This past weekend was a great one for the beer community in North Carolina, especially the city of Winston-Salem. Brewers and beer enthusiasts from around the state (as well as many visitors from throughout the Southeast) came to enjoy two celebrations of North Carolina beer.
Olde Rabbit’s Foot Bottle Release
Beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, hundreds of craft beer drinkers walked through the doors of Foothills Brewing in downtown Winston-Salem for the release of Olde Rabbit’s Foot, a collaborative beer brewed by Olde Hickory Brewery, The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, and Foothills Brewing. The beer is a blend of wort from each brewery’s imperial stout, brewed with honey and cacao nibs and aged in bourbon barrels. With only a limited number of bottles available and a purchase limit of 4 per person, faithful fans began lining up early Saturday morning (right around last call, not so coincidentally). Olde Rabbit’s Foot is a great example of the support that exists among local brewers and, at a little over 10% ABV, is something you can definitely keep to celebrate North Carolina beer a year or two from now. As the bottle release wrapped up, the city prepared for another event dedicated to craft beer just around the corner.
Twin City Taps
The inaugural Twin City Taps festival began at noon on Saturday inside Winston-Salem’s BB&T Ballpark. Benefiting the North Carolina Brewers Guild and featuring 23 breweries, all from within the state, Twin City Taps was truly a festival with a purpose and focus. As beer festivals have become more common (and in my opinion generally executed less exceptionally), this one really stood out. All of the elements of this festival came together to make it a real success.
The Venue: No venues are designed specifically for the purpose of a beer festival (yet), but some are definitely better-suited than others. BB&T Ballpark’s primary function as the home of the Winston-Salem Dash baseball team means that it can accommodate large crowds (as can its restrooms). The layout of the stadium allowed festival-goers to walk all the way around (so no dreaded dead-ends or brewery booths stuck at the end of a hallway).
The Setup: I realized sometime in the middle of the festival that having an all-draft lineup made the festival more enjoyable and memorable for many reasons. First, pouring samples for 4 hours from a draft system is much easier than managing bottles wading in tubs of ice. This also allowed each brewery to set up their own bar, adding to the overall branding and message displayed at each tent, which truly became an expression of each brewery’s personality.
Another great part of the event’s layout and setup was the VIP area, located in the stadium’s club level. Aside from the luxury of air conditioning, the VIP area also offered cask beer from participating breweries (stuff you couldn’t actually get at the beer store down the street, unlike some festival’s VIP areas) and a buffet.
The Breweries: Part of the great focus of this festival was that only North Carolina breweries were featured. Did I ever feel like the lineup was limited in any way, though? Absolutely not! The festival relied fully upon the diversity and quality of North Carolina breweries, and they did not disappoint. From Weeping Radish Farm Brewery, the oldest microbrewery in the state, to Mystery Brewing Company, a brewery-in-planning opening later this year, the breweries present represented a wide range of styles and personalities. Short lines and tents staffed by numerous brewery employees allowed guests to speak with the people pouring their beer (many of whom actually made the beer) and ask questions.
The Beers: This is what everyone came for after all, right? Everything from traditional styles brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot to a sour cherry porter was available for sampling. Being relatively new to the state, I really appreciated trying each brewery’s take on different styles. Some of my favorites (that are making my mouth water as I write) were:
Sorachi Ace IPA Cask (Mother Earth Brewing) – Mother Earth’s Sisters of the Moon IPA has had a near-permanent spot in my fridge since I moved earlier this summer. This cask took the well-balanced IPA and added a dash of lemony zing from the Sorachi Ace hops, a Japanese variety.
Old Town Brown w/ Earl Grey Cask (Natty Greene’s Brewing) The smooth and roasty English-style brown ale provided a nice support for the tea’s floral and citrusy notes. If I could have taken a pint home, it would’ve been perfect with herb-roasted chicken.
Mi Mei (Roth Brewing) From a brewery I was introduced to at Twin City Taps, this plum honey hefeweizen is a perfect and unexpected summer beer. The sweetness from the plum and honey really comes through, and the light wheat base helps to portray a bright but subtle flavor of ripe, juicy plums.
Carver (Fullsteam) I have been looking forward to trying some of Fullsteam’s beer for a couple months now. A brewery with a focus on Southern ingredients and keeping things local, Carver is a sweet potato lager. Having brewed a sweet potato porter myself and tried a couple other beers incorporating them with spices, a lager using sweet potatoes was completely different. There’s a little bit of sweetness and maybe even a bit of starchiness from the featured ingredient, but Carver is still definitely a beer, not a candied yam puree posing as one.
I encourage you to try these beers if you have the chance, and to try some North Carolina beers (or beers from your home state). As festival season is still in full-swing, check to see if there are any in your local community and go check one out. If you’re nearby next year, come and try some great North Carolina beer at the second annual Twin City Taps!