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 didnt 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 Companys Iron Rail IPA is unbelievable, with a really good malt body the hallmark of a good India pale ale: Its good, bitter and hoppy, with sweet elements. Its well put-together, one of the best IPAs in the state.
I like a lot of the innovation Fullsteam is bringing to Durham. Theyre 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 cant get it in bottles and they dont 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 Greenes, 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 cant 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 theres a beer trail to drive, its 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. Its near Fort Bragg, so its very much a supporter of the military community. Its 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: Theyre also into music, and put a lot of care into making it a good performance venue. Its in the middle of Morganton and is a nice place for people to congregate.
One of the more outstanding, visually, is Wedge. Its 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. Its 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. Its crazy it tastes like molasses and pine trees and its delicious. Its also a good idea of what beer wouldve been like in North Carolina maybe 100 years ago.
Fullsteams basil beer is very challenging that herb has such a strong flavor but their sweet potato lager is more challenging because it doesnt taste like sweet potatoes. Its actually a really dry, beautiful and delicious lager.
Quite a few craft breweries use chocolate cocoa nibs, which arent as sweet and give beer an earthy flavor. One thats 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. Its 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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