall, the Lake James area provides a nice wine tour and outdoor destination.

More photos from Lake James area wineries

Drinking our way through Montana

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Beers that go great with food or to wind up a day of hiking

two glasses of beer

Pilsner from Kalispell Brewing, at Three Forks Grille.

Like any out-of-state travel, a recent trip to Montana provided a great opportunity to discover some good local beers, and to get reacquainted with some West Coast favorites – Alaskan Brewing Co. and Deschutes of Oregon.

The first Montana beer we tried was a Pilsner from Kalispell Brewing Co. We were staying in Columbia Falls, between Kalispell and Glacier National Park. The Pilsner was nice and smooth, good with the delicious meals at Three Forks Grille in downtown Columbia Falls. Husband Kyle had salmon, and I had a nice pork chop.

One of newest hot spots in Columbia Falls is Backslope Brewing Co., which serves some really good food along with its brews. Bowls with a mixture of stuff are one of the attractions here: I had red beans and rice, with a shrimp skewer with a Backslope Buxum J Ginger Beer. Kyle had black rice, kale and Brussel sprouts, with a Pilgrim Kolsch.

two glasses of beer

Pilsner from Kalispell Brewing, at Three Forks Grille.

At the Night Owl Backroom, we shared an amazing plate of ribs, with a Golden Grizzly from Glacier Brewing Co., MT, and Nut Brown Ale from Bitter Root Brewery, MT. Three types of ribs came with potatoes, baked beans, slaw and fry bread.

We also kept a six pack of Alaskan Amber Ale in the fridge for an end-of-the-day treat.

So Montana’s craft beer goes great with real Montana food, especially after a day of hiking in Glacier National Park. And since I can’t share the beers, take a peek at the park, easily one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Now, what brew would you pair with a slice and to get reacquainted with some West Coast favorites – Alaskan Brewing Co. and Deschutes of Oregon.

The first Montana beer we tried was a Pilsner from Kalispell Brewing Co. We were staying in Columbia Falls, between Kalispell and Glacier National Park. The Pilsner was nice and smooth, good with the delicious meals at Three Forks Grille in downtown Columbia Falls. Husband Kyle had salmon, and I had a nice pork chop.

One of newest hot spots in Columbia Falls is Backslope Brewing Co., which serves some really good food along with its brews. Bowls with a mixture of stuff are one of the attractions here: I had red beans and rice, with a shrimp skewer with a Backslope Buxum J Ginger Beer. Kyle had black rice, kale and Brussel sprouts, with a Pilgrim Kolsch.

At the Night Owl Backroom, we shared an amazing plate of ribs, with a Golden Grizzly from Glacier Brewing Co., MT, and Nut Brown Ale from Bitter Root Brewery, MT. Three types of ribs came with potatoes, baked beans, slaw and fry bread.

We also kept a six pack of Alaskan Amber Ale in the fridge for an end-of-the-day treat.

So Montana’s craft beer goes great with real Montana food, especially after a day of hiking in Glacier National Park. And since I can’t share the beers, take a peek at the park, easily one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Now, what brew would you pair with a slice of huckleberry pie?

backslope

Backslope Brewing Co.

Celebrate NC Wine Month in September

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vines-smallI was visiting wineries in the Yadkin Valley just a few weeks ago, and the grapes were really heavy on the vine. September is when NC vineyards will do most of their harvesting, which makes it a great month to celebrate NC wine.

The first time I visited an NC wineries in about 2002, there were fewer than 50 wineries in the state, but even then, growth was in the air. Today, the industry has grown to 180 wineries and more than 500 grape growers, with an economic impact of $1.7 billion.

I know what you’re thinking — there are some of you out there who still haven’t tried NC wine, or visited an NC winery or vineyard. Or maybe you tried something you didn’t like, and you assume all the state’s wine is the same. But nothing could be further from the truth.

North Carolina has four American Viticulture Areas (think Napa or Sonoma): Yadkin Valley, Swan Creek, Haw River and Upper Hiwassee Highlands. Each AVA offers a unique blend of climate, soils, moisture and elevation to produce wine grapes with a uniqueness of their own.

grape bunches

Grapes are heavy on the vines in NC vineyards.

And there are many vineyards outside the AVAs. North Carolina is home to the world’s largest muscadine winery — Duplin Winery and Vineyards. Muscadines happen to be our native grape in North Carolina. Out on Roanoke Island, you can visit the “Mother Vine,” a scuppernong vine that may be the oldest cultivated vine in America.

The Yadkin Valley was the state’ first AVA and is home to the many wineries that produce mostly vinifera grapes and wines. These grapes wouldn’t grow in North Carolina’s challenging climate except for the benefit of root stocks that are resistant to the diseases and fungi that plague wine grapes.

Where ever you live in North Carolina, you can’t be far from a North Carolina vineyard or winery. This month, take the time to visit or enjoy one of the many “NC Wine Month” events on the state’s wine calendar, from music to grape stompings and more.

On Sept. 28 at 9 pm ET, you can learn more about North Carolina wines by joining the #winechat on Twitter to witness the NC Wine Guys Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling and other guests discuss #NCWine and #NCWineMonth on #winechat.

Read more about NC Wine Month

guests sitting at patio table

Guests enjoy wine on the patio at Raffaldini Winery in Ronda.

vendor with glove and clippers

This innovative glove and clippers work together to prevent grape harvesters from cutting a finger.

Bombshell Explodes on the Brewery Scene

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bar-scene

Bombshell is a great place to hang out on a Saturday afternoon.

Bombshell Beer Company in Holly Springs is one of the few women-owned breweries in the state, but the women owners really seem to know how to create a brewery experience that suits everyone. We tried two of Bombshell’s brews at a recent NC State University Club event, and were so impressed we decided to pay a visit.

The tasting room and brewery are right off the main drag in Holly Springs in an industrial complex that also includes a daycare center, right next door. The brewery offers a regular food truck schedule and tours on Friday and Saturdays (no charge, but reservations encouraged).

Here’s a nice touch at the brewery that speaks to the influence of women owners – there are some really good snacks by the Veggie Wagon for sale in the brewery – fresh pimento cheese, salsa, black bean and garlic hummus, with an assortment of chips and crostini. A great idea for those of us who have to be careful of how much we drink between meals.

And for those who aren’t beer fans (is that possible?), Bombshell also offers a selection of wines and cider. Or bring your own bottle of wine, for a $5 corking fee.

We visited on a recent Saturday, when one of the tours was underway. With our five-beer flight, we enjoyed a container of the black bean hummus, along with tortilla chips.

Bombshell cans some of its beers, and we came away with a six-pack of Starlight Ale to take to the pool. A really good choice!

Holly Springs is getting to be a happening place. Home to one of NC’s oldest craft breweries, Carolina Brewing Co., it is in a good neighborhood for craft beer. And the town even has a minor league baseball team now – look up the schedule for the Salamanders and plan a visit to Bombshell to coincide with a game.

Bombshell Beer Co.
120 Quantum Dr.Holly Springs, NC

bombshell_sign

Six pack of Starlight Ale, a good summer beer.

Six pack of Starlight Ale, a good summer beer.

 

 

Baseball goes better with beer

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beer taps

Carolina Brewing Co. is one of the featured breweries at the Salamanders ballpark.

Nothing is more American than summer baseball and the beer that goes with it. In the Triangle area, baseball pairs perfectly with great local beer.

Last year, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park debuted their own brewed-in-the-park beer, Bull Durham Beer Co., which is the only brewery in a minor league baseball park. The beer is good – I’m partial to the Lollygagger Kolsch – and their fill-from-the-bottom cups just get me every time I see them.

There aren’t as many different beers now at the DBAP. Used to be there were concessions from Carolina Brewery of Chapel Hill, Natty Greene’s of Greensboro and Foothills of Winston-Salem. The first time I ever tried a Foothills beer was at the DBAP, and I think you can still find it there. When Natty Greene’s still had a Raleigh brewery, they offered round trip bus rides to games at the DBAP, complete with beer.

You can still find Carolina Brewery beer at the park. Bullpen Pale Ale is brewed in honor of the Durham Bulls, and Sky Blue is a favorite among those who prefer really lite beer. We found a White Street Kolsch at one of the vendors recently.

I think the food concessions at the park have sort of lost their way, and friends have said the same thing. The barbecue sandwich is pretty good, if you can find your way to the stand high above right field. As long as you can find a good beer to wash it all down, you will be fine.

The Holly Springs Salamanders are college players getting in a little practice over the summer, and they have a really fancy little park for a small Wake County town. The local Carolina Brewing Co. is a major sponsor, and you can certainly find lots of their beer for sale there. But Salamanders’ park also offers some drafts from Draft Line Brewing Co. of nearby Fuquay-Varina, which opened two years ago, and from also from Holly Springs’ own Bombshell Brewing Co.

A pretty good beer lineup for a small ball park. I was pretty happy to find the Bombshell Strawberry Crème Ale on draft, having recently visited Bombshell. Try any of these local beers – they will knock one out of the park every time.

Ponysaurus brings fun and good beer to Durham

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server pouring from tap

Many beers on tap at Ponysaurus.

Despite our best efforts, bloggers can sort of let the breweries get away from us. Because, you know, the fun part is really visiting the breweries – trying the beer, hanging out with friends, playing giant Jenga. But the photos and the unposted reviews start to back up… Yikes! So Tarheel Taps &Corks is at least making an effort to go back through the last few months brewery and winery visits share some places that were great to visit in winter. Just imagine how much more fun they will be this summer!

Ponysaurus Brewing Co., Durham

When I grew up in Durham, but there were just some part of town that, well, we never actually saw. And the Ponysaurus Brewing Co. at Ramseur St. and Fayetteville St. was one of those places – industrial, near the tracks, off the beaten path. But today, beer lovers are beating a path to the Ponysaurus in this neighborhood that is experiencing new life.

We visited back in March during the ACC tournament, and the night was warm enough to sit outside at one of the large community tables. There were so many beers to try that we ordered two flights.

The outdoor experience at Ponysaurus Brewing Co. is what it’s all about. In fact, there’s really not that much seating indoors, so I can’t really imagine what it would be like there in winter. But when the large garage doors are open, there are lawn tables, two upper deck seating areas and covered tables with screens right outside the taproom. Seems to be kid-friendly and dog-friendly (and even Duke-student friendly, but what can you do?) There are food trucks on the grounds also.

And here’s a fun summertime thing to do – you can reserve a grill at Ponysaurus, choose your meats and sides, arrive to have your picnic waiting for you. Grill and enjoy your dinner, throw your trash away and head home when you’re done. What a great idea!

Ponysaurus Brewing Co. Taproom
Corner of Ramseur and Fayetteville Streets, Durham
844.3MY.PONY

flight of four beers

Get a flight to try as many beers as possible.