Pintful: Triangle craft brewers share their insights and secrets

jfrank@newsobserver.comApril 10, 2013 

  • What’s On Tap Homebrewing for beginners

    7-9 p.m. Wednesday at Atlantic Brew Supply in Raleigh

    The homebrew shop attached to Raleigh Brewing Company is holding a class designed to teach first-timers how to brew. The $20 fee includes a beer tasting. Info: 919-400-9087.

    World Beer Festival in Raleigh

    Noon-4 p.m. and 6-10 p.m. Saturday at Moore Square

    The annual bacchanal of craft beer in Raleigh arrives Saturday with new breweries and the return of old favorites. The afternoon session is sold out, but a few tickets remain for the evening session. Tickets are $45.

    Beer City Weekend

    Friday-Sunday in Asheville

    This event is one of the crown jewels of N.C. Beer Month hosted by Highland Brewing, featuring beer tours and special events. Info:

    White Street Beer Dinner

    5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Monday in Raleigh

    Wake Forest’s White Street Brewing is teaming up with Mura at North Hills, a Japanese fusion restaurant, to host a beer dinner and debut a new offering. Cost is $60. Info:

— Lob questions at six local brewers with beers in hand and you’re 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 state’s 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 Brewing’s 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, it’s a valid question. But Sebastian Wolfrum, the brewing operations director at Natty Greene’s, isn’t worried. In 2008, one out of every 100 beers consumed was a craft product, he said. Now it’s 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 week’s 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 don’t know if that will ever change,” Wynn said. “We’re 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 can’t meet the demand. “It’s really a novelty item,” he said.

The next big thing: Sour beers. “We can’t keep sour ales in stock,” Wynn said. And it is the same at Natty Greene’s, which makes a flander’s red, a tartly acidic Belgian style. “We can’t 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 I’m 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. I’ve never had one of their beers that I didn’t 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 On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.

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