It’s Always Summertime in Greensboro

by Ryan Snyder

Microbrewing is a fine art. No wait; it’s more of an applied science. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. Okay, it’s a lot of both. Either way, it’s far more nuanced of a craft than that episode of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” where “The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation” would have you believe. While Mac and Frank are dumping jars of moonshine into the old skunk beer and lacing it with antifreeze to sell for $10 a cup at the yearly pub crawl, more scrupulous brewers are a little more painstaking in plying their trade. They precisely measure grains and hops and keep a watchful eye on various timers and temperatures, all the while utilizing more esoteric paraphernalia than a Victorian-era motel. It’s a process that can take hours to complete and a few more months to come to fruition, but it’s not done simply for the paper chase. Aside from the scoundrels at “Always Sunny”’s Paddy’s Pub, there’s hardly ever money to be made, unless you count how much is saved on drinking good beer versus buying it at the store minus the somewhat substantial initial investment. Sharing home-made booze has always been a marvelous, time-honored means of entertaining guests, but there’s still even more to the impetus than that. In the end, homebrewers do it for the love of the beverage as much as they do for the love of the craft.

“They’re also experimenting with a secret microbrew. Word on the street is that it’s delicious and powerful.”

On more Maslowian level, brewers tend to realize their latent need for self-actualization that inevitably comes after much trial-and-error, self discovery and homemade hangovers. In short, they want feedback from like-minded individuals and they want to sample the works of others. Most of all, they want to belong to a group. Enter Winston-Salem’s local homebrewer’s association, the Winston-Salem Wort Hawgs. Yes, the name can be construed as a play on the city’s old minor-league baseball team, but the club actually predates that. The Winston-Salem Spirits became the Warthogs in 1995, before taking on the unfortunately inaccurate name the Dash* in 2008. The tenuous, though generally accepted history of the Wort Hawgs has them being founded a few years before in 1991 as a splinter group of the now-defunct Piedmont Institute of Suds Sippers, or PISS for short. That name was just one instance of the delightfully cheeky nature that tends to permeate groups of beer brewers, with more germane examples still to come.

The group met in the basement of City Beverage in its earliest days, but has since taken up residence for its monthly meetings (the last Tuesday evening of every month) at Foothills Brewing Company. The typical meeting is equal parts show and tell, quiz show (Q: “What is the ratio of unfermented wort to the ratio of water?” A: “specific gravity”), administrative housekeeping and Viking feast, with members bringing in their latest haul to be tasted and appraised by the assemblage of veteran palettes. The most recent meeting in July saw the club put to muster six different concoctions with one ultimately being selected for an upcoming competition. Those included an overly malty German altbier; a brisk and guzzle-worthy California common; a maibock with a ton of character; and a delicious India pale ale. Though the IPA lost out to the California Common, it is still one of three Wort Hawg beers to be poured at the fifth annual installment of the forthcoming Summertime Brews Festival.

“That’s an enriched beer, dude. I’ve only tried an enriched beer like once.”

Lee Kiser has only been brewing for a little more than a year, but like anything that he takes an interest in, he literally pours himself into it, pun intended. He’s a champion pistol marksman with a homemade shooting range that resembles a military-style combat course, a scratch golfer and a dead-eye dart thrower, all of which he’s at one time taken a nearobsessive interest in. That predisposition has without a doubt carried over into his interest in homebrewing, having founded his own “homebrewery,” Kisers’ Germanton Brewery (KGB). His secluded Germanton home not only includes a meticulous outdoor arrangement of boiling pots, hoses and coolers, but also a burgeoning hop garden and a composter that supplies it with a rank-smelling stew of yard waste, eggshells and rotten fruit. The newly planted garden has yet to bear its first crop, but when it does, Kiser will be further invested in a process that he holds dear and not merely because it’s another hobby to him. Kiser simply loves everything about beer and it’s no coincidence that large quantities of those hop flowers are a crucial component of his favorite style and one that he takes a special pride in brewing: the IPA, an aromatic, richly flavored style of beer that is especially beloved among brewing connoisseurs. Kiser’sIPA is founded in Wyeast 1056, which is a kind of yeast that isgenerally reserved for the lighter American-style pale ales, thoughadditional hops and fermentables in his recipe up the bitterness andalcohol content. Kiser gives all of the beers he consistently producesa name, complete with homemade labels, and the IPA’s handle is a nod tothe aforementioned pert and often crude brand of humor that isinevitably derived from drinking lots of high-gravity beer on theregular. Titty Mountain IPA, he calls it, a not-so-subtle reference toPilot Mountain, which of course appears on the beer’s label. It’s alsosomewhat of an inside joke that his kegerator features that IPA pairedalongside a beer he calls Leewizer, an anodyne, nearly-flavorless brewthat he keeps stocked for his friends who don’t share the same profoundappreciation for well-crafted suds as he. To give an idea of howimpervious the taste buds of some can be to the complexities of craftbeer, one of his friends in particular persistently reacts to samplingKiser’s bolder creations with, “Yep, tastes sorta like a Yuengling.”

“They want to make a top-secret microbrew…. We gotta make ours more powerful!”

Ofthe two other Wort Hawg brews that will find their way to theSummertime Brews Fest, neither is more potent than Kiser’s IPA, but itis their diversity that makes them worthy representatives. That, andthe fact that both are delicious in their own right. Tom Nolan is theman responsible for the Belgian saison, a refreshing, low-alcohol beerthat literally means “seasonal,” and an American Amber, a smoothdrinking, caramel-colored ale with modest bitterness drawn from his ownHop Island Brewery. A member of the Wort Hawgs since 2002, Nolan firstheard of the group after reading a letter in the Winston-Salem Journal insupport of the “pop the cap” effort to eliminate the potency limits onbeer sold and produced in the state. Nolan began brewing in 1994, afterseveral business trips to Seattle exposed him to their uniquebeer-drinking culture, and is now more than 350 batches into a pursuitthat won him the Gold Medal at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival inthe Pro-Am portion for his Baltic Porter. He’s dabbled in just aboutevery style and sub-style imaginable, but only recently did he gain afond appreciation for the saison. While it doesn’t possess many of thesame characteristics as the IPA, Nolan’s saison is certainly on thesame level of complexity as the best IPAs. According to Nolan, althoughsaison is traditionally well hopped by Belgian standards, it has halfthe bitterness units (IBUs) or less than IPA, and certainly has lowerhop flavor and hop aroma. Saison is known to be dryer than IPA too,typically with much less malt backbone. It boasts a slightly higheralcohol level than the typical saison, and he put his own fingerprintson the recipe, but Nolan still sees his as an ideal beer forhot-weather drinking. “I added black pepper, coriander anddried tangerine peel to mine, in small amounts that come throughsubtly,” Nolan said. “Usually Saison has a degree of tartness orsourness in the flavor, with an earthy character that comes from theunique yeast for the style.”

Lant that bell and let it ring: Kiser’s hops are ready for harvest.

“We’ll make it so strong that people will pass out and vomit, and vomit in their own pass-out!”

Thosein search of something with just a little bit more bite from the localguys need look no further than Barry Harrell’s Wee Heavy Scotch Ale,also known as a Scotch strong. Harrell is also a Winston-Salem native,but pulls double duty as a member of both the Wort Hawgs andGreensboro’s Battleground Brewers Guild. Beers of the strong alevariety tend to have a low hop flavor, possess a fuller body and are atad sweeter, but that sweetness is indicative of higher sugar contentand in beer-drinkers’ terms, that’s usually a good thing. Simply put,it will get you where you want to go just a little bit faster. Not thatthere will be any shortage of means to have your head rocked at theSummertime Brews Fest, but to paraphrase a Neil Young classic,“Homebrew is the way it should be.”

*The name is a reference to the (-) in the middle of the city’s name,but it’s actually a hyphen and not a dash. Though a baseball teamcalled the Winston-Salem Hyphen might sound a little stupid, theseverity of the stupidness between that and the actual name isdebatable, never mind the team’s logo.

Tom Nolan’s American Amber and Belgian Saison lie in wait for unsuspecting drinkers.

At the fest | Favorite brewery:

NC— Highland Brewing company. For me, the guys who piqued my interest inmicrobrewed craft beer in the state. All of their beers are aboveaverage, if not great. Their one-offs are always intriguing; presentlyI have bottles of Imperial Gaelic, Imperial kashmir and Imperial Blackmocha sitting in the cabinet waiting to roll. Highland’s Gaelic is oneof my few go-to beers that I always have in the fridge and can drinkyear round. Highland makes great American versions of many classicstyles of beer.

National— Dogfish Head craft Brewery. Although far too few of their beers arerepresented in the festival, they make outstanding, exotic andsometimes esoteric creations. DFH’s seasonal beers are often out ofthis world, and their one-offs are adventurous and exciting. Try a90min IPA and tell me it’s not hop heaven. Have a World Wide stout, andsleep all weekend (18 percent ABV, not available in North carolina).Their Punkin Ale may be the standard by which all other pumpkin beersshould be compared.

Favoriteheavy beer — milk stout. There are several milk stouts available at thefest, but make sure to try two. locally, the Duck Rabbit milk stout isrich, hoppy and slightly sweet, a dark chocolate- and coffeelover’sdelight. slightly sweeter and stronger is New Holland’s Dragon’s milk,one of my favorite milk stouts of all times. milk stouts are like astandard stout (think Guinness) with lactose or some otherunfermentable sugar added.

Favorite light beer — pilsner. locally,Foothills Brewing Torch Pilsner is a great American version of a czechPilsner, with spicy saaz hops, a medium mouth feel and a crisp finish. Takethat, miller lite. The real knockout is Prima Pils from Victory. Whatan awesome summer beer. Full of flavor, but not heavy. I’m sure it willbe 90 degrees in mid August, just try it!

Best beer to use to cleanse your palate— Becks, St. Pauli Girl, Spaten, Heineken. Take your pick; they are allbelow-average beers. Maybe years ago they were solid imports, but giventhe craft beer climate we inhabit, don’t waste your time or taste buds.In fact, just use water, skip these beers altogether.

Not for beginners —Stone Brewing Co. Arrogant Bastard Ale. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Thisbeer is not for the faint of heart. Complex, fullbodied, bitter andbadass, no novice should attempt this one. Actually, go ahead and tryit. See what you’re missing.

Best balanced beers— ESB (extra special bitter). One of my favorite styles of beer, soeasy going yet not dumbed-down or simple. These are low(er) ABV beers,yet they still retain flavor, texture, and all aspects that make a beerenjoyable. Further they can be enjoyed almost year round. LefthandBrewing’s Sawtooth ESB is a nice one, as is Avery Brewing’s 14’er.

Most underrated brew —Negra Modelo. This is actually a tasty, malty Munich dunkle lager,based on a German recipe. And it goes damn well with Mexican food.French Broad Brewing Co. makes great beer in the mountains of NorthCarolina, but their brews are hard to come by in the Triad. Stop by,sample and say hi.

Best crossing of styles— hoppy brown ales. No matter what you call it, a brown ale (a personalfavorite style of mine), with it’s sweet bread and earthy tones,crossed with an American pale ale or IPA, bitter fruit and flowerflavors, is a match made in heaven. All of these are worth seeking out:Terrapin India Brown Ale, Dogfish Head Indian Brown ale and our NorthCarolina-based Duck Rabbit Brown ale.

Not to be missed:

• Lefthand oak-aged Imperial Stout • Magic Hat Odd Notion • Foothills SexualChocolate and Bourbon-barrel aged Seeing Double IPA • Sam Adams test beers — could be anything

— Jeff Gredlein


Here’sa list of a few things that you should consider before heading out thedoor to the Brews Festival. Don’t worry about too much, just make sureto wear a cool shirt and shorts or skirt , even though we are inside,it can get warm and you may wish to venture outdoors as we have bothexhibitors and bathrooms located there.

Friends If you haveany… try to bring at least one of them with you to the Brews Festival.The best part about having a beer buddy walking around with you at thefest, is the ability to knock out two samples at each booth with onevisit. You can ask for a sample of the IPA, while your friend gathers asample of the jalapeno Chocolate, and you can retreat outside for aquick discussion and sample trade.sample sizes are in the range of 2 ounces, this is a perfectly viable method of sampling many more beers during a session.

Cell phone: If you’rebringing your keys and your wallet, you probably will have this too.But it does come in handy when you are attending a large festival andyou are trying to meet up with others (make sure they have cell phonestoo!).

Camera:Maybe you’ve got one of these attached to your phone. A good beer festis a great place to take lots of pictures of your friends. Hey, theydon’t wear their favorite Flying Dog Brewery T-shirts everyday!

Pen:A pen is an often forgotten item. Trading email addresses with the manybeer nerds (or hot chicks) that you probably will bump into. It’s alsohelpful to check off the names of the beers that you sampled in thefree program that you get when you enter, you will definitely be ableto find a use for a good pen during the Brews Festival.

Cash:This is very important. Brewery booths usually do not take your debitcard or your Harris Teeter VIC card. Bring cash so you can buyt-shirts, hats, pint glasses, non-alcoholic drinks and food. Bottledwater is a staple that you shouldn’t do without. Food and nonalcoholicbeverages do cost at the Brews Fest and not everything will beavailable for purchase with a credit/debit card.

Bag:Many booths will have swag on the table that will eventually find it’sway into your pockets. Coasters, matchbooks, stickers or temporarytatoos are just a few of the items. If you wear shorts with lots ofpockets then you have lots of space for these little things. But if youare planning to buy a shirt, hat or pint glass, you will be begging fora bag of some sorts. Most booths will not have plastic bags availablefor the taking. Also, a good idea; grab an old plastic grocery storebag before you leave the house and cram it into one of your less usedpockets. If you don’t need it, you don’t need to worry about it. Butit’s there just in case.

Away home (most important): Get a designated driver or make sure to saveenough extra cash for public transportation. If there is one essentialon this list that you really should not skip, it’s this one.

The only other item that’s almost as important as that is this… Don’t leave your tickets at home!

Brews Fest Lineup

Abita Brewery Ace Cider Allagash Brewing Company Anheuser-Busch Wild Blue Atlanta Brewing Company Bass Beck’s Boddington’s Leffe Lowenbrau Stella Artois Arcobrau Asheville Brewing Company Avery Brewing Babycham Battleground Brewer’s Guild Big Boss Brewing Company Bitburger Brauguppe Black Sheep Brewery Breckenridge Brewery of Colorado Boone Brewing Company Boston Beer Company Brooklyn Brewery Carolina Beer and Beverage Charles Wells Brewery Coopers – Australia Clipper City Brewing Company Crown Imports St. Pauli Girl Modelo especial Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery Flying Dog Brewery Foothills Brewery Fordham Brewing Front Street Brewery French Broad Brewery Gordon Biersch Great Divide Brewing Company Guinness & Company Harpoon Brewery Highland Brewing Company Heineken Brewery Holy Mackerel Beers Jack Daniels Beverage Company JW Dundee

Kona Brewery Konig Pilsner Labatt’s Left Hand Brewing Company Liberty Steakhouse Lone Rider Mad River Brewing Company Magic Hat Brewing Company Malheur Beers Michelob Brewing Company Mikes Hard Lemonade Company Miller/Coors Brewing Natty Greene’s New Belgium Brewing North Holland Brewing Company North Coast Brewing Company Old Dominion Olde Hickory Brewery Redhook Ale Brewery Red Oak Brewery RJ Rockers Brewing Company Rogue Ales Sarnac Shiner Bock Shock Top Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Smuttynose Brewing Company Spaten Franziskaner Brau Starr Hill Brewery Stone Brewing Company Sweetwater Brewing Company Terrapin Beer Company Thomas Creek Brewing Company Unibrou Victory Brewing Company Warsteiner Brewery Weihenstephan Widmer Brothers Brewery Woodchuck Draft Cider Wychwood Brewery Xingu Yuengling Brewery Winston Salem Wort Hawgs