In August 2005, North Carolina “popped the cap,” lifting a 70 year ban on the distribution and brewing of beer over six percent alcohol by volume. Instead of a barrage of malt liquor hitting the shelves, North Carolina began brewing better tasting, more creative craft brews. New breweries were established, current ones grew, and Asheville became one of the beer Meccas in the United State.
As a certified Beer Judge and uncertified Beer Nerd, I present my top ten breweries, in order.
10. French Broad – Asheville – One of the smaller breweries in Asheville, French Broad typically has 4-5 beers on tap and a smaller distribution circle. A few bottles are now being seen in the Charlotte area. The brewery features live music most nights about ten feet away from their giant fermenters. Hippies welcome. Top choice: Wee-Heavy-er Scotch Ale.
9. Four Friends – Charlotte – Carolina Brewmaster Jonathan Fulcher’s dream came true a few months ago when Four Friends Brewing finally opened their doors in the Queen City. Their beers have been making the festival circuit for at least three years now and every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears has gone into this brewery. Locally distributed on tap. Top choice: Extinction Imperial IPA
8. Olde Hickory – Hickory – A few feet away from the site of the Hickory Hops festival, Olde Hickory Brewing is a prime stop to hit for lunch as well. Started in 1994 on a seven barrel system, Olde Hickory has made a name for itself with 16 beers available. Top choice: Bardstorm Barleywine (note: no longer available at the brewery as of January 10th, still found at some retailers)
7. Wedge – Asheville – Located on the bottom floor of Wedge Studios, at one this location stored slaughtered hogs. Now it overlooks the train tressel in the river district, with nice outdoor seating and more hippies. One of Asheville’s newer breweries, their styles range from Russian Imperial Stouts to Pilsners; Belgian Strongs to IPAs. Top choice: Super Saison
6. Duck Rabbit – Farmville – Still unsure where Farmville is, so I cannot tell you about their brewery, but I do know that they specialize in dark beers. They have no less than seven different porters and stouts. Can be found throughtout the Southeast and for some reason, Pennsylvania. Plus their labels are an optical illusion. Top choice: Milk Stout (I believe it won Best in Show at the Carolinas Championship of Beer)
5. Mother Earth – Kinston – One the newest breweries to hit the Carolinas. Two buddies began a journey from homebrewing and gardening to bringing Mother Earth’s goodness to your home. With eight beers in production, I have yet to find even an average one. Look for the Bourbon Barrel Tripel and mail me some. Top choice: Weeping Willow Wit
4. Olde Mecklenburg Brewery – Charlotte – A must stop if you are ever in town, OMB is like no other place in the state. The focus is German beer and everything is brewed using the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 stating the only ingredients allowed are water, hops, barley, and yeast. Now found everywhere, this is becoming our area’s pride and joy. Top choice: Mecktoberfest
3. Highland – Asheville – Owner/Founder Oscar Wong grew up in Jamaica, is of Chinese descent, makes Scottish beers, lives in the Western North Carolina, and is a Fighting Irish alumni. In addition to this intriguing story, Highland has grown into one of the biggest breweries in the region. Scotch style and malty brews are their highlights. Top choice: Cold Mountain Winter Ale
2. Foothills – This one was a toss up for first place and could eventually take over. Featuring 17 brews, Foothills has been nationally recognized during their six year history. They took home a gold medal with their Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout at the Great American Beer Festival in 2010. Try anything and everything from them. Top Choice: Seeing Double IPA.
1. Pisgah – As mentioned in My Favorite Things Blog: “Tucked away in the hollows of Black Mountain, NC, Pisgah Brewing takes all the rules of business beer making and throws them out the window. Made from all organic ingredients, Pisgah’s brews range from high gravity Belgians to nitro infused stouts. Even though they do not distribute outside of Asheville, restaurant staff in Charlotte will make the 3 hour round trip twice a month to pick up their beers. Plus, hanging with the tap room’s eclectic patrons and their pets are worth the stop off of I-40.” Top choice: Baptista Belgian Noel