Some Wicked Good Beer


beer on ice

Wicked Weed beer tasting at NC State University Club.

Wicked Weed Brewing was the darling of Asheville’s craft beer market until earlier this year when they shocked their fellow brewers by selling their operation to Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser. But in spite of the ownership change, the brewery has continued with business as usual, with a goal of expanding their distribution throughout the Southeast, according to Wicked Weed’s Raleigh rep Gregory Little.

Wicked Weed brews a little something for everyone, and recently, they rolled out a tasting at the NC State University Club in Raleigh that included some favorites and some brews I hadn’t tried before.

Lunatic Blonde: A Belgian blonde, lightly hopped and refreshing.

Napoleon Complex Hoppy Pale Ale: A little more hop than I care for.

Pernicious IPA: Yes, it’s hoppy, but it’s more of a citrus hop; no bitter finish.

Hop Coca Porter: More coca than hop, this porter is a great cool weather beer – brewed with coca nibs.

Brettanomyces Farmhouse Ale: The one sour – nice cider-like quality.

Any time you’re in Asheville, be sure to make a stop at Wicked Week Brewing – either the brewery or the nearby sours brewing facility, the Funkatorium. The food at the brewery is actually really good, and like many of Asheville’s dining establishments, they throw open the doors and make the whole restaurant feel like a patio in warm weather.


Wicked Weed brought out the goods for the NC State University Club.


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

flight of four beers

Get a flight to try as many beers as possible.

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


Taps at Compass Rose


Big, open taproom


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.

Women and beer, New Belgium in Asheville and Anheuser-Busch quality control

Women at brewery tour

Women account for 18 percent of beer bloggers, though the count appeared higher at this year’s conference.

It was notable that two of the major speakers at the Asheville Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference were women – including Julia Herz of the Brewers Association who has kicked off every beer bloggers conference since 2010, and keynote speaker Kim Jordan, founder and CEO of New Belgium.

Herz described beer as a $102 billion industry, with more than 3,500 breweries now open in the United States. Too many? Herz says no – while 615 new breweries opened in 2014, only 46 breweries closed.

Women account for 32 percent of craft beer sales and 18 percent of beer bloggers, though women beer bloggers who attended the conference in previous years seemed to believe there were a larger number of women beer bloggers at the 2015 conference. And women bloggers participated on every blogger panel. Let’s go, girls!

Kim Jordan, New Belgium CEO/founder

Kim Jordan

Kim Jordan of New Belgium was keynote speaker

By now, every craft beer fan in North Carolina knows that New Belgium of Ft. Collins, Colo., will become the third large West Coast brewer to open a brewery in Asheville. Kim Jordan, New Belgium founder and CEO, came to the beer bloggers conference to share the story of how New Belgium grew out of efforts by Jordan and then boyfriend Jeff Lebesch the brewery’s co-founder, decided to try brewing Belgian beers in their basement.

Lebesch became interested in Belgian beer after a bicycle trip there that inspired New Belgium’s flagship beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale. It was a long shot – at the time, there were no categories in the Great American Beer Festival for Belgian beers. But that didn’t stop Jeff and Kim from brewing Belgian beers, photocopying their beer labels at Kinkos.

Jordan described the evolution of telling the New Belgium beer story, from a time when Beer Advocate was the only online publication about beer and brewing, to the company’s early email newsletters, then blogs and today’s social media. Blog posts, photos and videos are an important way New Belgium tells its story on the company’s website.

“Every 24 hours, probably two new craft breweries open,” Jordan said. “Bloggers help ‘connect’ the dots and tell the story. I suspect there will be a bit of slowing … the industry can’t grow at this level forever. But I think we will see a vibrant craft beer scene for a very long time.”

Anheuser-Busch quality assurance

Bud beer bottles

“The King of Beers” goes through a thorough tasting process everyday.

It’s a safe bet to say that most of the bloggers at the conference aren’t the biggest fans of “the King of Beers.” And some of us still get a little miffed just thinking about Budweiser’s snarky Superbowl commercial making fun of craft beer. But Mark Yocum, director of quality for Anheuser-Busch, did a great job describing and demonstrating how the company’s rigorous quality-control tasting program works.

The A-B taste panel meets every afternoon to sample and critique beer at different stages of brewing, including the water that goes into brewing the beer at various stages. The complexity of the sampling process demonstrates A-B’s commitment to quality and attention to detail, Yoakum said.

The panel begins by tasting water from different stages of brewing, from the tap water that comes in to the plant to filtered water through different stages of brewing and even the rinse water for bottles, cans and kegs. Yocum brought samples of beer at various stages of production – wort, alpha fermentation beer and “chip beer” from day 19 or 20 in the lager tank with beechwood chips. We also tasted malt (I could eat it like cereal from the box), and passed around a sample of A-B’s famous beechwood.

Anyone on the quality panel can call an ingredient or sample into question, resulting in further scrutiny and analysis. A-B brewers pride themselves on quality and consistency, competing internally for the prized “Brewer’s Cup.”

When I was in college, a favorite bar game was to see who could quote the marketing slogan on the Budweiser can, which began, “This is the famous Budweiser beer.” … and ended with, “Our exclusive beechwood aging process produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.” – and now you know why.

Last call for Natty Greene’s of Raleigh

beer and last hurrah sign

Saturday marked the last bash for Raleigh’s Natty Greene’s.

Natty Greene’s Pub and Brewing Co. was a Greensboro fixture when the brewery decided to locate to Raleigh’s Glenwood South neighborhood five years ago. The brewery was alone among the area’s pubs and sports bars, but others would follow.

Saturday marked the end of Raleigh’s Natty Greene’s, after rent for the popular pub became too steep, and the brewers decided to leave town. The closing was marked with a festive atmosphere — bands, beer and rapidly dwindling menu options, as the restaurant sold its final wings and fish and chips.

Proceeds from the day were to support employees, who are losing their Raleigh jobs. Here’s hoping another establishment will open there soon – prior to Natty Greene’s, the site seemed to turn over about every year. And I’m still hoping that maybe someone is trying to find a nice new Raleigh site for Natty Greene’s – raise a glass of Summerfest lager to that!

outside of brewery building

Natty Greene’s in Raleigh’s Glenwood South will be missed.