RALEIGH — Lob questions at six local brewers with beers in hand and youre sure to get a lively discussion about the craft beer industry.
As part of N.C. Beer Month, the Durham-based All About Beer magazine gathered such a panel last week to take craft beer enthusiasts behind the scenes.
North Carolina brewers are still riding a high from the national Craft Brewers Conference in March, where the states booming scene received quite a feting. We were the stars, said Brad Wynn, the brewmaster at Big Boss Brewery in Raleigh.
Here are the highlights from the discussion:
Biggest surprise: North Carolina loves a brown ale, said Ian VanGundy, the head brewer at Lonerider Brewing in Raleigh. And more than just one. For Big Boss and Lonerider, two breweries 20 minutes apart that share all the same shelves, the brown ale is the No. 1 seller. Lonerider makes Sweet Josie, a 2010 Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner, and Big Boss sells Bad Penny, a dark brown English style ale.
The brewers also seemed surprised at how well Belgian ales sell in the area. Belgian-styled beers come in wide varieties, but the trademark is a flavorful, often sweet, yeast that sets them apart from other ales. A golden Belgian ale is Triangle Brewings biggest seller, and Lonerider, Big Boss and Aviator all get good mileage from their versions.
Craft saturation: This is a question local craft brewers get all the time: When does the Raleigh market reach saturation? With new breweries opening constantly, its a valid question. But Sebastian Wolfrum, the brewing operations director at Natty Greenes, isnt worried. In 2008, one out of every 100 beers consumed was a craft product, he said. Now its closer to every six out of 100. While the Triangle area is probably higher, overall, Wolfrum said, There seems to be a lot of room.
North Carolina hops: As noted in last weeks column, the use of local malt is becoming quite popular for North Carolina breweries, but the brewers said local hops are hard to find. I dont know if that will ever change, Wynn said. Were at the wrong parallel.
One of the big problems is quantity. Aviator owner Mark Doble said his HogWild IPA uses 250 pounds of hops, and local growers cant meet the demand. Its really a novelty item, he said.
The next big thing: Sour beers. We cant keep sour ales in stock, Wynn said. And it is the same at Natty Greenes, which makes a flanders red, a tartly acidic Belgian style. We cant make enough, Wolfrum added.
Sour beers are typically made with wild yeast or bacteria that impart a musky, funky bite to the beer and blend well with certain malt combinations. The most common ones: brettanomyces (commonly known as Brett), lactobacillus and pediococcus. Unlike traditional beer yeast, the bugs, as brewers refer to them, produce acids that flavor the beer.
What Im drinking
To celebrate the warm almost summer-like weather, I turned to the Uber Pils, an imperial pilsner in a 750ml bottle from Blue Mountain Barrel House. The brewery is in rural Virginia, about 20 miles west of Charlottesville along Interstate 64. Ive never had one of their beers that I didnt really enjoy, and imperial pilsner was no different.
The light-color, easy drinking taste with an extra punch of hops at 40 IBU made for a sunny treat. About $7.99, available at most local bottle shops.
Contact John at 919-829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.