Earlier this week my wife and I returned from a trip to the East Coast to spend the holidays with my family. It was my first time back in North Carolina since I moved out to Portland two and a half years ago. While beer was not the main focus of the trip, there was a lot of local stuff I wanted to try, as well as recommendations from friends and family who know I’m now a beer geek. Rather than try to rank which ones I like best or anything like that I’ll just present them in the order we visited them in.
Over the course of the trip I tried 72 unique beers (beers I had never checked into on Untappd. Most of them I’d never had before, Foothills was the only repeat) and most of them were simply “tried”. Several taster flights were shared amongst the group and sometimes it was just a sip of what someone else had so I could taste it.
Olde Mecklemburg Brewing (Charlotte, NC):
The first brewery we visited was a recommendation from my brother, who lives in Charlotte. We met one of our local friends there and had a few pints and took the tour. Olde Meck focuses strictly on German beers and stick to the purity laws and don’t add any “funky” ingredients. I wasn’t sold on their Copper, which is an altbier but I think partially because I was expecting an American Style Amber. The Pilsner, Weiss and Baltic Porter were all very tasty. Sadly they had run out of their seasonal Doppelbock.
Sugar Creek Brewing (Charlotte, NC):
The second brewery we visited was literally across the street from Olde Meck. I found it while I was looking up directions. Sugar Creek specializes in Belgian style beers, which is my favorite style, but my wife’s least favorite. Not to fear, they had a bottled Coffee Stout that was right up her alley and she enjoyed it very much. I got a taster flight that included a Wit, Dubbel, Tripel and Saison. The Dubbel was my favorite, but they were all phenomenal.
Birdsong Brewing (Charlotte, NC):
The third brewery we visited in Charlotte was Birdsong in the iconic NoDa neighborhood. Unfortunately, NoDa brewing was closed the days we were in Charlotte, but this was a great alternative. We both liked Birdsong the best out of the breweries we’d visited so far, but we realized some of that preference was simply because these beers were more like what we were used to. We only had one each, and they were very much “Portland” beers. I got a Brown Ale which was hoppy but with a lot of chocolate roast, and my wife got an IPA which was very piney and citrusy. Turns out one of the brewers is from the Northwest. Very cool place with a very hip vibe.
Natty Greene’s (Greensboro, NC):
I’ve had Natty Greene’s beer before but never visited their brewpub location. We decided to have dinner there and both the food and the beer were really good. We tried their Red Nose Winter Ale, a Wit and an IPA. I hated IPA when I lived here, they were too bitter and strongly flavored, but of course they’ve grown on me living in Portland. I wasn’t sure how they would be on the East Coast but so far they’ve been really well done.
Foothills Brewing (Winston Salem, NC):
I had been to Foothills a couple times, even took my wife there when she came to visit me before I moved out to Portland, but I was excited to go back now that my tastes in beer had changed. Foothills does several IPAs that I didn’t like 3 years ago but I figured now I’d either like them, or would think they didn’t have enough hops, rather than too much. I got the taster tray which included a set rotation. It came with their Pilsner, Porter, Blonde Ale, One of the IPAs and two seasonals. One was a black IPA and one was a pumpkin ale. I knew I wouldn’t like the pumpkin beer so I took one sip and then passed that to my wife who loved it. The blonde ale is mostly flavorless, but it’s designed to be light and easy drinking. The pilsner was the one I didn’t much care for. I’m discovering I’m just not a fan of that strong “canned corn” flavor that is common to most lagers. I guess I’m an ale guy. The porter is good, which is one of their standards. Both the IPA and the Black IPA were really good, so I can tell my taste buds have adjusted. They are no longer “too bitter”.
Moon River Brewing (Savannah, GA):
There’s only a handful of craft breweries in Savannah, but Moon River is right on Bay Street and located in a (reportedly) haunted building that originally served as a tavern/hotel and also got turned into a makeshift hospital/morgue during the yellow fever epidemic. We stopped in a little before closing after our walking ghost tour, so the service was a little scattered, but the beers were pretty good. They normally offer a 10 oz or 18 oz pour, but since they were close to closing they were only pouring in 16 oz plastic “to-go” cups, a Savannah staple. I started with Dixie Kristal, a seasonal Belgian Tripel, which was quite tasty. We also tried the Swamp Fox IPA, Boucane Brown Ale and Captain’s Porter which we all nice. The Porter was somewhat better than the brown ale.
Deep River Brewing Co. (Clayton, NC):
We went to visit my best friend in Raleigh and he had a couple of his favorite places he wanted to take us too. We started at Deep River. We split a 8 sample taster among the three of us so we could all taste a little bit of everything. The selection included a White Winter Ale, a Stout, a Black IPA, a Rye Pale Ale, a Wit, an IPA, a Pumpkin Pie Porter and a marzen. They were all very good, although the two that stood out the most were the Mango Tango Foxtrot IPA and the JoCo White Winter Ale. The MTF was made with New Zealand hops that have strong flavors of tropical fruits. It tasted like they actually put mangoes in the beer, but it was just hops. The JoCo was a Belgian style beer, but it was made with toasted marshmallows and sweet potatoes (sweet potato casserole anyone?). I was really hesitant on this one since I assumed it was going to be gimmicky and not very good, but I was wrong, it was amazing. The flavors melded perfectly and nothing jumped out at me as sweet potato or marshmallow. To be honest, this tasted exactly like Chimay Blue to me. Cans of both the JoCo and the Mango Tango went home with us.
Draft Line Brewing (Fuquay Varina, NC):
The second place we went was a favorite haunt and my best friend knew the people working there and has become friends with the owners/brewers. Again we grabbed two 4-sample taster trays to share between the three of us so we could try everything they had on tap. This taster included an IPA, Pilsner, Porter, Scotch Ale, Pale Ale, Oktoberfest, Winter Spice Lager and a Belgian Dark Strong. The Belgian (of course) was my favorite, and again the Pilsner was my least favorite. The rest were all very enjoyable. The one that stuck out the most though was the Winter Spice Lager. I wasn’t sure what to expect of it, and it turned out to be a gingerbread house in a glass, but it was very good. Lots of ginger, clove, cinnamon, and sugar. Christmas in liquid form. A growler of the Winter Spice went home with us for us all to share later.
Fortnight Brewing (Cary, NC):
Our second day in Raleigh we made a special trip out to Fortnight Brewing. The reason this was special was a friend of ours from our Portland homebrewing club had won a contest and brewed a beer with the guys at Fortnight and it was going to be on tap supposedly, while we were in town. I emailed the brewery and they said it was going to be on tap on Monday, although we weren’t going to make it to Raleigh until Friday and Saturday. Called the brewery Saturday afternoon and they said they did indeed still have it on tap so we headed out, and we got there JUST in time. We ordered two glasses of our friends Coffee Stout and just as the second glass was almost full, the keg blew! We got the last of it! We thought it was equal parts hilarious and spooky that we traveled all that way to drink a friends beer and ended up killing the keg. It was quite tasty!
Lonerider Brewing (Raleigh, NC):
The last brewery we visited on this trip was Lonerider. My sister met us there since it’s close to her house and they have one of her favorite beers, the Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen. They serve half pints which let us try all kinds of different things without getting hammered. Between the four of us we tried the Hefe, Brown Ale, IPA, Porter, Pale Ale and a couple of interesting seasonals, a Belgian Nior (Belgian Black? Untappd labeled it a Dark Strong), a barrel aged stout with coffee and vanilla beans and a raspberry infused pale ale. The standard beers were all quite amazing, but the seasonal and one off beers stole the show. The raspberry pale ale tasted like Fruity Pebbles, but was still quite good, would have been awesome in warmer weather, the Belgian Noir was really quite tasty. The Barrel aged Pistols at Dawn stole the show though. Hints of coffee, chocolate, vanilla and rum all danced in a dark smooth base. We got a second pint of this one to all share at the end because we all needed just a couple more sips of it, it was that good!
So there you have it, the recap of an awesome beercation!