North Carolina Beers

beer1Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

It’s the first of two beer weeks for us. One could argue that is just a way to prove we’re not too savvy about other beverages, but it was intended to give each of us chance to pick out 6 micro-brews for each other and take a short break from cocktails.

This week was my turn to send David those beers and I decided to concentrate on NC brews. Like the regions of Scotland (okay that may be my fantastical view), I divide NC into mountains, piedmont and coast when choosing favorites. There is at least one beer from each area, although the piedmont is overrepresented since more of them are bottled and distributed. In no particular order these are the beers that I sent:

Weeping Radish Ruddy Radish. Weeping Radish is located in the community of Grandy on the coast of NC and is the oldest currently operating brewery in the state. Their beers are hard to get, but luckily folks know I enjoy them and are nice enough to get me some when they are near the Outer Banks. In this case I can’t review Ruddy Radish since the bottle I sent was the only one I had. Most of their beers are German style, but descriptions of this call it either an American Amber or Red Ale. My favorite beer from this brewery is Black Radish which is described as a Schwarzbier. I drank all of those though.

Foothills Torch Pilsner and Cottonwood Frostbite. These beers are together because they are both made at Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing since Foothills purchased the Cottonwood brands (that originated in Boone) when they bought brewing equipment from an older craft beer brewer. The pilsner is a true Czech style one and was chosen since David prefers, or at least I think he prefers, less hoppy beer than I do. That said, Frostbite is a seasonal Black IPA made with a roasted malt of barley and wheat. While it has an added bitterness from the hops, that is balanced from the flavors introduced by the roasted malt. Frostbite is my favorite among those I sent.

Big Boss Blanco Diablo. This one is a Witbier with orange peel and coriander added for flavor. Once again this was intended to balance some of the other choices with a lighter flavor and the option to garnish (it would an orange slice in our house even if some folks think that is beer sacrilege) or even make a cocktail of some type with the beer.

Olde Mecklenburg Fat Boy Baltic Porter. Another seasonal beer, Fat Boy is brewed in Charlotte where I live. Olde Mecklenburg follows the German roots of large parts of this area and they adhere to the purity rules of German beer making. Baltic Porter falls under the lager group and is slightly different from the English style porter. In this case, Fat Boy had a surprising amount of different flavors but was smooth like you would expect a porter to be.

Highland Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. Another porter, but in this case the English style with the added benefit of incorporating another beverage love of David’s—coffee. Highland is located in the micro-brew capital of NC, Asheville, and as such is just one of many offerings available from that city. My favorite beers from Highland are the Kashmir IPA and the seasonal Devil’s Britches IPA but both live up to the IPA hoppiness that I was trying to avoid in my selections for David. This porter, like their Oatmeal Stout and Black Mocha Stout, is perfect proof that dark does not mean strong or bitter. Instead it has the flavor of chocolate to complement the coffee.

What is really hard to believe is that even with six selections, I did not send any from two other favorites. Natty Greene’s Brewery in Greensboro has an incredible variety of beers with consistent excellence, and I think Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill is the best place to sit and enjoy a pint. The last part could be related to a bias towards that certain part of NC, but the bias does not diminish how good their brewing is.

photo-76Here’s David’s Review:

I’m a more savvy beer drinker than cocktailian—I know the styles, read books about their history, understand different ingredients and preparations, and try to try each type at some time or another. I’ve even brewed my own—unfortunately indifferent—beer.

That said, my ability to review beers falls well short of what I read on Beer Advocate, and I apologize. I won’t have fancy terms to apply and won’t make you taste the beer as you read my descriptions. Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer, not a virtual reality engineer.

And, like an art museum visitor—something I do in addition to drinking—I know what I like more than what’s like-able. I’ve put these beers in reverse order, knowing, as Jonathan suggests, some styles don’t resonate with me. Any pleasing beer of some types would be surprising.

Come to think about it, I’m more snob than connoisseur, so value my remarks as you will:

6. Torch Pilsner (Foothills Brewing): I drank this beer with profound prejudice, I’m sorry to admit. I drink ales instead or lagers, and, when I do drink lagers, like the Vienna or Dortmunder style over Pilsner, which seems so restricted in requirements one seldom differs from another. This brew as “drinkable,” which, to be fair, my wife liked best about it.

5. Fat Boy Baltic Porter/ Gefühl Der Freiheit (The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery): Porters are an acquired taste, and I’ve taken the trouble to acquire it. Yet some, like this one, are quite smoky, using heat to release and change the sugar in the barley. This brew seemed quite barley-y to me, burnt without the proper balance of either sweetness of hoppiness.

4. Thunderstruck Coffee Porter (Highland Brewing Company): As much as I love coffee (it’s difficult to express my affection for coffee), I avoid stouts or porters including “coffee” in their name. A lover and a mistress should never meet. Coffee beer evokes charcoal for me, but this one—while certainly intense—was sweeter, pleasantly heavy without the acid push I usually associate with coffee beers. A surprise. Pleasant.

3. Frostbite (Foothills Brewing): What is it with India Pale Ale these days? The style developed more as a way to prevent spoilage, and now beer drinkers have embraced it to such an extent it crowds out everything else. I was pleased that this beer didn’t have the hoppiness generally associated with the style and the word “black” in its name didn’t mean overcooked barley but a welcome depth. A welcome beer.

2. Bianco Diablo (Big Boss Brewing Company): I confess, two issues concerned me right away—the use of “Diablo,” which is usually an unwelcome sign of potency, and the description on the label “Ale Brewed with Spices.” I’m a purist who loves hops, period. Yet, this beer was wonderful—complex in flavor, one moment spicy and another moment dense and malty. I was surprised again. Loved it.

1. Weeping Radish Red Ale (Ruddy Radish): I’m an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) fan and love session beers (those beers light and engaging enough for a long session of drinking). This one fit my preferences squarely, not so hoppy as to seem medicinal, a little on the sour side, the welcome warmth and complexity that comes from developing malt’s smokiness without burning it. Then again, maybe it’s just the echo of my university’s fight song.

David’s Take: What a pleasure, to try so many wonderful (in their own way) beers. Makes me think of the first time I fell in love.

Jonathan’s take: In the middle of assembling this mix, I made a trip to Denver and had one of the best beers I have ever tasted – Denver Brewing’s Graham Cracker Porter. So many beers, and so little time.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My turn! Even if I can’t get Jonathan to visit me in Chicago, I can introduce him to the prominent and pleasing breweries this city offers. I wish I’d been able to match the variety of styles he offered me, but I hope there will be some illuminating choices among the beers I sent.

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