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Beer run, N.C. style
Tar Heel State is a national player in brewing variety
Published Thursday, April 11, 2013 8:29 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

 April marks the inaugural celebration of North Carolina Beer Month. In recent years the state has emerged as a strong contender in the national beer scene, which has long been dominated by Washington, California, Colorado and Oregon.

North Carolina has gone from an afterthought in the beer industry to a brewing hotbed in cities like Charlotte, Wilmington and Asheville. April is now designated as North Carolina Beer Month

“We went from being one of the worst ranked in the Great American Beer Festival, which is the nation’s big annual beer fest, to getting like 10 or 12 medals every year for the state of North Carolina,” said Zach Hart, brewmaster at Heist Brewery in NoDa.

Hart said Charlotte has emerged as a beer-brewing hot spot, second only to Asheville, which has been named the winner of the Examiner’s “Beer City, USA” poll four years straight.

“We’re not there yet, but we are right on their tail,” said Hart. “We may be a few years behind the Asheville market. They’ve been doing it for years. They are they beer drinking capitol of the country, and it’s awesome that we are coming up right next to them.”

Hart, who has been a brewmaster for nearly two decades, said that in the past five years, Charlotte’s burgeoning beer scene has truly ramped up with five breweries, including Heist, opening in the past year alone.

“It’s a little niche,” Hart said. “I’ve found that a lot of people here don’t drink Miller and Coors. They want (India Pale Ales) and pale ales, hefeweizens and Belgian style beers.”

Rob Rondelez, co-proprietor of Charlotte’s Common Market, said he is amazed by the growth of the city’s beer scene.

“It totally surprised me that four years ago when we opened our store there was only one brewery (The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery) in the whole city,” he said. “Now we have [several] with more to come.”

Taster’s choice

The current trend in brewing is infusing beers with more fruit flavors from raspberries and watermelon to blueberry. 

“With the start up of all these new brew pubs, we are trying new things and seeing what people think,” said Hart. “We do raspberry porters, strawberry blondes and blueberry blondes, and we’re not the only one. A lot of women, and some men, don’t like the hoppy beers. So we try to accommodate everyone. It just gives you a different side of beer.”

Hart said next on the beer horizon is cask-conditioned beer, which involves aging the beer for several months or years in various casks, such as wine or whiskey barrels.

Looking to try something new? Stop into a local brewery or specialty beverage store and ask a lot of questions.

“Usually the bartenders at brew pubs are pretty knowledgeable,” Hart said. “They know how to get you set up with something that works for your preferences.”

When tasting beers, he suggests starting with lighter styles and working your way up to the more robust flavors.

“Don’t start with an imperial IPA because if you drink Miller Lite of vodka tonics, it’s just not something that you are going to like right away,” he said.

Heist Brewery offers a beer sampler that allows patrons to try five different brews for $6.

Every Thursday, the Common Market in South End offers free beer tastings from 6-8 p.m. Usually, each tasting will highlight a different brewery, some local and others from around the country. On occasion, Common Market features a style of beer, such as fruit or stout, for tasting.

But before you fill your mug, Rondelez offers these words of advice:

“You have to be open minded. If you are a Miller Lite drinker, that’s fine. But if you are going out and tasting beer at a brewery, then you have to be open minded to different things because otherwise you won’t appreciate it.”



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