At first glance, it looked unremarkable: the owners of three craft breweries sitting on a stage talking shop at a beer festival.
But the scene from Sundays Bull City Food & Beer Experience said everything about North Carolinas emerging status as a landmark on the national craft beer map.
The CEOs represented three of the countrys largest and best-known craft breweries: Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Dale Katechis of Oskar Blues. And all heaped praise on North Carolina, particularly the Asheville area where the three are planning to open breweries.
They are just going to bring the state to a whole new level, said Win Bassett, executive director of the N.C. Brewers Guild. We were already a craft beer destination, and this makes us even more of one.
Bassett moderated the discussion Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center. And he recognized the significance. It was pretty amazing, he said.
Of the three, only one is up and running so far. Oskar Blues built a brewery in Brevard in three months and opened a tasting room and shipped the first batches in December. The whole line including Gubna, the Imperial India Pale Ale that made me love hoppy beer years ago is now made in North Carolina. The brewery expects to reach full capacity in March.
Ahead of the Durham event, I talked to Katechis about how his Colorado brewery landed in the Tar Heel state. Heres an edited excerpt from the interview:
Q: Why North Carolina?
I love North Carolina. I have been traveling there for 20 years. I grew up in Alabama and started traveling to North Carolina back in my college days mountain biking. Pisgah National Forest and Dupont (State Forest) have always had a special place in my heart. Its a pretty magical place and some incredible mountain biking. ...
I was unwilling to forgo or sacrifice any quality of life for (expansion). So it was a requirement that I chose a place I was willing to travel to regularly.
Brevard was the only place that we looked. We didnt really shop around. I went to Brevard one weekend, found a spot, said well take this one and built a brewery. It was pretty much that simple.
Q: Describe the reaction from the community so far.
Its been incredible. Brevard has always reminded me of the small town where we started Oskar Blues, which is Lyons, Colo. Its a small, little mountain town nestled up against some of the best mountain biking in Colorado. ... The community has just given us a warm welcome.
Q: How does the North Carolina craft beer scene compare to Colorado?
I find it to very similar in a lot of ways. Its a very communal atmosphere, and theres a great deal of camaraderie. Its kind of an all-in-this-together attitude. Theres a lot of great breweries making great beer. And theres so many great breweries in (in Western North Carolina) that theyve built a little culture there, and it was certainly something we wanted to be a part of.
What Im drinking
March is approaching, but Im not ready to give up dark beers yet. So I splurged on one of the best in the market: Mother Earths Silent Night, a rich, night-black bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout from Kinston. The flavors are refined with a subtle bourbon and oak touch that doesnt overpower the beer. At $20, its an expensive buy but so good youll want to snag another to put in the cellar.
Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-4698. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.