North Carolina Craft Brewery Road Trip
Ladies and gentleman, pour yourself a pint, because it is National Beer Day. Yes, that is absolutely a thing, and yes, I am absolutely celebrating it. How exactly am I celebrating? With North Carolina craft beer, of course, since it is North Carolina Beer Month after all. The nation takes one day to celebrate beer, North Carolina takes an entire month! I
t’s a North Carolina beer takeover this month on WTG, as I’ve teamed up with Visit North Carolina and North Carolina Beer Month to highlight what is the beer state of the south. Last week I brought you the 4-1-1 on the history of beer in North Carolina and shared more info on North Carolina Beer Month, which takes place for the entire month of April. So today we are going on a virtual North Carolina craft brewery road trip. We’ll start at the beach and work our way across North Carolina, highlighting some of the best breweries in the state. Let our WTG North Carolina craft brewery road trip begin.
The southern coastline of North Carolina is a special place for me since it’s where I’d spend my summers as a kid, popping up and down many of the sleepy beach towns around Wilmington, such as Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. However, the last few years Wilmington has been making its mark as a film and television town (with shows and movies like Iron Man 3 and One Tree Hill), and now as a beer town, with several breweries having opened just in the last couple years.
Though largely labeled a beach town, Wilmington is actually considered one of the best riverfront towns in America. Wilmington’s prominence as a great riverfront town can be credited in part to the breweries that line the Historic District along the riverfront, such as Front Street Brewery, Wilmington’s first brewery, which has been brewing beer for 20 years. Just around the corner from Front Street Brewery is Ironclad Brewery, one of Wilmington’s newest breweries. And just a half-mile northeast is Flytrap Brewing, specializing in Belgian- and American-style ales. Additionally, Port City Brew Bus does beer tours to these and some of the breweries that are further afield, such as Broomtail Craft Brewery.
From Wilmington, it’s 150 miles northeast to the Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill), which is just beyond where I grew up and where my family went to school. Raleigh and Durham are quickly growing as food and drink towns, as evidenced by Southern Living calling Durham the “South’s tastiest town.” Several of Durham’s breweries are within just a couple miles of one another, such as Triangle Brewing Company, which is Durham’s oldest brewery, and Bull City Burger & Brewery. Also unique to Durham is Bull Durham Beer Company, which is the first brewery to be located in a minor league stadium.
The upward craft food and drink trend continues in Raleigh, where breweries (more than 20) now outnumber museums for the first time. A number of the breweries are in downtown, such as Raleigh Brewing Company, Trophy Brewing & Pizza, and Crank Arm, which as the name presumes, is a bicycle-inspired brewery that comes from the founders of Crank Arm Rickshaw. The Five Points neighborhood is booming with breweries, too, such as Big Boss Brewing Company and Nickelpoint Brewing Company, which is notable for its European-style of beers. Raleigh has a number of different brewery tours, such as Beltline Brew Tours, which offers a couple Raleigh beer tours, as well as a Durham tour. With 22 breweries and counting, Raleigh is unique in that it has a beer trail in which you can get brewery passport stamps that can then be redeemed for prizes.
From the Research Triangle, it’s about another 150 miles (sensing a theme here with mileage?) to the Queen City, Charlotte. Charlotte, similar to Raleigh, also has just over 20 breweries. For the self-guided beer tour of Charlotte, it largely concentrates on two neighborhoods, NoDa and South End, where a majority of Charlotte’s breweries can be found. NoDa is perhaps best known for the appropriately-named NoDa Brewing Company, which has two locations, and was a 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Award Winner for its Hop, Drop 'n Roll American IPA. Other NoDa breweries include Birdsong Brewing, Heist Brewery, and Free Range Brewing.
Meanwhile, South End features a number of unique specialty beer stores, such as Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop, a combo tasting room and growler store, and The Beer Growler, which features more than 40 taps of craft beer that you can get to go in 32- or 64-ounce growlers. Craft breweries in the South End include Triple C Brewing Company, Sycamore Brewing, Wooden Robot Brewery, and Lenny Boy Brewing. Lenny Boy is one of the most unique Charlotte breweries, in part because of the styles of beer they produce, such as wild ales and sours, but also because they are the Southeast’s only producer of certified organic kombucha. Also of note is The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, located southeast of South End, and featuring German-inspired beers, one of which, their amber lager Mecktoberfest, won gold at the 2015 European Beer Star international competition.
Last but not least is Asheville, which ironically, is nearly 150 miles northwest of Charlotte. Asheville, in my opinion, is the beer city of North Carolina, and one of the most underrated beer cities in the U.S. With nearly 30 breweries, Asheville has more breweries per capita than anywhere in America, and a few years ago was named Beer City USA. My introduction to craft beer was actually in Asheville, where after college, I’d spend many a weekday nights at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company (Asheville’s own “Brew ‘n View”), and many weekend afternoons at French Broad Brewing Company.
Elsewhere, Highland Brewing Company is one of Asheville’s oldest breweries (and something of a North Carolina craft brewery pioneer), which started making craft beer in 1994, and has some of the largest distribution among Asheville breweries. South Slope, located just south of downtown Asheville, has become the unofficial brewery district of Asheville, while downtown also has a number of breweries. Unique to Asheville is BREW-ed, a rare tour company that features brewery tours led by a certified beer expert. Additionally, Sierra Nevada has a brewery just south of Asheville, in Fletcher near the Asheville Regional Airport, and New Belgium is opening an Asheville brewery, dubbed the “Liquid Center,” later this year. You can actually enter to win a trip to the grand opening of New Belgium’s brewery over the course of North Carolina Beer Month.
All photos courtesy of VisitNC.com unless otherwise noted.