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Your guide to cool microbreweries in North Carolina

By John Bordsen
Travel Editor

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Erik Lars Myers, 36, has built quite a career out of beer. Since the Maine native came to North Carolina a decade ago, his home-brewing hobby turned into a business – Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough – and Nash Street Homebrew, also in Hillsborough, which last year began selling ingredients and equipment to aspiring home brewers.

This year he topped off his portfolio with “North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries” ($16.95, John F. Blair), a guide to 45 microbreweries from Kill Devil Hills to Bryson City.

There are omissions, of course: Myers excluded chain operations such as Rock Bottom and Hops; he didn’t mention his own craft brewery ( www.mysterybrewing.com). Plus, since he finished writing his book, the number of independent craft brewers has continued to grow.

Myers recently discussed breweries and brewpubs worth checking out on your North Carolina travels.

Most noteworthy, overall

“There are many types of beer made across the state, and craft breweries do different things quite well....

“In Asheville, Wedge Brewing Company’s Iron Rail IPA is unbelievable, with a really good malt body – the hallmark of a good India pale ale: It’s good, bitter and hoppy, with sweet elements. It’s well put-together, one of the best IPAs in the state.

“I like a lot of the innovation Fullsteam is bringing to Durham. They’re working with a fair amount of Southern ingredients – like local corn grits – or their sweet potato lager.

“Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery in High Point has some of the most well-made beers around. You can’t get it in bottles and they don’t distribute – you can only get it there (or their Myrtle Beach location) – but they have, beer for beer, across the menu, some of the best. All are well-balanced and clean. Their brewmaster is wonderful.

“Natty Greene’s, with three locations in Greensboro and Raleigh, has a lot of very classic styles on tap. You can get a golden, an IPA, a porter. … They hit all the types and provide classic representations of beer styles.

“If you like hoppy beers, you can’t go wrong at Foothills, in Winston-Salem. The last time I was there they had six different IPAs on tap, all wonderful.”

Best brewery areas

“Charlotte has an up-and-coming scene, and Raleigh-Durham is the next bright shining star. Check out new ones in the Triangle, like my Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough. Asheville has been a great beer city, especially with bigger ones now coming in.

“If there’s a ‘beer trail’ to drive, it’s almost entirely along (Interstate) 40. Aside from those in Charlotte and Fayetteville, you can hit almost every brewery.”

Top visiting experience

“From a visitor perspective, Fullsteam is a wonderful place to hang out with the local beer-loving community. These breweries do that generally, but Fullsteam does that very well.

“Huske Hardware House in Fayetteville also is a slice of the community. It’s near Fort Bragg, so it’s very much a supporter of the military community. It’s also a great bar and brewpub with great beer.

“In Black Mountain, Pisgah Brewery is in something like an old warehouse. But it has a cool atmosphere and is also a big music hall, which allows them to sell most of their beer on-site.

“The same goes for Catawba Valley, in Morganton: They’re also into music, and put a lot of care into making it a good performance venue. It’s in the middle of Morganton and is a nice place for people to congregate.

“One of the more outstanding, visually, is Wedge. It’s in the basement of an old Asheville warehouse. The building was converted to artist studios, so Wedge has a tasting room filled with cool art. It’s a crazy little space, but awesome.”

To sip something unusual

“At the top of list would be Craggie, in Asheville, which makes its Antebellum Ale with molasses, ginger and spruce tips along with barley and wheat. It’s crazy – it tastes like molasses and pine trees – and it’s delicious. It’s also a good idea of what beer would’ve been like in North Carolina maybe 100 years ago.

“Fullsteam’s basil beer is very challenging – that herb has such a strong flavor – but their sweet potato lager is more challenging because it doesn’t taste like sweet potatoes. It’s actually a really dry, beautiful and delicious lager.

“Quite a few craft breweries use chocolate – cocoa nibs, which aren’t as sweet and give beer an earthy flavor. One that’s in season right now and which is delicious is Wonka Wash, at Bull City Burger & Brewery in Durham.”

Great food plus great beer

“Lexington Avenue, in Asheville, has one of the best restaurants attached to a brewery. They have a charcuterie plate with great local cheeses.

“Bull City is worth noting because they make all their food in-house or buy locally, with the exception of ketchup. They use local beef, buns, pickles… and have some of the best hamburgers around. They have something called ‘bull nuts’ – locally roasted peanuts mixed with their house-cured bacon.

“Outer Banks Brewing Station is a must-stop. It’s almost like a cathedral to beer: a big, beautiful open space with a restaurant and a sweeping bar. It has upscale pub grub. The pastry chef is really good at what she does.”

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