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.

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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.

Bombshell Explodes on the Brewery Scene

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.

 

 

Compass Rose Brewery shines new light on N. Raleigh

two glassses of beer

Compass Rose Saison and Coffee Porter.

While downtown and west Raleigh have long been blessed with many great breweries, north North Raleigh (double “north” is intentional) has not really had a brewery to call its own. While Wake Forest’s White Street wasn’t far away, it wasn’t actually Raleigh after all.

So Compass Rose Brewery has filled the void with a location off Gresham Lake Road, just north of I-540, where no brewery has gone before. As you drive down Northside Drive, you’ll wonder where you are going — is there really a brewery tucked back in this industrial complex? At end of the road, you’ll see Compass Rose, in its beautiful new location with lots of windows.

The taproom is large, with a bar and many tables. For warmer weather, there is a nice patio outside with long tables. And there is usually a food truck back behind the brewery.

Inside or outside, Compass Rose is dog-friendly, even providing water for dogs (who don’t like beer…) and “leash hooks” to keep dogs near their owners. Though the human customers seem to get along well, there is an occasional bru-ha-ha between the canine clientele. (Fortunately, there’s plenty of space for every dog to have his own table.)

The brewery itself is behind glass walls just beyond the tasting room, with plenty of room for expansion. There are lots of activities in the tasting room too, from darts to corn hole to Jenga and other games. Or draw your finest artwork on the chalkboard walls.

The website describes the brewery’s intention of creating a number of different international beers, including an Agave Cream Ale (maybe I was ruined because I had just gone to a mescal tasting, but I didn’t really get any agave from my taste). The Saison was good, as well as a Coffee Porter. Would have sampled more with a flight, but all the “flight boards” were out that afternoon.

Compass Rose Brewery
3201 Northside Drive, Suite 101 Raleigh, N.C.
919-875-5683 / 919-872-2276
info@compassrosebrewery.com

taps

Taps at Compass Rose

compass-rose3

Big, open taproom

dog

Dog friendly, for friendly dogs…

Red Oak’s Law of Purity Leads to Great Lagers

brewmaster leading tour

Red Oak Brewmaster Chris Buckley leads a Friday tour through the brewery.

On Friday afternoons at 3 p.m., Piedmont beer lovers flock to Whitsett, home of Red Oak Brewery just outside of Burlington. Though it seems like an odd time for a brewery tour, more than 40 people line up on a recent Friday and pay $15 each for the one-hour brewery tour and tastings that follow.

We must have driven by Red Oak Brewery just off I-85 dozens of times, saying, “we have to come back here sometime on a Friday.” In December, we finally made that happen, and it was well worth the drive.

Brewmaster Chris Buckley offers a very thorough one-hour tour, with detailed descriptions of Red Oak’s brewing process, barely pausing to draw a breath along the way. Born and raised in Germany for 25 years, Buckley attended brewing school in Munich.

“I see a few familiar faces again,” Buckley tells the crowd. The tour comes first, then beer. “We learned from experience to do it in that order.”

Red Oak got its start in 1991 Spring Garden Brewery in Greensboro. The name was changed in 2002 to reflect the brewery’s signature lager, and Red Oak moved to its current location in 2007. It has been a fixture on I-85 ever since.

More than 3 miles of stainless steel pipe carry Red Oak lagers through the brewing process.

More than 3 miles of stainless steel pipe carry Red Oak lagers through the brewing process.

Red Oak brews Bavarian-style lager, according to the 1516 Law of Purity, which requires that beer be made from only four ingredients – hops, malted barley, water and yeast. Red Oak beer is never pasteurized or filtered. “Pasteurization is done to further destroy the flavor of beer and increase the shelf life,” says a passionate Buckley.

For 18 years, Red Oak lagers were sold on draft only. Today, Red Oak bottles Red Oak Amber Lager and Hummin’ Bird Helles, a lighter lager, sold only in 12 packs, to save you a trip back to the store for another six pack.

Red Oak brews two winter seasonals – Black Oak Bavarian-style Dopplebach and Battlefield Bavarian Style Boch. Fall seasonal Old Oak is, naturally, a Traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest Lager, and spring seasonal Big Oak is a Vienna Lager.

Red Oak and other small N.C. craft breweries are fighting a strange state law that requires brewers to sell beer through a distributer, once they reach production of 25,000 barrels a year. Brewers on the verge of reaching this tipping point may be keeping their production below 25,000 barrels in order to continue self-distribution.

Should the state repeal this law, Red Oak is prepared to expand their I-85 facility to a “beer village,” complete with a tasting room and expanded production.

brewery doors and guests on the patio

Red Oak’s Friday tours are popular, as beer lovers spill out onto the brewery’s patio.

Beer, biking, hiking and whitewater: Asheville has it all

view of patio seating

Asheville Brewing offers a large outdoor seating area. The city features many outdoor dining and drinking venues.

The biggest draw of this year’s Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference for me was Asheville. Although I live in North Carolina, Asheville is a good 4 and a half to 5 hours from my home in Raleigh. And any time I found myself there, it was a quick work trip with no time for fun.

So explore “Beer City USA’s” beer scene? Meet with other beer bloggers? Get a personal tour of Sierra Nevada with founder/owner Ken Grossman? Sign me up!

The conference was great, and you can read more about that in other blog posts. In this post, I share some highlights of Asheville’s beer scene and other fun things to do there.

Now downtown Asheville’s South Slope is chockfull of breweries, but the first craft brewery is actually a short drive away from town.

Highland Brewing Co. is famous for its Gaelic Ale, an amber ale that will always satisfy. But here’s where we learned our first lesson of visiting Asheville breweries– pay attention to the brewery hours. In Raleigh, most taprooms are open daily and open late. But don’t count on that in Asheville. We arrived at Highland on a Thursday night at 8:15 p.m., and the taproom had just closed. Sorry to miss that one – it looked like a nice place.

outside of brewery

Burial Beer Co. in Asheville’s South Slope

Quick – open the beer map and find another one that’s still open! We checked our brewery guide and found that the South Slope’s Green Man Brewery was closing at 9 p.m., but nearby Burial Beer Co. was open later.

Burial is an interesting brewery, with beers named for farm implements (Thresher, Winnower) and religious artifacts (Rosary, Shroud and Crucifix). The brewery has a small indoor taproom and lots of outdoor seating. (It’s just as hot in Asheville as it is in Raleigh, but somehow folks there have convinced themselves it’s cool enough to eat and drink outside). Burial’s Thresher Coffee Saison was surprisingly refreshing for a summer coffee beer selection

The nice thing about South Slope is that you can easily walk (stagger?) between breweries, no problem. I hate to reveal this fact because it might cut into the business of some local beer tour companies that rely on vans, but it’s a fact.

outside of brewery

Wicked Weed in downtown Asheville

And there are breweries where you can get a really good meal. The first one we ate at was another iconic brewery, Wicked Weed. Though Wicked Weed opened just two years ago, it has made quite a name for itself for its beers and the sours brewed at its nearby Funkatorium.

For dinner at Wicked Weed, we split an entrée of buffalo meatloaf, fingerling potatoes and wilted greens, with the brewery’s Gose. Lots of open and outdoor seating here as well – on a night that was well in the 90s, we opted for indoor seating.

Fun fact: Wicked Weed owes its name to a quote from King Henry VIII, “Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed.” Ain’t it the truth?

Asheville Brewing and Pizza, as the name suggests, serves pizza with its beer. Again, large outdoor patio was very popular, even on another 90-degree evening. (Do these people think it’s cool just because they’re in the mountains, or what?) Thumbs up for the Rocket Girl Lager – pairs well with Italian sausage and mushroom.

Can’t decide on just one brewery? Head for Pack’s Tavern off Asheville’s Pack Square, where you can sample beers from any number of local breweries, even New Belgium, which isn’t even open yet. Good food, indoor and outdoor seating as well.

But Asheville isn’t just about beer. On a rainy day, we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to stop at the Folk Art Center, which showcases – and sells – quality mountain crafts from local artisans. On a sunny, warm day, we ventured higher up the parkway to the south, to climb Mt. Pisgah at 5,700 feet elevation. Amazing views from up there, but the high is like climbing a mile-and-a-half staircase.

We had lunch one day at the famous 12 Bones in Asheville’s River Arts District, where you can stroll through galleries after eating a lunch of ribs and brisket. (Don’t come to 12 Bones for dinner or on the weekends – they are open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and it doesn’t seem to hurt business.)

Asheville’s greenway system is still developing, but you can get a sample of it by starting at the Mellowdrome, a retired NASCAR race track converted to a cycling track for cyclists of all ages and abilities. When you tire of going round and round, you can access the nearby French Broad River greenway and ride for about 3.6 miles along the river; the trail runs through a nearby RV park.

If you want a real river experience, book a whitewater trip on the French Broad River. You’ll drive about 30 minutes north of Asheville to meet up with outfitters between Hot Springs and Marshall. Maybe you’ll be lucky like we were and plan your trip for the day after a heavy rain that greatly enhanced the river flow – we had a great ride with Blue Heron Whitewater.

Seeking a little urban shade, we visited Asheville’s Botanical Garden one morning. Paths meander through the woods in this urban garden adjacent to UNC-Asheville and beside a shady creek where native trees and plants are identified. Spring is the high season for wildflowers, but we found color there even in July.

We camped at the Bear Creek RV Park, really more of a parking lot than a campground. But the park is clean and convenient to all of Asheville – rarely more than 10 minutes from anywhere we wanted to go.

Asheville is a fun city, with way more to do than you can get to in a week, but it’s certainly worth a try. Learn more: www.exploreasheville.com

Natalie and Kyle stand beside Mt. Pisgah sign

Picked a nice day to hike to the top of Mt. Pisgah, 5,700 feet.