The most frequent question I get as a craft beer enthusiast: Whats your favorite North Carolina beer and brewery?
Its a fun topic to ponder, and its hard to name just one. My answers often vary depending on whos asking, where they live and what type of beer they enjoy most.
But my opinion is just one. As part of a year-end series looking back at the 2013 year in North Carolina beer, I asked an informal panel of two dozen North Carolina brewers, bottle shop owners and über-enthusiasts to share their thoughts. Below is an edited transcript that may help guide your palate.
Favorite North Carolina beer this year
John Federal, production manager and brewer at Raleigh Brewing: My favorite North Carolina beer this year had to be Crank Arms Holy Mole Porter. Not only was it from a newer brewery in the area, but it was also very well balanced and really harnessed the spicy and lightly cinnamon-spiced character of the beer.
J.D. Schlick, co-owner Beer Study in Chapel Hill: NoDa Brewing in Charlottes Imperial Hop, Drop n Roll is just flat out the best double India pale ale I have ever had out of the state.
Erik Lars Myers, CEO and head brewer at Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough: There was a brown rye beer from Deep River Brewing in Clayton that I really enjoyed. The NoDa-N.C. Beer Guys collaboration Hot Pistol, a chocolate raspberry habanero stout, was really great.
Les Stewart, head brewer Trophy Brewing in Raleigh: While its nearly impossible for me to select a favorite beer for a whole year, I would be remiss not to laud Wicked Weeds incredible effort in taking the gold medal at Great American Beer Festival in the coveted American brett beer category with Serenity.
Favorite North Carolina brewery
Anne Fitten Glenn, author of Asheville Beer: Every beer Foothills makes lately is delicious. I love what theyre doing and their consistency.
Federal: The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is definitely my favorite N.C. brewery. They have, in my opinion, the most consistent products of any N.C. brewery. They also totally nail difficult German beer styles like doppelbock, altbier and pilsner.
Myers: I really enjoy the design at Hi-Wire in Asheville, and Im pretty excited about them. I think that Wicked Weed is amazing to watch and is putting out some great beer. My highlight is probably NoDa Brewing: good people, good beer.
Dave Tollefsen and Glenn Cutler, founders of NCBeerGuys.com: We love the local ingredient focus of Fonta Flora and Fullsteam, the entrepreneurial drive of Burial Brewing in Asheville and Unknown Brewing in Charlotte, the community focus of Mother Earth in Kinston, the incredible energy at Hi-Wire Brewing and the list goes on.
What Im tasting
Its so hard to pick a holiday beer.
Every brewery makes at least one and often they all sound and taste the same. So I turned to the beer guys at Paddy OBeers, a new bottle shop in downtown Raleigh, for help. We discussed a few and reached consensus on Olde Hickorys Christmas Ale.
Its a lightly spiced, malty, winter warmer that is served at the Hickory brewery with a candy cane hanging from the glass. Try it at home. The price is unbeatable at $4.