Pintful

Pintful: With new breweries, the Boone area is emerging as a craft beer destination

November 12, 2013 

  • The Pintful Brewery Tour Appalachian Mountain Brewery

    163 Boone Creek Dr., Boone, appalachianmountainbrewery.com

    On tap: Open less than a year, the brewery near the Boone Mall is the best bet for a good local pint. It is the first brewery in town in years and prides itself on local connections. The tasting room lineup offers a good variety. For dark beer fans, try the Black Gold porter, and for a lighter offering, the Honey Badger is winning early acclaim.

    Blowing Rock Ale House Restaurant and Brewery

    152 Sunset Dr., Blowing Rock, blowingrockbrewing.com

    On tap: Once made in Pennsylvania, Blowing Rock ales are coming home to North Carolina. The production brewery opens in Hickory in December. But the ale house restaurant in downtown Blowing Rock is now serving the first small batches from the adjacent brewery. The Belgian dark ale with figs and spices is a popular new offering.

    Flat Top Brewing

    567 Main Street East, Banner Elk, flattopbrewing.com

    On tap: One of the state’s newest breweries, Flat Top plans to open the taps in downtown Banner Elk in late November. It will offer four year-round beers, four seasonals and other special batches, such as its recent apple butter porter. With a 20-barrel system, the brewers plan to start packaging their beer in cans soon after opening.

    Dry County Brewing

    585 Oak Ave., Spruce Pine, drycountybrewing.com

    On tap: Working on a homebrewing-sized 10 gallon system, brewer Chad Mohr rotates through roughly 40 recipes with varying results. Located an hour southwest of Boone, it’s a trip for the adventurous. But visiting dry Mitchell County to buy a growler of beer sold in a Mason jar sealed with masking tape adds a fun allure.

    Blind Squirrel Brewery

    4716 S. U.S. Highway 19 East, Plumtree, blindsquirrelbrewery.com

    On tap: Don’t bother visiting this brewery until May 1 when it reopens. It’s seasonal like many of the property owners in this mountain town, just 11 miles up the road from Dry County Brewing. It’s not much to see, but a beer on the deck overlooking the Toe River is a treat. In the meantime, find Blind Squirrel beer in 22 ounce bottles at Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants in Boone.

    Boondocks Brewing

    108 S. Jefferson Ave., West Jefferson, boondocks-brewing.com

    On tap: Ashe County’s only craft brewery is a 35-minute drive north from Boone. Gary Brown is a former IT expert who moved into homebrewing and now brews his small batches at a restaurant on Main Street in West Jefferson. So far, it’s popular. Brown often runs out of beer, but he’s looking to expand his production in the future. Call ahead for availability.

    Bottle shop

    Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants, 1104 Highway 105 South, Boone, peabodyswineandbeer.com

    On tap: No stop in Boone is complete without visiting Peabody’s, where the high-stacked aisles of bottles and large glowing coolers offer the latest beer releases and plenty of regional brews. Olde Hickory featured beer manager Chris Riley on a recent bottle label. His cellar stash is worth exploring, too.

    Mark Your Calendar

    High Country Craft Food and Beverage Festival, hcbeerfest.com

    The annual festival is held every year on Labor Day weekend and features local breweries from Boone and nearby Asheville. It typically sells out, so get tickets early.

— For far too long, this small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains seemed like a barren desert for craft beer, a mirage compared to the oasis two hours south in Asheville.

Earlier this year, the area’s image slowly began to change. The first craft brewery in Boone opened in February, another began pouring next door in Blowing Rock earlier this month and soon a third will start in nearby Banner Elk.

Three more breweries are located a short drive down backcountry roads.

The scene is nowhere near as evolved as rival Asheville, where roughly two dozen breweries make it the state’s craft beer haven. And the question for Boone area: what took so long? “That’s a good question,” said Nathan Paris, at Flat Top Brewing in Banner Elk. “We’ve pretty much got it all, and (craft beer) is finally catching on.”

Boone, elevation 3,333 and population 18,000, is often ranked as a top mountain town by national publications. Anchored by quirky Appalachian State University, the town sports a mellow vibe and serves as a launch pad for adventure seekers.

Good beer was always easy to find at Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants, the best local bottle shop, which is located at the town’s crossroads. But until recently, a local brewery was missing. Appalachian Mountain Brewery filled the gap when it opened earlier this year.

Owner Sean Spiegelman says it wasn’t easy. He fought for months to get approval from recalcitrant town officials before opening in an unadorned building across from Boone Mall. Despite the cold shoulder, Spiegelman’s brewery emphasizes local pride, donating portions of many beers to area nonprofits. And the town’s craft beer fans are embracing Appalachian Mountain, leading Spiegelman to consider expansion plans and a bottling or canning operation.

Most weekends the small tasting room is full, and the outdoor porch and a backyard area are popular. The brewery’s blond ale Honey Badger and steam lager California Common won gold medals at the recent U.S. Beer Open. Other recipes are still being tweaked, and the dark seasonal beers are quickly becoming favorites.

A 15-minute drive up the hill, Blowing Rock Ale House and Inn just opened a five-barrel brewery. Located in a two-bedroom cottage behind the inn, formerly known as the Maple Lodge, the ale house is getting special beers from brewer Ray Hodge in addition to the nine the brewery now offers.

Hodge also brews for parent company Blowing Rock Brewing, which is opening a new 30-barrel brewhouse in nearby Hickory in December. It will serve as a production facility for the brand’s Blowing Rock ales.

But Hodge, who has 12 years’ experience, said he is particularly excited about the smaller brewery, where he can experiment with new recipes. A taste of his first batch of an American wheat beer straight from the tank revealed a subtle spice profile and clean flavor that will ensure it’s a crowd pleaser. The dark Belgian with figs and more prominent spice character is also popular.

A few mountain ridges away, Paris’ Flat Top Brewing is starting with a large 20-barrel brewhouse with a canning line. In addition to its stock offerings, the brewery has experimented with some creative concoctions, including an apple butter porter and a pale ale with Fraser Fir tips from a local Christmas tree farm.

The brewery received a good reception at a recent beer festival and Paris said he’s anxious to open later this month.

The High Country, he said, will soon become a craft beer destination.

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

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