Text and photos by Sol Weiner
When it gets as hot out as it’s been for the last few weeks, only a few slow, languid thoughts cross my mind. In addition to “where’s the nearest swimming hole?” and “when I get rich, I’m spending summers in Maine,” I often see a flashing neon sign that simply reads “BEER.”
The Carrboro Beverage Company (CBC) in downtown Carrboro is, without a doubt, the place to go in the Paris of the Piedmont—which is becoming a beer destination, despite its small size—when searching for all things beer and wine. When I lived in Carrboro, CBC was usually the first stop when it came to browsing for North Carolina beers, searching for a hard-to-find specialty or import, or just to have a pint at their bar. I recently made the big move from Carrboro to Chapel Hill—all of three miles—and when my car’s thermometer hit 98 this week, I knew where I needed to go.
Walking in, I was immediately greeted both by the guy behind the counter/bar, and a representative from the Bombshell Beer Company in Holly Springs. She showed me five beers and gave me a generous sample of each, explaining what makes them unique and telling me about the brewery. Connor, the beer wizard (an unsolicited title I created for him) standing in front of the extensive wall of taps, fills pints and strikes up conversations with customers eager to talk booze. He has worked at CBC for three years, and told me that the shop has been open for just under ten. Knowing that in that near-decade they’ve put in the legwork to amass a solid customer base, I asked him what folks come in looking for the most. “Specialty beers and limited releases from their favorite breweries,” he explained, adding that out-of-towners will often come in looking for locally-distributed North Carolina beers. “And IPAs, of course.”
In this age of the craft beer revolution, everybody from hipsters to your uncle in suburbia fancies themselves something of an expert. Palates are becoming more discerning. For every new beer, there are ten new apps for you to rate and review them. And North Carolina has been on the fore of Southern states greeting the industry with open arms. There are more than 170 breweries in North Carolina, up more than 300% from a tally of 50 in 2012. Most of that is due to legislation that allows small brewers to open taprooms and distribute their own beer directly to the public. With that huge proliferation, I had to know: what are North Carolina breweries doing to distinguish themselves from one another, and the bigger craft breweries around the country?
I expected an answer from Connor that would focus on out-hopping the west coast IPAs and running one-offs flavored with bacon and collard greens. But he insisted that, to the contrary, North Carolina’s breweries do best when they focus on quality basic ingredients that reflect our place, and not the Pacific Northwest or continental Europe. “What do North Carolina’s brewers do well? They do make some great IPAs”—pointing to Foothills’ Jade IPA as a prime example—”but, in general, they make great dark beers.” Because many breweries in the state locally source ingredients, there is less variety in hops (which aren’t grown here in nearly the same numbers as, say, the Pacific Northwest), but more when it comes to grains.
Inspired and looking for a North Carolina six-pack of my own to take home, I left with one I hadn’t tried from a brewery that I’ve loved since I first moved here—the Lost Cove Kölsch from Highland Brewing Company in Asheville. Walking away from the shop, I looked back across the street, heat rising from the pavement in rivulets, and lamented the fact that my new neighborhood had no such oasis. For now, I’ll have to make the long trek into town and do my best to keep from digging in before I get home.
Carrboro Beverage Company is open seven days a week, and features tastings from breweries, wineries, and distributors every Thursday evening from 5-7.
Carrboro Beverage Company
102A E. Main Street
Carrboro, NC. 27510