North Carolina’s craft beer scene made huge leaps in 2013.
Prominent brewers spread the state’s craft beer brand into even more states. Dozens of new breweries opened with creative new styles. And major national players broke ground or began pouring this year.
So what are the top new breweries? And what’s the biggest story in the craft beer scene?
As part of an end-of-the year series, I asked those two questions to an informal panel of more than two dozen North Carolina brewers, industry pros and über-enthusiasts.
Below is an edited transcript of their answers.
What new N.C. brewery is the most exciting?
Anne Fitten Glenn, author of “Asheville Beer”: I’m really excited about Burial Beer in Asheville – a tiny brewery with some awesome big beers. A new local favorite.
Sean Lilly Wilson, CEO at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham: Double Barley out of Smithfield started out of the gates with an impressive suite of sessionable and experimental beers. With such a strong start, I’m anticipating great things from this new Eastern North Carolina brewery.
J.D. Schlick, co-owner of Beer Study in Chapel Hill: Double Barley, Burial and Unknown Brewery in Charlotte.
Brent Manning, co-owner of Riverbend Malt House in Asheville : Fonta Flora in Morganton. They are bringing an exceptional amount of creativity in terms of recipe development and ingredient selection; granted I’m biased, as they are currently using a lot of Riverbend’s malt.
Dave Tollefsen and Glenn Cutler, founders of NCBeerGuys.com: Double Barley Brewing with their “power beers,” the lowest ABV at 6.5 percent and the unique flavors they’ve presented. And Hi-Wire Brewing in Asheville, which made the promise to go statewide and they pulled it off in such a short time and still maintained consistency.
Richard Mitchell, organizer of N.C. Brewers Cup: Haw River Farmhouse Ales in Saxapahaw. If their test batches are any indication of what’s to come ... boom.
Adam Harold, director of beer programs at All About Beer magazine: Haw River Farmhouse Ales. I love the idea of a brewery in North Carolina focusing on this wild and difficult style to master.
What’s the biggest 2013 story in N.C. craft beer?
Sumit Vohra, CEO at Lonerider Brewing in Raleigh: The biggest story is the entry of Sierra Nevada and New Belgium in North Carolina.
John Federal, production manager and brewer at Raleigh Brewing: Wicked Weed in Asheville beating out Russian River in the American-style brett beer category at Great American Beer Festival was pretty awesome. Russian River always places first in that category, and for a North Carolina brewery to knock them off the pedestal says a lot about where we’re headed as a craft beer state.
Les Stewart, head brewer at Trophy Brewing in Raleigh: I am very excited about Margo Knight Metzger being named executive director of the N.C. Brewers Guild and all the groundwork that is being laid to grow the organization’s influence in North Carolina.
Schlick: The biggest story would be the push of North Carolina breweries to distribute outside the state.
Erik Lars Myers, CEO and head brewer at Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough: I think it’s difficult to say that it’s anything but the expansion breweries coming into North Carolina. Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Oskar Blues coming into the state is a big deal.
Mitchell: The introduction of growler fills at retailers. While it’s been a somewhat slow start, I think it could redefine the local craft beer industry for North Carolina.
Harold: I would have to say the number of North Carolina breweries that have opened their doors in 2013, and the lack of breweries closing. It shows that the market is strong and growing, even with more and more regional and national breweries beginning to distribute in our state.
What I’m tasting
Each year, I laugh when I see Lagunitas Sucks on the beer shelves. How many breweries deface themselves on a label?
The California brewery first made Sucks in 2011 as a substitute when it failed to brew the venerable Brown Shugga’ Ale. And it was too good to make a one-off. Sucks is akin to an double India pale ale, straw-colored with a light body and a deliciously crisp, tropical hop bite.
Its step-cousin, Brown Shugga, is the opposite – sweet like a barleywine but with a complexity that includes citrus hop flavors.
Both are popular, so you may have to look hard to find them.
Contact John at 919-829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.