Pintful: A return to sanity and focus on quality craft beer

jfrank@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2014 

  • What’s on tap

    7th Annual Winter Warmer

    3-7 p.m. Jan. 25 at the U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville

    The annual festival celebrating the warming power of beers and the dark beer styles popular this time of year will feature dozens of great breweries, including a few that are hard to find, such as Holy City Brewing from Charleston, Surly Brewing from Minnesota and Big Storm Brewing Co. from Florida. Tickets cost $45. Info:

    Big Operator Release Party

    5-8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Tasty Beverage Co., 327 W. Davie St., Suite 106, Raleigh

    Brewed with local Escazu cocoa nibs and raspberry puree, the Big Operator, a Belgian black ale, is a you-can’t-miss beer each year in the Triangle. Big Boss Brewing Co. will team up with Tasty Beverage Co. bottle shop for a release party. Info:

    Foothills Sexual Chocolate Bottle Release

    10 a.m. Feb. 1 at Foothills Brewing, 638 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem

    Start making plans for the release of one of the state’s most anticipated beers: Foothills Brewing’s Sexual Chocolate. The sales start at 10 a.m., but the line will begin forming just after 2 a.m. to get numbered wristbands for the limited release. The brew pub opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast and a bottle share party with Sexual Chocolate on tap.

Years ago, I opened a bottle of Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale to share with friends.

It sounded like a dream, a combination of my three favorite foods: bacon, doughnuts and beer. And like many crazy beer enthusiasts, this crazy beer from the venerable Oregon brewer fit my quest to try the newest, biggest and baddest beers on the market.

But it was easily one of the worst beers I’ve ever tasted. The smoke from the bacon and the syrupy mouth feel made it akin to drinking the drip tray on a grill. Other tasters agreed.

The experience came to mind recently when trading notes about beer trends for 2014 with a couple dozen brewers and industry pros.

Bobby Bush, the organizer of the Hickory Hops Brew Festival and the Carolinas Championship of Beers competition, made a statement that seemed contentious at first glance.

“Not every beer is worthy of consumption,” he wrote in response to saturation in the craft beer market.

But the more I thought back to the doughnut bacon maple ale – and my own off-point homebrewing concoctions – the more I realized Bush makes a good point.

And other craft beer experts agree, forecasting a trend in 2014 toward more modest, quality beers that drink well and don’t overwhelm.

“In recent years, we’ve seen much more interest in sour and wood-aged beers, but I think 2014 may bring more of an appetite for lower-ABV craft beers,” said Les Stewart, the head brewer at Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co. in Raleigh and a creator of many interesting beers. “This may extend to low-alcohol beer that are even outside of pale lagers and pale ales to traditional, if uncommon, Berliner Weisse and Gose-style beers.”

Daniel Hartis, a Charlotte beer writer and author of the upcoming book “ Beer Lover’s The Carolinas,” sees the same: “I think many people have begun to see the beauty in the less exotic side of the spectrum, and more breweries will focus on traditional styles of beer made well,” he said.

One area that may see a resurgence is lagers, Hartis said. Budweiser is a lager, but the category is far more expansive.

The proof is easy to see in North Carolina, where Red Oak and The Olde Mecklenburg breweries specialize in the style. Lagers, unlike ales, use a yeast that ferments on the bottom instead of the top, and the beers undergo an extended cold-conditioning process.

“Lagers, which have long been maligned among many craft beer drinkers, will continue to come into favor as people realize the term refers not just to the light lagers so many have known in the past, but rather a category of beers that can be almost as diverse and certainly as complex as their top-fermenting brethren,” Hartis said.

The focus on consistency and quality is not just a style trend.

As more local craft breweries land on the map and taps remain limited, experts agree that beer buyers and consumers will demand options that taste good every time and for all occasions, not just flights of fancy.

What I’m tasting

One such beer that holds a consistent place in my refrigerator: Triangle Brewing Co.’s Belgian Golden. Packaged in a nondescript black can, it is a solid example of a Belgian beer that I often recommend to craft newcomers.

The fruity esters imparted by the Belgian yeast, a delicately spicy hop touch and the solid malt backbone offer a load of flavor in a light-colored, easy drinking pint. The one caution: it’s 8 percent alcohol by volume. Info:

Contact John at 919-829-4698 or

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