by Margo Knight Metzger, former director of the NC Craft Brewers Guild
North Carolina boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the South, with 203 breweries and brew pubs. And, craft brews are growing quickly – NC had the 2nd largest increase in barrels produced in the US in 2015. With over 50 more breweries planned in 2017 and beyond, that’s a lot of beer! How to choose your next favorite? We propose a road trip (a pour tour!) to check out the top 10 breweries across the state that have a strong commitment to using local ingredients. From sweet potatoes, kumquats, sorghum, blueberries, blackberries, and persimmons to barley, wheat, rye and hops, these craft breweries are connecting with their local farmers to bring you tasty, one-of-a-kind suds. Bottoms up!
Trophy Brewing Company stretches across West and South downtown Raleigh and has two locations. Locals refer to the original brewpub serving creative pizzas as “Little Trophy” and the new location with its large taproom and shiny new brewhouse as “Big Trophy”. Brewmaster Les Stewart succeeds at the full gamut of styles, from Berliner Weisse with housemade syrups to “Milky Way,” a salted caramel sweet stout. For summer sipping, the Trophy Wife Session IPA fits the bill.
Steel String Brewing in Carrboro features a hip industrial vibe indoors plus a spacious outdoor deck. Patrons can hop across the street to Neal’s Deli and return with a sausage and fried apple biscuit. Try the salty and slightly sour Picklemania or Zupfin Gose and replenish some electrolytes after Sunday morning yoga in the brewery (or a sweaty session of lawn mowing at home).
Mystery Brewing once eschewed flagships in favor of four quarterly releases each season but has recently launched Golden Hind, a year-round Pale Ale that’s brewed with different hops each season. Summer beers include “Gentleman’s Preference” blonde ale and “Evangeline” Rye Saison. Their Public House is a stone’s throw from the brewery and features live music many nights and a full-service restaurant for lunch and dinner.
Fullsteam Brewery in Durham is the state’s original Plow to Pint brewery. Owner Sean Wilson is on continual quest to make uniquely Southern beer by integrating the region’s culinary and agricultural heritage into his beer offerings. For his Forager series he enlists the help of our community foragers to collect pecans, persimmons, scuppernongs and more to brew barrel-aged beers with hyperlocal terroir. A new on-site restaurant features a local menu of small plates whipped up by Chef Kyle McKnight.
Haw River Farmhouse Ales in Saxapahaw is nestled in a renovated textile mill overlooking its namesake river. Patrons in the 12 seat taproom enjoy Belgian style ales with a local angle. All beers are made by collaborating with neighbors who grow native ingredients like figs, elderberries, maypop fruits and muscadine grapes. A lovely summer quaff is the Mille Fleur rustic saison.
Free Range Brewing in Charlotte is situated in the up-and-coming NoDa neighborhood and brews small batches for an endless rotation of recipes made with local ingredients. You’ll know you’re there when you see the antique farm tractor out front. Unique hybrids are commonplace like “Awesome Possom,” Carolina Hoppy Wheat, and “Rice Rice Baby” Rice Milk Stout.
Wooden Robot in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood focuses on thirst quenching beers brewed in the Belgian farmhouse style. They recently committed to using 100% North Carolina malt in all of their beers. A stationary food truck collaborates with the brewer and offers changing fare that pairs with the homegrown beers on tap at the moment. “Thicket as Thieves” Blackberry Sour Ale is made with a pound of local blackberries per gallon.
Legion Brewing in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood is a neighborhood gathering spot with a warm and cozy vibe. Hundred-year-old white pine boards in the taproom soften the steel of the brewhouse, which can be viewed via balcony. The brewhouse is helmed by Alexa Long and a favorite offering is the Peppa King Porter featuring Riverbend Malt from Asheville and local chocolate habaneros.
Fonta Flora in the small mountain town of Morganton strives to create an Appalachian style of beer, brewing solely with local grains and flora. Its “Beets, Rhymes and Life,” a saison brewed with bulls blood beets won a gold medal in the newly-created Field Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Most beers can only be had on draft at the taproom with the occasional limited bottle release. Due to a recent law change allowing farmhouse breweries in dry counties, they will soon open a second location in Burke County.
Editor’s Note: One of the 10 breweries in this feature changed ownership and was removed, so we’d like to add Sierra Nevada in Mills River, NC. Check out another blog post about their LEED-certified brewery and commitment to sourcing locally in their taproom restaurant.