Think global, drink local
GREAT NORTH CAROLINA BEER FESTIVAL PREVIEW
Local breweries and their beers available at Beerfest
Natty Greene’s: Guilford Golden Ale, Wildflower Whitbier, Southern Pale Ale, Buckshot Amber Ale, Old Town Brown Ale, Elm Street IPA, Cannonball Double IPA, Flanders Ale.
Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery: Miss Liberty Lager, Blackberry Wheat, Hopsen Weisse Hefeweizen (seasonal), Drye Hopped Rye (seasonal).
Foothills: Salem Gold, Pilot Mountain Pale Ale, Torch Pilsner, Hoppyum IPA, Oktoberfest (seasonal), Seeing Double IPA, Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout, People’s Porter (bourbon-barrel aged), Total Eclipse Stout (bourbon-barrel aged), India Brown (bourbon-barrel aged).
While many undergrads will celebrate this weekend in a drunken reverie of Busch Light and PBR, the more astute, experienced (and gainfully employed) beer drinker with a more refined palate would be remiss to not make the Great North Caroloina Beer Festival part of their weekend.
This Saturday from 1p.m. to 8 p.m. Tanglewood Park in Clemmons will become a beer-drinker’s nirvana. There will be beer available from breweries small and large, from places all over the world. Beer will be provided by heavyweights such as Guinness, Magic Hat, Yuengling, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams. North Carolina breweries presenting beer at the festival include Asheville’s Craggie-Battery Hill and Highland Brewery, Hickory’s Olde Hickory, Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg and Mooresville’s Carolina Beer Co.
Representing the Triad are Winston-Salem’s Foothills, High Point’s Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery and Greensboro’s Natty Greene’s. There’s also home-brew clubs the Winston-Salem Warthogs and High Point Hops for those more inclined to the DIY aesthetic.
My editor asked me if I could drink some beer for my assignment this week. I was already planning on doing that anyway, so off I went, to try as many of the beers from the local craft breweries as possible.
I soon found myself perched on a barstool at Foothills tossing back their current seasonal Oktoberfest brew. The German-style amber lager tasted tart at first but left a sweet finish. Scott Smith, Foothills’ sales director, attests that Oktoberfest is his current favorite selection from their brewery, along with their year-round Hoppyum IPA. Hoppyum is sweeter than most IPAs, with a taste that sticks to the roof of your mouth. But personally, I preferred their Seeing Double IPA, which tasted very hoppy — as it should considering its 9.5 percent alcohol content — but possesses a unique contrast of bitterness and malt.
Along with their standard beers Foothills will present at the festival are a few specialty brews: three varieties of their beer — People’s Porter, Total Eclipse Stout and India Brown — aged up to six months in bourbon barrels. According to Smith, the bourbon-barrel aging process “adds woody, vanilla, earthy and of course bourbon flavor. Each barrel has a unique character that it passes along to the beer.”
Foothills will also present their Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout, which won bronze in the Imperial Stout category at the 2009 American Beerfest and the same at the 2010 World Beer Cup. The high-gravity 9.75 percent beer is roasty and hearty with subtle notes of cocoa, according to Smith. Sexual Chocolate has received plaudits from Maxim, Men’s Health and Garden & Gun magazines. On a side note, the first ever bourbon-barrel-aged batch of Sexual Chocolate will go on sale Friday at 4 p.m. at the Foothills restaurant and brewery.
Liberty is home to the most unique beer I encountered on my quest:
Blackberry Wheat. Todd Isbell, Liberty’s brewmaster, adds blackberry puree from Oregon to their Deep River wheat beer after fermentation. The result is a sweet and smooth beer that you could drink all day, with a purple hue indoors and a pink tint in the sunlight.
Liberty’s year-round and seasonal selections all stand out, and Isbell has high hopes for the future of local craft breweries.
“We’re not going anywhere; business is only getting better,” says Isbell. “The Southeast still lags behind the rest of the country in terms of craft beer but North Carolina leads the way in the Southeast and [North Carolina’s craft beer market] is growing faster than the rest of country.”
Natty Greene’s selections at the festival include their Cannonball Double IPA, Brewer Ian Burnett’s favorite (mine too), and their distinctive and rare Flanders Ale. Burnett describes the Flanders as an oakaged Belgian style red ale that is a little bit acidic.
The ubiquity of Natty’s bottles in Triad grocers indicates the rising popularity of local craft beers, to the benefit of all of the Triad’s craft brewers. “Definitely craft beers are picking up popularity, people are picking up a Natty’s instead of a Budweiser,” said Burnett. “When you drink a local beer you get a beer from a place that you’ve been or that you live and that gives you a neighborhood feeling about the beer.”
Regardless of whether you will make it to the Great North Carolina Beer Festival or not, Burnett has advice to all of us beer drinkers: “Give [local beer] a try. If it’s something unique that you’ve never had before, you might love it.”
The Great North Carolina Beer Festival Aug. 28; Tanglewood Park, Clemmons 1 p.m.; $30, www.greatncbeerfestival.com