PintfulPintful

Inaugural NC Beer Month encourages beer tourism

jfrank@newsobserver.com, lbonner@newsobserver.comMarch 19, 2013 

  • What’s On Tap Charlotte Craft Beer Week

    March 20-24, Charlotte

    The celebration of all things beer in Charlotte continues this week. Dozens of special events highlight home brewing, barrel-aged beers and food events. Info: charlottecraftbeerweek.org.

    Lonerider Brewing’s Showdown

    5 p.m. Saturday, Moore Square in downtown Raleigh

    Tickets are on sale now ($12) for Lonerider’s annual Showdown event featuring music and beer in downtown Raleigh. Judges will also name the winner of the Brew-It-Forward home brewing competition. The event benefits the nonprofit Nourish International. Info: loneriderbeer.com/showdown-2013.

    N.C. Beer Month

    April, statewide

    The state’s tourism division is organizing an inaugural N.C. Beer Month to celebrate the state’s craft breweries. Experience the state’s burgeoning craft beer scene with special tours, tastings, dinners, classes and other events throughout the month. For a list of events, visit ncbeermonth.com.

The concept sounds silly to some: beer tourism.

What kind of nerd travels across the state – let alone across the country – to drink a pint of beer?

Ahh, hmm, err ... me. On my honeymoon to northern California a couple of years ago, my wife and I visited six breweries. (She’s a goddess.) We hit four Michigan breweries during a recent trip to see relatives.

And I’m far from alone.

At North Carolina craft beer events, it’s not unusual to meet enthusiasts from outside the state. Take, for instance, the Florida couple I met who drove all night long for the Foothills Sexual Chocolate release in Winston-Salem or the guy from Atlanta who came to North Carolina three times in less than two months for beer events.

All this is to say it’s not a surprise to see the N.C. Division of Tourism as the driving force behind the inaugural N.C. Beer Month, a celebration of the state’s craft beer culture in April.

“The idea came about as we reached this critical mass of breweries,” said Margo Metzger, a spokeswoman for the division, which is part of the N.C. Department of Commerce. “We have been promoting craft beer for several years now, but we saw this great momentum building. ... We definitely thought craft beer was hot.”

The showcase features more than 80 events across the state in the next six weeks to highlight the burgeoning craft beer scene in North Carolina, from special releases and dinners to tours and weekend getaways. The state now boasts more than 75 breweries, many of them newly opened.

The event was organized in collaboration with the N.C. Brewers Guild. Win Bassett, the guild’s executive director, said “the brewers jumped all over” the idea. It’s the first of what organizers hope will become an annual affair.

“North Carolina beer is on the rise and there’s reason to celebrate,” Bassett said.

The dozens of Triangle events are enough to keep local beer lovers satiated for months. But one of the main goals is to lure craft beer hobbyists from outside the state – and even the country.

“We really want people to travel to experience our craft beer,” Metzger said. “We know beer lovers will make pilgrimages so we just really wanted to do something special to send the message out nationally and internationally.”

Metzger said it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on beer tourism, and it’s often incorporated into tourists’ other visits to the state. Tourist spending in North Carolina totaled $19 billion in 2011, a record.

From conversations with local tourism promoters, Metzger said craft beer is driving visits. “If you go in any of these craft breweries and … start asking people where they are from, (you’ll) run into people from all over creation,” she said. “And we think there is a lot more potential.”

The state has promoted wine tourism for years, and Metzger, who helped lead those efforts, sees a similar dynamic in craft beer.

“Those people who think about craft beer as part of their life, it’s part of who they are,” she said. “When you think about wine tourism it’s the same thing. ...If you are that passionate, you are willing to travel the extra mile, literally.”

What I’m drinking

Metzger, whose husband in a home brewer, described herself as a “wino” first but a “hop head” when it comes to craft beer. For her – and those of you who like bitter, floral India pale ales – I have a great recommendation.

Stone Brewing Co. is taking hops to a new level with their “Enjoy By 04.01.13” double IPA. A whiff of the bottle puts you in the middle of an arboretum in spring and the translucent, lightgolden color is a prelude to a clean bitterness that coats your mouth in flavor without too much sweetness.

As the name implies, the beer is designed to be consumed by that date for maximum freshness. The company said it plans to remove any on the shelves after the first of April. So find it in your local bottle shop before its shelf life expires.

Stats: 9.4 percent ABV and 88 IBU.

Contact John at 919-829-4698 or jfrank@newsobserver.com. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.

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