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The Unofficial Piedmont Triad Beer Trail

by Eric Ginsburg

The Triad Beer Trail Photo courtesy of Kim Newmoney Photography

North Carolina experienced a boom in beermaking with the passage of HB392, known as the Pop the Cap Law, in 2005, which lifted a decades-old prohibition on high-alcohol beers like IPAs, Belgian ales and other savory brews.

Since then, there’s been a veritable beersplosion in the Triad as newcomers got into the game and established breweries expanded their catalogs.

But, unlike in other beer-centric cities like Portland and Seattle, there’s never been a mapped-out beer trail for the Triad. Until now.

Foothills Brewing 638 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem; 336.777.3348; foothillsbrewing.com Tips: Read our recent chow article about Foothills’ Sexual Chocolate beer. Try the Torch Pilsner, People’s Porter and the seasonal Oktoberfest. There are two locations in Winston-Salem and people can call ahead to schedule a tour at either.’

Foothills Brewery is constantly growing, so much so that co-owner and brew master Jamie Bartholomaus doesn’t know how many different beers the company churns out annually. There are seven year-round brews and 20-some total, he said. The adult beverages are distributed in eastern Tennessee, South Carolina and western Virginia, but 90 percent of sales come from North Carolina.

Foothills owners are eying a market from DC to Atlanta, and will also invest $400,000 in operations here by the end of the year. Bartholomaus said they intend to add a tasting room soon as well, giving fans just one more reason to schedule a brewery tour.

Like Natty Greene’s in the Gate City, Foothills helped rejuvenate downtown Winston-Salem after opening nearly a decade ago on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2005. Now two forthcoming breweries in Camel City aim to widen the scope of the local beer scene by building on Foothills’ wild success.

Westbend Vineyard and Brewery 5294 Williams Rd., Lewisville; 336.945.5032; westbendvineyards.com Tours are given on the weekend by appointment, and the tasting room is closed on Mondays.

Jamie Mingia has six babies, and he’s expecting several more soon. Mingia, the head brewer at Westbend, is still the assistant wine maker, but he considers the company’s beers his offspring, in a way. After decades of producing wine, Westbend launched a brewery in early 2012 and it’s already “busting at the seams,” Mingia said.

In the second year dove into some of the fun stuff beyond the brewery’s staples, such as the adventuresome cucumber wheat, and he’s looking forward to “stretching his legs and giving people more to try” as they keep growing. Every day he learns something new.

“Homebrewing is what gave me the itch for wine,” Mingia said, “and that got me back into the beer business [through Westbend].”

Westbend doesn’t bottle its beer, though it does distribute kegs. Visitors can visit the on site food truck and alternate between wine and the beer taproom if they want.

Small Batch Beer Co.’ 241 W. 5th St., Winston-Salem; 845.337.8444; smallbatchws.com The plan: the final site inspection should happen by the end of this week, allowing Small Batch Beer Co. to open by the end of October. The goal: Every time people come, they’ll try something new. When Tim Walker agreed to move to Winston-Salem with his fianc’, he had one caveat: that she support him while he opened a brewery. After working in the restaurant industry and homebrewing for five years, Walker and his business partners, Ryan Blaine and Cliff Etchason, are opening a new kind of brewhouse.

They’re planning to produce approximately 60 beers annually, rotating the offerings on the bar’s eight taps frequently and using an assortment of local ingredients.

“We’re not trying to distribute to other places, we’re just trying to make the best beer possible… and experiment,” Walker said.

Small Batch will also create craft cocktails, a ton of infusions and make in-house sodas. At tastings so far, the Lemonade IPA has been a hit, but Walker and friends hope to encourage — maybe force — patrons to experiment with each visit with consistently alternating small batches of brew.

Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Company’ 840 Manly St., Winston-Salem; 336.608.6026; hootspublic.com

Okay, I know he probably gets this a lot (for that, I’m sorry), but Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Company co-founder Eric Swaim looks too much like Opie from “Sons of Anarchy” for me to ignore it. In the photo we ran of Swaim and business partners Eric Weyer and Ralph Pritts on Aug. 14 about the West End Mill Works, Swaim has the outlaw motorcycle club look down, from the black attire and beard to the facial expression.

That’s neither here nor there — the point is that this distinctive new brewery, one of two on its way in Winston-Salem, is eminently expected to open. The sharp, clean look of the business’ website hints at the aesthetic of owners coming out of the music scene with an appreciation for design. The best part is the slogan: “The night is clear. Deep are the roots. The owl is near. The beer is Hoots.”’

Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery 914 Mall Loop Rd., High Point; 336.882.4677; libertysteakhouseandbrewery.com Tips: High Point students love the witbiers. Pints are $3 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Don’t live nearby? Snag a growler to go. Brewery tours by appointment.

There might be two reasons that the Triad’s oldest brewery (depending how you track Red Oak’s genesis) isn’t the most well-known in the area — it’s in High Point, and it’s almost impossible to down one of its pints without visiting in person — but really, there’s no excuse.

In my semi-professional opinion, informed by tasting all of Liberty’s beers currently on tap, the quality of the brews more than justifies an out-of-town drive, but I’m far from alone in lauding the excellence of these libations. The brewery’s flagship beer, Miss Liberty Lager, won best in show for the NC Brewers’ Guild competition earlier this year, and its American IPA placed second.

As I stepped into the long, narrow brewery next to the bar, my eyes were immediately drawn to the clear liquid spreading across the floor and brew master Todd Isbell’s tall rubber boots.

“Don’t worry, its just water,” he said, as I maneuvered my canvas shoes out of the way.

The building — across the street from High Point University — used to be a Red Robin, and this sunlit strip 10-barrel brew house functioned as the patio.

There’s a romantic aspect to taking the seven standard and up to two seasonal beers “from grain to glass,” watching people in the restaurant try his recipes, Isbell said.

He also doubles as a brewing science instructor at Rockingham Community College helping students who are studying fermentation-science technology work towards associates degrees in applied science.

Isbell feels like a sage after moving here in 2007 from Boulder, Colo. (before that he lived in California) because he envisioned what is now becoming a reality: the emerging scene in the Triad. Isbell wanted to be part of that trendsetting — there’s more personal gratification in it, he said. The beer drinkers of the Triad thank him for it.’

Red Oak Brewery 6901 Konica Dr., Whitsett; 336.447.2055; redoakbrewery.com Tips: Brewery tours are only given on Fridays at 3 p.m., and these days it costs $10. Red Oak doesn’t have a brew house but its beers are on tap and in grocery stores throughout the area. Start with the flagship beer and then venture to the others.

It’s the most alluring view on the drive along I-40 from Winston-Salem to Raleigh: the peak through a wall of glass at Red Oak Brewery’s home base outside of Greensboro. The brewery traces its history to a restaurant on a dirt road near Guilford College in 1979 and to a brewpub opened near UNCG in 1991, but in 2007 Red Oak switched to the larger brewery that peers over the highway in Whitsett. Depending on which incarnation marks the beginning of the timeline, Red Oak can claim to be the oldest operating brewery in the area.

Specializing in German-style beer, Red Oak is proud of its adherence to the 1516 Law of Purity, Reinheitsgebot, that requires a more natural process than many other breweries follow, relying only on malted barley, hops, water and yeast. No additives, no preservatives. Just good beer.’

Four Saints’ 218 S. Fayetteville St., Asheboro. 336.560.7687; foursaintsbrewing.com

There are three year-round beers and four seasons, stretching from a peace hefeweizen to a double IPA or Chlachneart Scottish Ale. And then, of course, there are the four saints. Named for the “patron saints” of beer, these brews cover quite the range: Christmas Ale, Jalape’o Rauchbier, Whiskey Barreled Stout One and Honey Ginger Ale.

Joel McClosky and Andrew Deming, the founders of Four Saints Brewing Company in Asheboro, claim their venture is the first brewery in Randolph County’s history, so it’s about damn time. The duo crushed a Kickstarter campaign last summer, grossing $52,000 despite a $45,000 goal. Four Saints plans to launch in early 2014, and in December will be back at the Big Sip competition in Greensboro, where the audience dubbed it Best Brewery and Best in Show overall last year. Its beers snagged several other awards at competitions around the state recently, too many to list here. And the brewery isn’t even officially open yet!’

The Pig Pounder 1107 Grecade St., Greensboro (near Battleground Avenue); pigpounder.com

Developer Marty Kotis III is opening a small brewery in the Gate City with an unusual name: the Pig Pounder Brewery. Kotis, who owns Darryl’s and other restaurants, hired head brewer Sam Rose from Highland Brewing Company in Asheville. The beers will only be sold in Kotis’ restaurants, like the Marshall Free House gastropub that is in the works. Kotis could not be reached for comment, but the Triad Business Journal reported that he expects to open the microbrewery in a month. The Pig Pounder will also have a tasting room.’

Natty Greene’s 345 S. Elm St., Greensboro; 336.274.1373; nattygreenes.com Tips: Check the up-to-date list of rotating beers on tap on Natty’s website, including what’s coming. Love the Wildflower Wit? Try the Swamp Fox. All pints are $2 on Thursdays and $3 on Sundays.

This brewery named for a local historical figure grew into a fixture of downtown Greensboro since it opened in 2004, and after spreading distribution to the edges of the state and into Virginia, Natty Greene’s is about to make a move into South Carolina.

It’s the only Triad brewery with more than one brewhouse — there’s a second location in Raleigh that opened three years ago — and at any given time the brewhouses offer six taps that aren’t available anywhere else.

Running a brewery is a mixture of a variety of jobs — mathematician, scientist, garbageman — but Mike Rollinson, Natty’s director of pub brewing for Greensboro and Raleigh, couldn’t be happier. Only a small fraction of the company’s beer is brewed at the two sites (the rest is made at a separate production location), but Rollinson said it’s rewarding to put so much work into perfecting a beer and to see people adopt it as their staple.

Rollinson has been tweaking the Full Moon recipe for five years and has been behind a cast of beers on tap at the brew houses that varies nearly every week. The company’s staples, Buckshot and Guilford, remain the most popular at the Greensboro pub — not surprising when the drafts switch up frequently, but potentially a sign that it’s time for more exploration.’

Brewers’ choice Brewers at Liberty, Foothills, Westbend and Natty Greene’s said IPAs are their favorite of all the beers they produce. Natty Greene’s Mike Rollinson explained that it takes a while for your palate to appreciate the fullness of an IPA, which can be too hoppy for some folks. That’s part of the appeal of Small Batch’s Lemonade IPA, Tim Walker said, but for people that drink a lot of beer, it can be difficult to turn back to more balanced beers, Rollinson said.

Beer obsessed? The Great American Beer Festival, the largest in the country, starts Thursday in Denver. Stay tuned for the results — it’s possible a local outfit will take home a prize like Natty Greene’s did with a silver medal for its Old Towne Brown in 2006.

Coming soon:’ Tour downtown Greensboro restaurants by way of the Fall Sip-n-Stroll, a craft beer and wine tasting stroll put on by the downtown residents’ association. It’s on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 1-5 p.m., and tickets are $10 cheaper online in advance. Visit greensborodra.org.

Feel like traveling? Brewz Fest in Charlotte is the same day, featuring five breweries and live music including Of Montreal. Visit brewzfest.com.’

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