It’s true that you never forget your first — really great craft beer, that is. That moment when you realize, “there is truly more to beer than …” whatever you’d been drinking before. For me, the First Really Great Craft Beer was a Carolina Nut Brown Ale at Players Retreat in Raleigh.
I’m not even sure why I ordered the Nut Brown Ale. At the time, I didn’t care for dark beer, so there must have been an enticing description on the beer list. Eureka – eyes opened! And so began my journey into the world of craft beer.
But until recently, I had never actually made my way to the Carolina Brewing Co. of Holly Springs, less than 30 minutes from my house. CBC has long offered Saturday afternoon tours that include (shhhhhh….) “free beer” – not fancy glasses or other bling, just beer.
On a chilly, wet spring afternoon, when most craft beer fans would have been a Brewgaloo in downtown Raleigh, about 100 folks poured into the CBC brewing room for beer and a tour – one beer before the tour, and a second (or however many times you can get back in line) afterward.
Joe Zonin, founder and one of four owners of CBC, gives a nice tour, including a brief brewery history. When CBC was founded in 1995, there were only three other breweries in the state — now there are more than 120. CBC’s first beer was Carolina Pale Ale, followed six months later by Nut Brown Ale and then Carolina IPA.
CBC sticks to a simple, reliable formula – brew good beer with the four basic beer ingredients: hops, yeast, barley and water. Over the years, they have added seasonals that have become favorites, including Spring Bock which was on draft for the tour. A citrusy-hopped new seasonal, Carolina West Coast IPA brewed for NC Beer Month has been flying off the shelf, and was only available at the brewery the day of our tour.
Distribution? CBC originally sold its beer in Wake, Durham and Orange counties only and is now in 60 NC counties. The brewers would like to expand to all 100 counties, but no plans to go beyond the state line. Local ingredients? CBC has brewed a green-hopped beer with NC hops and another made with local honey, but most ingredients come from out of state.
Awards? CBC doesn’t compete – just brews good beer. Cans vs. bottles? CBC sells beer in bottles and kegs only. Zonin says today’s beer cans offer some advantages over bottles, but he doesn’t expect to add a can line.
July 3 will mark the 20th anniversary of Carolina Brewing Co., worth quite a celebration for the Granddaddy of NC Beer. A taproom is in the works at the brewery, which has been in the same location since it opened. And a special anniversary beer also planned. Do not miss it!