Words by Rufus Miller Photographs by Sandra Davidson
What does North Carolina taste like? It's a metaphysical quandary that challenges every palate. While the state's essence may conjure thoughts of pork barbecue, collard greens or Pepsi Cola, there are a growing number of folks who aim to define our unique flavor not through our foodways, but with beer.
Belgian ales have long been applauded for their herbaceous complexities, California IPA's for their resinous hop profiles, and German beers for their crisp finish. No one ingredient or adjective has become synonymous with NC beer, but with a few more years, and a lot more beers, this talented cast of brewers will continue to define the elements that make their beer distinctly North Carolina.
To celebrate NC Beer Month, we decided to highlight a few frothy beverages that we feel are representative of an ice cold glass of The Old North State.
MOTHER EARTH BREWING
Park Day Bohemian Pilsner
As the first brewery in the country to achieve Gold LEED Certification, Mother Earth has always set out to preserve the natural environment. With Park Day Pilsner, they provide consumers with the perfect beverage to enjoy the outdoors they work to protect. Be it basking on the beautiful coastline, or on the peak of an Appalachian mountain, the floral refreshment of Park Day will pair perfectly with your outdoor activities.
Common Good Kentucky Common
As a "Plow-to-Pint" brewery, Fullsteam's whole lineup would be comfortable on a list of our favorites. While Cackalacky Pale Ale or their Carver Sweet Potato Lager may be slightly more obvious choices, give Common Good a shot. Classified as a Kentucky Common, one of the few beer styles with American origins, the Fullsteam twist originally included NC corn and grain, Pippin apples from Foggy Ridge Cider and a short rest in Maker's Mark bourbon barrels. While the recipe has been tweaked over the years, this sour-mashed beer remains uniquely North Carolina.
HAW RIVER FARMHOUSE ALES
Cotton Pickin' Farmhouse IPA
More than a century before the New York Times was publishing stories about the bustling culture of Saxapahaw, the old river mill was processing countless bales of cotton. Today, that same mill is home to Haw River Ales, who add their very own house yeast strain to this hop-heavy IPA. Aged in gargantuan oak foeders, Cotton Pickin' serves as a timeless representation of both the history and future of the Haw River community.
APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN BREWERY
Long Leaf India Pale Ale
Here's to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
Here's to "Down Home," the Old North State!
While we could go on about scuppernongs and rhododendrons, this syrupy, amber-colored IPA reeks of all that makes North Carolina great.
STEEL STRING BREWERY
From country hams to the subtle brine of Pamlico oysters, a large part of this beer’s North Carolina flavor is found by way of salt. Despite its German origins, Gose-style beers have found a recent resurgence across the US. Steel String uses this true-to-style Gose to open the palates and minds of beer drinkers, utilizing a slight tartness that plays well with the presence of salt and coriander.
SOUTHERN PINES BREWING CO.
Southern Pines, NC
Duck Hook Cream Ale
This light-bodied easy drinker may not be chic enough to wow the beer nerds, but they’ll be hard pressed to find a flaw. The cream ale is just one example of the quality beverages this brewery is producing out of golf country.
THE UNKNOWN BREWING CO.
Bound For Carolina Brown Ale
The name alone is a clear nod to the Tarheel State, but its story goes much deeper. Brewed with grits and sorghum syrup, this brown ale rests in Virgil Kane Ginger Bourbon barrels to maximize its NC flavor. While the laundry list of specialty ingredients may be a mouthful, Unknown has achieved balance and made a smooth sipper.
FONTA FLORA BREWERY
Bloody Butcher Grisette Ale
Before North Carolina was known as a "beer state" it was a moonshine state. In the Appalachian mountains, distillers often relied on Bloody Butcher Corn, a cross between Native Americans corn and the seed stock of English settlers. Fonta Flora has carved a new beverage foothold for the niche varietal, ensuring Bloody Butcher will be enjoyed by another generation of spirit lovers.
WICKED WEED BREWING
Bramble Barrel Sour Ale
Few trends have driven craft beer in a more upward trajectory than that of sour beers. Asheville's Wicked Weed is at the forefront of this wave, and Bramble Barrel encompasses much of what makes them so popular. Overflowing with local blackberry and lemon, this brew is finished in NC Cardinal Gin barrels for an herbal element that throws Belgian traditions a curveball, while still respecting their roots.
BURIAL BEER CO.
Skillet Donut Stout
An ode to the most invaluable of southern kitchen accessories, a cast iron skillet, this rich stout is brewed with a heavy dose of cold pressed coffee from the Durham-based gurus over at Counter Culture. While the recipe does not actually include Krispy Kreme donuts, it’s an obvious choice to rep NC.
TROPHY BREWING CO.
Mash & Lauter House Saison
When the team behind Busy Bee, Trophy Brewing and State of Beer recently opened Mash & Lauter, they followed a tradition of legendary Belgian beer bars and developed a "house beer." The recipe is anchored by Wrens Abruzzi, a rye varietal that was prevalent in the pre-Civil War South. North Carolina purveyors, Riverbend Malt House, supply the heirloom grain, which is rounded out by 100% Sorachi Ace hops for a clean citrus finish.