Ponysaurus brings fun and good beer to Durham

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.

Is this heaven? No it’s live beer blogging!

computer and beer

Let the wild rumpus begin!

Could this be heaven? I’m sitting at a table – phone, laptop and camera in hand – while 12 brewers come around and bring me samples of their beer. All you have to do is drink it, first, and secondly, write about it.

So the live beer blogging late Saturday afternoon of the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference may be the highlight. It’s basically “speed dating” with brewers courting bloggers, and this year’s brewers were all from North Carolina. Here’s a recap of the beers and what I learned in the five minutes or so that each brewer had to share their stuff.

Innovation Brewing, Sylva This cute young brewer couple shared their Beet and Basil Pale Ale and a Black IPA that is their most popular beer. Innovation distributes only through their taproom, where they have an impressive 21 beers on tap at all times, and they try to source much of their ingredients locally, including from their own 14-acre farm. The Beet and Basil Pale was especially nice with a pink color (beets) and a spicy, earthy taste. The Black IPA was “aggressively hopped,” and the dark color was provided by Midnight Wheat, with 10 percent rye for flavor. And shhhhh … local fans with gluten intolerance have discovered that several of the beers are surprisingly drinkable, but they don’t advertise as gluten-free.

Highland Brewing, Asheville Highland, Asheville’s original craft brewery, brought their just-released King MacAlpin Double IPA — soooooo hoppy. The Double IPA was released the night before, and at the Saturday evening program sponsored by the Asheville brewers we had the chance to sample Highland’s amazing Oktoberfest, on its way to bottle shops in a few weeks. Tip: Don’t wait until October to buy this one or you’ll be disappointed. Next up in the production line at Highland: Double Milk Stout.

Fullsteam, Durham Sean from Fullsteam described how the Durham brewery, which has received wide acclaim, likes to celebrate local farm ingredients. We sampled Summer Basil Farmhouse Ale, Fullsteam’s best selling seasonal beer, brewed with North Carolina basil, wheat and barley. Because the ingredients change over time, Fullsteam’s beer also     changes over time. Summer Basil is popular, and one of Fullsteam’s challenges is getting people to celebrate the NC basil season, rather than anticipating the season — basil isn’t available in NC until late June.

“Beer is agriculture,” Sean says. Fullsteam’s Persimmon beer won a Good Food Award, and Carver is made from copious amounts of NC sweet potatoes.

Front St. Brewery, Wilmington Front Street Brewery opened in 1995, making it the sixth oldest brewery in the state. The brewery sells all its beer off its own taps and doesn’t distribute it at all. We tasted Absurdity Belgian IPA, 9.1 percent ABV, and a very smooth hoppy beer. Other popular beer styles at Front Street are the Scottish Ale, Coastal Kolsch and Raspberry Wheat Ale. Last year, Front Street became the first brewery in the state to hire a woman as head brewmaster.

Duck Rabbit Brewery, Farmville We tasted Duck Rabbit Milk Stout, which may be the best known North Carolina beer sold outside the state, in just seven states with Pennsylvania being the farthest north. And yet this geographically hard-to-find brewery has only just “expanded” its taproom hours to ?? Daniel Bradford of All About Beer Magazine recommends serving Duck Rabbit Milk Stout over vanilla ice cream – yummmm!

Big Boss Brewing, Raleigh I’m biased of course because I love all Big Boss brews, and I’m not alone. Big Boss has been named the best brewery in Wake County, and Angry Angle Kolsch has been named the best beer in the county. We tasted Hell’s Belle Blonde Ale, one of the brewery’s beers named for WWII planes. Big Boss distributes only in the Carolinas, thank goodness, and Harvestime, their fall seasonal, is highly sought after. Again, don’t wait until October to buy yours.

NoDa Brewing, Charlotte Charlotte’s NoDa Brewing comes around with Hop and Roll IPA – hopppyyyy! The noise in the room is so loud by now, I cannot hear a thing…

White Street Brewery, Wake Forest Again, what can I say because I love White Street Brewery. White Street has really brought life to sleepy downtown Wake Forest and has been named one of the top 10 breweries in the U.S. to watch. A rep from the NC Brewers Guild brought White Street samples of Kolsch, Scottish Ale and Hoptimist.

Olde Mecklenberg Brewery, Charlotte I had never tried Olde Mecklenberg beers before, but I found Copper Amber Ale, their flagship beer, to be very smooth, and Capt. Jack Pilsner, has a summer taste.

Final round (almost)!! Why can’t I read these notes??

Trophy Brewing and Pizza, Raleigh   Trophy brought the popular Trophy Wife American Pale Ale and Milky Way Salted Caramel Sweet Stout, a malty, chocolatey stout — yummm. And their pizza isn’t bad either.

Lonerider Ales for Outlaws, Raleigh Saving the best for last? Lonerider has long been a favorite of mine. They rolled out Sweet Josie Brown Ale and Red Spur seasonal ale. (Did I miss something? I can’t read my notes…)

Can somebody help me find the door?

Beer bloggers say Sierra Nevada is ‘Disney World for beer lovers’

people shaking hands

Ken and Brian Grossman, center, greet stunned bloggers at Sierra Nevada.

Three days, two amazing breweries, more beer poured than you’ll find at a frat party and 150 plus amazing bloggers, writers and social media experts, all interested in beer. I don’t know exactly where to begin, but the 2015 Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference in Asheville was all I expected, and more. The first day of the conference was all about tours to nearby Oskar Blues in Brevard and the recently opened Sierra Nevada Brewery in Mills River. Look for additional posts coming up soon.

Disney World for beer lovers
Ever since Sierra Nevada of Chico, Calif., announced it was opening an East Coast brewery in Asheville, anticipation for the brewery taproom’s opening, earlier this year, was huge. And Sierra Nevada in Mills River does not disappoint. From the moment the bloggers got off the bus to shake hands with brewery founder Ken Grossman and son Brian (totally starstruck) to the gigantic brewery, complete with enormous copper kettles refurbished and imported from Germany to the hop room where whole hop cones are thawed for the day’s brewing to the taproom patio and riverfront events area, we were impressed!

As the first bus group waited for our tour, a guide announced that, “We have someone here who knows so much more about the brewery…” Oh yeah, Ken Grossman was our guide. His passion for the brewery showed every time another guide had to stop and remind him that “the next group is right behind you.” What was normally a two-hour tour was collapsed to about 45 minutes.

People drinking beer

Beer bloggers enjoy Oktoberfest release and dinner by the French Broad River.

Just for us beer bloggers, Sierra Nevada took the opportunity to release its Oktoberfest beer, a collaboration with German brewer Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg, an effort to learn more about German festival beers, according to the website. It was served up in huge beer steins –ours to keep — at our riverside dinner site, along with grilled veggies, roast pork and bratwurst.

Ken Grossman quote about quality and the need to occasionally dump bad beer, “Making beer is an art and a science, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong.

Oskar Blues Brewery, Brevard

Bloggers with brewmaster

Beer bloggers tour the brewery at Brevard’s Oskar Blues.

Before Sierra Nevada came to Western North Carolina, Colorado brewery Oskar Blues opened its East Coast site in Brevard, just a short drive from Asheville. The facility is designed for production and distribution of Oskar Blues canned craft beers.

We toured the 80,000-barrel-per-year facility that has plans to ramp up to 200K barrels a year eventually. A few more facts about Oskar Blues:

  • 300 cans of beer per minute are produced on the canning line.
  • East Coast beer is distributed in 20 states.
  • Most of the beers ferment for up about 15 days.

The beers we sampled at Oskar Blues included Mango Habanero Dale’s Pale Ale, with a little hot kick at the end, and Death by Coconut, an Irish Porter with a strong coconut, chocolate flavor. Mama’s Little Yella Pils was a nice, crisp summer lager.

Fun fact: Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis loves bicycles, and rewards employee who stay with the company two years with a bicycle for their anniversary gift. When Dale’s bike was stolen several years ago, he started building bikes that are all-American materials at a facility near the Colorado plant.

cans on table

Empties from Oskar Blues tastings.

Bloggers taking notes

Bloggers take notes at Oskar Blues.