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Craft brewers flourish in North Carolina

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I’d made a beer pilgrimage to Asheville in 2011. It’s one of North Carolina’s craft beer epicenters. Years before I traveled through the Raleigh Durham area exploring the feats of North Carolina’s early pioneering brewers and homebrewers. This time my journey was purposefully drawn to take me out of the epicenters and to places I’d not yet traveled; I was headed off the well worn beaten beer path.

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The Outer Banks of North Carolina are a series of barrier sand islands at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean and all it brings forth. That remoteness hasn’t deterred North Carolina craft brewers. One of the east coasts pioneering craft brewers, the Weeping Radish Brewery was established in the mid 1980s. While time did not permit a stop for me on this particular journey a salute to their success is deserved.

My first North Carolina stop was the Outer Banks Brewing Station, 600 South Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hill. Established in 2001, the idea of a high quality dining experience coupled with a craft brewery was incubated by co-founders Marlene and Scott Meyer while they were working in the Peace Corp stationed in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. Their brewery restaurant is now a premium destination not only for the beer lover but for food lovers. I’d rate my dinner experience as one of the tops in the country; served with a terrific variety of beers brewed on premise. All food ingredients are sourced locally as much as practical. Seared scallops over a peas/corn risotto accompanied with cilantro pesto and olive oil was magnificent. Also over the top: Shrimp & Grits with smokey red eye gravy drizzle, Outer Banks caught Tuna with truffle oil wrapped with beach mushrooms and then rockfish on a bed of beach mushrooms, fiddleheads, potatoes and red pepper served to compliment the beers we tasted: Lemongrass Wheat Ale, Hugh Hefeweizen, Mad Raven Black IPA, Wild Oyster Stout, Olsch. There are hundreds of thousands of tourists that descent upon the Outer Banks. The people that are knowledgeable descend upon The Outer Banks Brewing Station. May through October is their high season. Call ahead to see what’s brewing in the off season.

The next morning on my way east I stopped at the Full Moon Brewery and Café, 208 Queen Elizabeth St., Manteo. Owner Paul Charron and his brewer Owen Sullivan are masters of the 75-gallon brewhouse. About 300 barrels are mostly brewed in a high intensity 5 month tourist season. They offer an intimate and quality experience in a small pub setting, right on the main street of this tiny bayside waterfront community. The café was established in 1995. The brewery was added more recently. Their Lost Colony Ale, Baltimore Blonde and Charon Stout are brewed with British traditions in mind. They serve up as good a real ale porter as I’ve ever had.

There’s a lot of open space between Manteo heading east. Finally arriving in Greensboro in the late afternoon I enjoyed an evening at Natty Greene’s Brewpub, 345 Elm Street, Greensboro with brewmaster Sebastian Wolfrum and owner Kayne Fisher. Sebastian, German born and a former brewer at Bavarian brewery Ayinger married American to wife Leila, America’s first woman Cicerone. Beer is in the family. Beer is in the house! Natty Greene’s is one of a hundred classic examples of how a brewery/restaurant/brewpub had established a business in an abandoned part of a city and subsequently anchored the redevelopment of that part of town; beer brings life. A great ambiance awaits the beer enthusiast with many types of beer on tap. On that warm evening we enjoyed Hefeweizen, pilsener and an American style IPA.

On the outskirts of Greensboro there is the Red Oak Brewery, worth mentioning. Time did not permit a visit, but tasting their beers elsewhere warrant a salute to their brewmaster and the brewery pioneer Bill Sherrill.

The next morning I headed to Hickory, population about 40,000, for a two-day stay and break from travel – but not a break from beer. The Old Hickory Brewery Taproom, 222 Union Square, NW is the most popular place in downtown for beer and food. That became quickly evident with lines forming out the door during the two days we visited. It isn’t surprising with the huge variety of Olde Hickory brewery made beers and those of other North Carolina craft brewers’ on tap. Pizza, quality sandwiches and a full entrée meals are always available. The brewpub established in 1995-6 by co-founders Steve Lyerly and Jason Yates has evolved into a nearby production facility also located in Hickory.

My first evening took me to Bobby Bush’s home and beer mecca. Bobby was the Wynkoop Brewery 1998 Beer Drinker of the Year. A home designed with beer as a central theme, Bobby was hosting a North Carolina brewers reception the day before the annual Hickory Hops Beer Fest.

The next morning the North Carolina Brewers Guild had a meeting in which officers were elected. But the real event of the day was the Hickory Hops Fest, where nearly all of North Carolina’s craft brewers were present and serving. It was a super fest in a classic American small town environment. A chance to taste North Carolina’s best. I highly recommend including it any beer enthusiast’s itinerary.

After Hickory, I still didn’t have enough of Carolina, so I headed south to Charleston, South Carolina. Here there are over a half dozen of pioneering South Carolina craft brewers and a vibrant homebrewing community. Next.

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