North Carolina is slammed with breweries. New ones are popping up all over the place. If you’re not building an apartment building or stuffing a brewery in an abandoned industrial warehouse these days, I mean, what are you really even doing with your life, you know?
The result of more breweries is, of course, more beer. And as these breweries begin to expand, they start to bottle and can and that means deliciousness for everyone else, even when you don’t live near the brewery.
And that’s kind of the point of this list: we don’t want REALLY small breweries because we want people to be able to taste the beer we recommend. We’re also not going to sit here and say “Hey, NODA is awesome, you should check them out!” You’ve heard of NODA.
The best way to explain it is this: your high school buddy comes into town from Texas (where he lives with his wife now) and you want to show him some great beer that he definitely hasn’t ever tried.
These are the 10 breweries you should grab beer from.
We obviously didn’t find every single one, so let us know on Twitter @NCBeerReview if you think we left someone out.
1. Burial Beer Co. (Asheville): I am flat-out obsessed with Burial right now. They’re continuing to crank up their can production and everything they put out is a really high quality. The artwork on the beer can is borderline terrifying, but beautiful in a morbid kind of way. The beer is just high-level stuff — every single offering from Burial I’ve had has crazy complex layers of flavor and is very finely tuned. It’s really some of the best beer the state has to offer.
You Should Try: Skillet Donut Stout, which is so slammed with coffee that it has twice caused me to start cleaning my house mid beer. A more realistic option is probably the Scythe Rye IPA, an excellent and balanced beer with not too much rye in it. Burial’s Bolo Coconut Brown is also excellent and we’re quite excited to see how the Haysaw Saison and Shadowclock Pilsner come out.
2. Lynnwood Brewing Concern (Raleigh): It is entirely possible that the LBC makes the best beer in Raleigh. The grille is pretty unassuming, set up out by a Lowes’ north of Raleigh off Glenwood. It has a generic, bar feel to it, but the beer is anything but generic. There’s not much crazy about what Lynnwood cranks out but everything is really, really well done.
You Should Try: Hubris is one of the best Double IPAs out there but it’s hard to find. A more likely landing spot for the casual drinker is Hop on Top (a legit candidate as the state’s best IPA) and the delightfully crisp and old-school Czech Pilsner.
3. Ass Clown Brewing (Cornelius): The name can be … problematic. “Hey honey, we should totally take the kids to ASS CLOWN this weekend.” “Hey girl, pick me up a bottle of ASS CLOWN at the store while you’re out.” But the beer is damn good. They’re not afraid to go BOLD with flavors (what’s it compared to the name anyway?).
You Should Try: The Orange Citrus IPA is an outstanding representative of Ass Clown’s quality. Take a strong, full-of-flavor IPA and mix a little citrus in there. The orange dominates the beer in a pleasant, not-to-overwhelming way.
4. Appalachian Mountain Brewing (Boone): AMB is super into helping the environment, like a lot of brewers in the western part of the state. It’s a publicly traded company with a mission of “sustainability, community and philanthropy.” Bonus: the beer is fantastic too.
You Should Try: One of the three flagship beers, all of which come in 16-ounce cans. Summer is turning to fall right now so we’d probably recommend either the Long Life IPA (a refreshing malt-forward North Carolina style IPA) or the Honey Badger Blond Ale (an excellent beach beer!). In a couple months we’ll be all over the Black Gold Porter. All are excellent choices.
5. Deep River Brewing (Clayton): Though they’re entirely dissimilar in terms of marketing and behavior, there’s a certain amount of North Carolina symmetry between Burial and Deep River. Both crank out high-quality, 16-ounce cans of beer on opposite sides of the state. (Clayton isn’t beach bound but it’s east enough to work.)
You Should Try: Double D’s Watermelon Lager is a summer seasonal (so you better hurry!) and one of the better fruit beers around. I think “watermelon beer” and I instantly start wandering to a weird place full of sugary syrup soaking up my summer selection. (More succinctly: GROSS.) Double D’s isn’t like that at all. It tastes like fresh watermelon worked inside a beer. Quite delicious. The Backcountry Black IPA is a strong year-round option. A more rare selection? Bitter Unicorn Tears, a light, delicious and hopped up IPL. Jump all over it if you see it.
6. Southern Pines Brewing (Southern Pines): This part of the state is best known for golf, but as we all know golf and beer can work together just fine. And Southern Pines is quickly making a name for itself as one of the better breweries in the state. They’re old school in their approach, with a missionto produce “the highest quality beer for our community in order to enhance the enjoyments of everyday life.”
You Should Try: When it’s summer we highly recommend the Duck Hook Cream Ale. It’s almost incredible how light it is, which is funny because the word “cream” might scare off a casual beer drinker. It shouldn’t. The Man of Law IPA (my preferred beer of the two) is an excellent option as well and a surprisingly hoppy/fruit IPA for the PINE heavy location where it’s brewed. We’ve got a golf trip to Pinehurst coming in a few days and have tentative plans for a Friday stop into Southern Pines. We’ll keep you updated.
7. Birdsong Brewing (Charlotte): As noted in reviewing the Jalapeño Pale from Birdsong, this was one of the first new North Carolina breweries we went in. So it’s a little weird calling them an “up-and-coming” brewery. But from a perspective of distributing their beer across the state, Birdsong is starting to get more and more involved. Finding it’s a little tougher than we’d like, but the quality is worth the effort.
You Should Try: The Jalapeño Pale Ale, obviously. It’s our favorite pepper beer ever made, mainly because you get the delicious flavors of jalapeños without the actual heat (Birdsong brews it without including the seeds). The Free Will Pale Ale (the basis for the jalapeño beer) and Higher Ground IPA are also excellent (and both available year round), while Doin’ Thyme (a summer Witbier) is very good too.
8. Haw River Farmhouse Ales (Saxaphaw): There is something uniquely earnest about the beer produced by Haw River. They walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to sustainability and the beer comes off fresh and inspired.
You Should Try: The Newlins’ Oatmeal Pale Ale isn’t stuffed with oatmeal (but maybe that’s good since it’s not a stout) and it’s a very subtle, light beer. The Regent’s Rye Tripel is a little more aggressive and also available year round. The 7 Faces of Pepe Grano is a refreshing, funky farmhouse ale worth trying if you can find it.
9. White Rabbit Brewery (Angiers): We met up with the Rabbit at Brewgaloo for the first time and only recently found out they were bottling. You can find a number of the beers on the shelf in Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville and Pittsboro. It looks like bombers only and we haven’t had a chance to sample everything yet.
You Should Try: the Tea Party Vanilla Bourbon Porter. It’s borderline dessert-like in its richness. Plenty of booze, a strong cut of vanilla and just an excellent all-around beer.
10. Steel String Brewery (Carrboro): Makers of mostly bombers and not afraid to funk out a beer or 50, Steel String’s carved a nice little niche doing some really creative stuff. They specialize, from our standpoint, in lighter beers.
You Should Try: The Der Schneid Berliner Weisse is an easily “crushable” summer brew checking in at an extremely reasonable 3.8% ABV. Steel String’s stouts can be hit (Barrel-Aged Cocoathickfreakness) or miss (Thick FrenchToastness) but they’re unafraid to be daring in that category. If we had to pick one beer we’re sad we missed this summer it was the Picklemania Dill Spice Gose. (If you’ve got access send it to us!)