Beer and wine at the NC State Fair? Yes

Jason Whye, left, and Jamal Foster sample beer Saturday at the Our State Public House at the N.C. State Fair.
Jason Whye, left, and Jamal Foster sample beer Saturday at the Our State Public House at the N.C. State Fair. dmenconi@newsobserver.com

Long lines at the state fair are not unusual. But something new is making people queue up this year: sales of alcohol, which is being offered there for the first time ever.

It’s a scenario that is unlikely to cause much in the way of inebriation, however. A $10 ticket will get you one “flight” of North Carolina wine or craft beer, with four small samples of either one.

Each person is limited to one such flight per day, and all consumption takes place under the watchful eye of agents from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Still, around 75 people were lined up at the Our State Public House when alcohol sales commenced at noon Saturday.

“All right, y’all are the first customers!” said Fawn Pattison, interim executive director of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild. A collective “whoo!” went up as the line moved forward.

The Our State Public House where the alcohol sampling goes on is at the Heritage Circle, at the far western end of the fairgrounds. With folk and bluegrass stages nearby, strains of songs like “Rocky Top” and “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain” were drifting in.

While the location is a bit off the beaten path from the fair’s crowded main midway, plenty of people seem to be finding it. Pattison said they had more than 2,000 customers come in and partake during the fair’s opening two days, Thursday and Friday.

With Saturday shaping up as a perfect fall day, it seemed likely the patron total would more than double that figure. Pattison said they had enough capacity to handle up to 5,000 people per day.

“We’re not easy to find, kind of off in a corner,” Pattison said. “But the word is getting out, and it’s a beautiful building they have us in. We had asked for a tent and expected something like that.”

Once you buy your ticket and walk onto the porch, you pick your pleasure: beer to the right, wine to the left. Through the first two days, Pattison estimated that the preference was 65 percent for beer, 35 percent for wine.

The first group in on Saturday came for the beer. Chris and Morgan Yankosky, a couple from Garner, were there with a group of friends who had come down from Baltimore.

“We got a lot of the hoppy ones,” Chris Yankosky said, placing his cardboard tray of four small plastic cups of beer on a table. “IPA, Linville. Let’s try ’em.”

Jamal Foster, one of the Yankoskys’ friends from Baltimore, sipped on his first brew and pronounced it to be “crisp.”

“This is pretty good,” he said. “Really good, even. Tastes like fall, like wood.”

As surrounding tables filled up, the chatter was less the typical bar talk about sports or problems at work than North Carolina liquor laws and why it’s taken 150 years for the state fair to start selling alcohol.

“I like this,” Yankosky said, sipping his beer, “but it’d be nice if they had some pretzels here to go with it.”

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi