Reporter’s Notebook: North Carolina’s Smallest Brewery

beer notebook_web2

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you’re really missing out on a wild collection of inane commentary, especially on the beer industry.

But that means you probably don’t know I’ve been lucky to begin contributing to All About Beer magazine. My first story, about the growing connection between small breweries and local agriculture, isn’t currently online but can be found in the May issue along with really great work by other writers.

In the meantime, I have extra content from an upcoming story that offers a “behind the scenes” look at one of the piece’s subjects: Dave Peters, the owner and head brewer (of course) of Bear Creek Brews, North Carolina’s smallest (probably) brewery.

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Long Live the King? Hops, IPAs and Beer Business

hop cone with crown

I am no stranger to harping on the potential calamity of the craft beer bubble. Whether we’re reaching maturation for the market or over-saturation, there’s no denying something big is happening when we’ve got about 2,400 breweries in the U.S. with another 1,250 in the works.

So what’s recently happened here in North Carolina piqued my interest.

Recently, a local brewery, Roth Brewing (no relation), was sold, changed its name and promised a reinvention of its purpose. Gizmo Brew Works was born. To me, at least, it came as something of a surprise.

Roth Brewing – of FoeHammer barleywine and Forgotten Hollow cinnamon porter fame – was started and run by homebrewers. Their passion led them to going pro, but perhaps they just weren’t cut out for the business side of things. Presumably, the new owners are a little more focused on business, but does that translate to a passionate connection to brewing?

I ask this after reading this (first) quote from Gizmo’s CEO in a recent article in the Raleigh News and Observer:

“They were not fans of IPAs,” [Bryan] Williams, 31, said in a recent interview. “We were the IPA fans.”

… and there’s the rub. At a time when the craft beer business is booming, a brewery that exclusively makes malt-forward beers may not have a place (Roth Brewing) but one that embraces the hop-head craze does (Gizmo).

Do those green hops simply mean green cash, too?
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The Six-Pack Project: Beers from Around the Country

six pack-beerWith Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, we’ve entered the (unofficial) start of summer. Barbecues, beaches and vacations lie ahead.

But what’s a trip away from home without throwing beer into the mix?

Enter the Six-Pack Project. It’s a new, collaborative effort between beer bloggers from around the country to highlight a six-pack of our state’s native brews that we believe best represent what the beer culture of our respective states offer. If someone is coming to visit, what bottles or cans would we want to share?

Here are our rules:

  • Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
  • Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  • Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  • Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.

Welcome to the inaugural round of the Six-Pack Project. I hope to include bloggers from across the U.S. in future versions, so contact me on Twitter if you or someone you know may fit the bill.

Some quick notes to about selections for my state, North Carolina:

1. I approached this task as if I were building a flight of beers for you to try. Because of that, I’ve picked six different styles of beers that would (hopefully) take you through a great North Carolina beer experience, although subjectively selected by me.

2. All of these picks can be found year-round in NC beer shops.

Without further adieu, let’s find out what North Carolina has to offer…
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Out of Town – 3 Do’s and Don’ts in Asheville, Beer City, USA

mtn cheer

I spent the past weekend in Asheville, NC, the four-time Beer City, USA winner. I was excited.

It’s not worth going into all the nitty-gritty details of the trip when others have done it superbly well, so I thought I’d take the chance to offer travel guide suggestions rather than review the city and the amazing time I had there.

So if you love beer, nature or simply want a good time away from “It All,” I offer you three do’s and don’ts for your trip to the beer mecca of the East Coast.
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NoDa Brewing Pacific Reign

reign for web

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When out-of-town trips take place, might as well turn it into a mini brewcation.

The Missus and I had to travel to Charlotte, NC recently, so naturally I wanted to see what new, local beer I could find that we don’t get in the Triangle. Easy enough, as NoDa Brewing, one of my favorite breweries from the fall’s World Beer Festival in Durham, sits in the heart of the city.

Lucky for me, NoDa was selling a bottle of a new brew, Pacific Reign. It’s an imperial IPA brewed with honey – HopSlam, anyone?

Let’s hit the high seas.
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A Few Words on … staying local

local collage

I love beer, but I also love the cultural and historical aspects of the drink. The somewhat “new” movement to make and drink locally isn’t new at all. It’s actually infused in the history of beer, from the inns of Rome to the pubs of Great Britain to the taverns of colonial America. From the get-go, beer and other spirits were made locally and drank locally, even before all the crafty vs. craft silliness.

Local beer isn’t just a new fad, it’s a fundamental aspect of the history of the drink we love so much. It’s what makes the effort of Matt over at Review Brews to drink only local beer for a calendar year pretty damn cool.

So while drinkers around the country and world may clamor to local options now, the “drink local” movement is ingrained in the idea of sharing a pint in the first place. This makes our efforts today even more special, taking beer drinkers back to their roots of celebrating with neighbors and community members. These are reasons I’ve really enjoyed the exponential growth of breweries and brewpubs here in North Carolina, where it’s suddenly much easier to find that special, neighborhood pint. Recently, I’ve been able to do just that.

What’s so special about local beer? Let’s hit the jump and find out.

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Mother Earth Silent Night

Note: Here’s a stocking stuffer-sized review for the holiday season.

Having been bottled just weeks ago, the bourbon heat of Silent Night offered a generous kick in its smell, although its warming effects on each sip were welcome. Black as coal hidden under the tree from the “naughty” list, touches of molasses and coffee strain to break through.

The flavor features hints of caramel and vanilla subdued by a pleasant chocolate sweetness which tries to offset the harsher liquor characteristics until the beer warms toward room temperature, really allowing the malt of this imperial stout to shine. While not for the faintest palates, you’re rewarded with a unique holiday experience perfectly attuned to the cold nights of the winter season.

+Bryan Roth

Foothills Brewing Frostbite black IPA

frostbite for web

There are two things I dislike when it comes to brewery websites – a lack of updates and a lack of information. It’s something that bothers Benjamin Moore over at Active Beer Geek, too.

But fear not, that isn’t deterring me from doing my best to dissect what I can from Foothill Brewery’s Frostbite, a black IPA that’s apparently so new(!) it doesn’t have ratings on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer yet. Cheers to me for being ahead of the curve.

If you check their website, Foothills hasn’t updated their news section in years (2008 press releases coming soon!) or offer in-depth information about their brews to the nerds out there who may come to their site seeking additional information that’s not on the bottle. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that Frostbite used to be made by another brewery that was bought by Foothills, which completely changed the recipe.

(In all fairness, a writer for visited Foothills last month and apparently got the ingredient list for their beers, which throws me for a loop that they’d give it out to him but not post any of it on their website. So that makes things easier.)

So, with that lovely intro, let’s try to break down this overly hoppy black IPA after the jump.
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Roth Brewing Forgotten Hollow

“If any beer makes us world famous, it will be this one.”

That is the initial tag line from the Roth Brewing (no relation) website for Forgotten Hollow, a damn special beer that speaks the truth to the bold statement. It’s a fairly straight-forward brew – a porter with cinnamon – with great results. It’s got an 84 on Beer Advocate in limited review.

I met the brewery’s CEO and brewer, Ryan Roth (I swear, no relation), a couple years back shortly after Roth Brewing opened. This beer is based from his own homebrew recipe, although I can’t recall how many iterations he went through before finding the right amount of everything. Needless to say, it’s a great and unique entry to the North Carolina beer scene. It’s just a shame this seasonal isn’t around more often.

Curious where this beer took my senses? Hit the jump for a quick review.
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Mystery Brewing Pickwick

It seems these days session beer is all over the place: it has its own blog, pops up in the news and receives a weekly mention from everyone’s favorite beer devotee/curmudgeon, Ding:

Yes, there are differences in what a session beer is to the originators – the Brits! – and the newly acquainted – ‘Merica! – but (hopefully) we can all agree on one thing: a session beer is a low-ABV brew that can be enjoyed at a good length of time to enjoy the company of others and the (hopefully) flavorful beer in your hand/mouth/liver.

I’d be a fool if I made a trip to a local brewery and didn’t come away with something, so this weekend I put a growler of Mystery Brewing’s session beer to the ultimate test – a football-filled Sunday. Since this 3.5 percent ABV beer is only found in North Carolina, it’s yet to receive plenty of ratings on Rate Beer or Beer Advocate. Hit the jump to see how it played out for me, however.
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