With summer comes the annual pilgrimage down I-40 (or 70) to the beautiful beaches of North Carolina for family vacation. Whether it’s Wrightsville or Morehead — or even just hanging by the river — you’re going to want some beer to drink.
Lots of beer, actually. Like a 12 pack worth. To help you out, we’ve compiled, through rigorous testing at actual beaches, the 12 North Carolina beach beers to drink on the sunny shores of this wonderful state.
Couple of rules: 1) Cans only and 2) the beer must be brewed in locally, and 3) no more than one beer per brewery.
Cans are important because most places outlaw bottles. And the local part is designed to make sure we’re going full North Carolina here; Sierra Nevada and New Belgium make great beers (Nooner, Slow Ride) but we’re going with full local. A couple of these breweries below have multiple beers worthy of consideration (Fullsteam, Mother Earth specifically) and we listed the alternate option but we can’t double down. Too many breweries and too many good beers for that.
We’re also gonna lean a little bit lighter. Drinking a 12 pack of high ABV IPAs ain’t gonna cut it in the sun. You’ll be hearing the words “crisp” and “clean” a lot.
And the other thing here? We’re not trotting out 12 beers we’ve never tried and acting like they’re good. These are all high-quality brews we’d recommend for stuffing in your cooler. If you’ve got a great canned brew we should try or think we missed something, holler at us on Twitter @NCBeerReview.
1. Park Day Boehemian-Style Pilsner (Mother Earth Brewing, Kinston) — This might be the flagship summer beer of the state. It’s light, crisp and refreshing. This beer has tons of Eastern Euro-style flavors with plenty of malt leading the way. Covering up the matte can and the artwork with a koozie feels bad but the beer is perfect for the beach. It’s also a great golf beer as well at 5.0% ABV.
Alternate: Porch Pale Ale
2. Double D’s Watermelon Lager (Deep River Brewing, Clayton) — Consistent producers of whacked-out deliciousness, Deep River’s one of the better canners in the state. And Double D’s is one of the best fruit beers you’ll ever try. My concern with fruit beers is they’re going to taste like a Jolly Rancher got melted down and poured in a can. Nothing like that with Double D’s, which is a delightful mix of subtle fruit (fresh watermelons from Johnston County!) amid a crisp lager. Expected to hate this beer and now consider it a high-end beach beer.
3. Summer Basil Ale (Fullsteam, Durham) — Summer Basil won out over Cack-A-Lacky in a narrow competition. You want to know why? MY MOM LIKES THIS BEER. I was floored that she was floored by the flavor of the basil, which isn’t remotely overpowering in this light farmhouse-style ale. It’s made with fresh North Carolina wheat and basil and is absolutely one of the most refreshing beers you’ll ever try. Fullsteam started canning it this year. Make sure you get some.
Alternate: Cack-A-Lacky Ginger
4. Jalapeño Pale Ale (Birdsong Brewing, Charlotte) — This beer is everything you’d want in a hot-pepper beer, up to and including the part about it not ACTUALLY BEING HOT. Birdsong brews it with jalapeños but takes the seeds out first, meaning there’s no actual heat. So you get the spicy flavor of the pepper with none of the byproduct. It’s a bold beach play because of the kick, but the lack of heat makes it a nice addition here.
5. Honey Badger Blonde Ale (Appalachian Mountain Brewing, Boone) — This beer is a lot less aggressive than its animal namesake, even if it pretends not to give any bleeps. It’s another one of a great line of cans from AMB, though, and is a light, crisp beer with sweet tinges of honey and light citrus notes running throughout.
6. Pale Ale (Pisgah, Black Mountain) — Like a lot of mountain beers, this feels like a clean beer made from the finest of waters. It’s a crisp, malt-forward pale that doesn’t feel too heavy and it translates well to the other part of the state. At 5.1% it’s easily sessionable.
7. Jam Session American Pale Ale (NODA, Charlotte) — The more unheralded hoppy beer in the NODA lineup, Jam Session’s an incredibly strong offering that probably doesn’t get its due. At just 5.1% ABV, it’s totally sessionable (see: the name) but retains plenty of hop character while remaining malt forward. The “Jam” thing is a play on the headphones but it’s got a “jammy” flavor to it. Which is actually a compliment in a weird way. 16-ounce can bonus!
8. Cream Ale (Duck Hook, Southern Pines) Ale — A real surprise with how light and cool this beer was (cream implies heavy to me, or Wu-Tang songs) it’s an excellent beach option. There’s light malt on the front end and a smoothness about it throughout the full beer. It’s blended lager and ale yeast, complete lack of bitterness and 4.1% ABV make it an ideal selection for this list.
9. Moravian Rhapsody Chezch Pilsner (Raleigh Brewing, Raleigh) — This is one of the heftier ABV beers on this list at 5.7%. Surprising for a Pilsner, but maybe not for Raleigh Brewing, who often tends to crank up the ABV (just look at Hell Yes, Ma’am). Despite that, it’s been described as “crushable” thanks to it being “bright and crisp with a subtle breadiness.”
10. Golden Boy (Triple C, Charlotte) — Triple C remains the most underrated of the primary Charlotte breweries (or maybe the least well known). Baby Maker is a beasty DIPA, Up All Night is an outstanding Breakfast Porter and Golden Boy holds up in its own category too. It’s a light beer with plenty of flavor components, providing a nice crisp taste with a fuller feel to a golden ale, along with some subtle hops.
11. Sky Blue Golden Ale (Carolina Brewery, Pittsboro) — A sneaky offering from the Pittsboro brewery, this is a cool, extremely easy-to-drink offering for a summer’s day. The recently redesigned can is a big plus. It LOOKS like something you want swim in.
12. Gateway Kolsch (French Broad Brewing, Asheville) — The Kolsch is a beer that works well with the hot summer sun of North Carolina. And French Broad’s offering is a strong effort too, canned nicely with a classic, old-school logo and a crisp, clean flavor in the German tradition of the style.
BONUS OUTSIDE THE LINES CHEATER ALERT:
13. Gose (Westbrook, Mount Pleasant, SC) — Couldn’t help ourselves here. This is a North Carolina-based list but we’re putting one South Carolina beer on it. The Gose from Westbrook is too perfect for the beach. It’s a super-light sour beer that’s the saltiest beverage you’ll probably ever try. That might sound odd but it’s incredibly refreshing. Don’t like it? Make your own list. Or just leave the Gose for us.