Count me surprised when I visited the World Beer Festival in Raleigh over the weekend and encountered hordes of men in pastel pants, women in sundresses and both genders wearing ridiculous foam whales from Vineyard Vines on their heads like hats.
Back in my day (2008-’12) the frat boys pounded Bud Light and the sorority girls hardly drank beer at all. Fast forward to 2016, and here they are sipping on everything from mainstream IPAs to the strange brews that seem to pop up only for beer festivals like this one, which drew thousands of visitors to the state fairgrounds.
The rise of craft beer has been swift indeed.
I was grabbing one of those off-the-beaten-path beers – called Lolita, an ale brewed with raspberries and aged in wine barrels – when the guy next to me started asking the VIP section volunteers for suggestions on what he should try.
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“I really only ever drink Shock Top,” he explained.
At first I wanted to judge this guy for dropping $85 for a VIP ticket. But I was wrong. I should admire him for wanting to expand his horizons.
The really fun thing about craft beer is you can experience all sorts of flavor combinations, even among beers that are nominally the same style.
Beer and beer fans often upend preconceived notions, and last weekend was no exception. There were the frat boys who could debate craft brews with the snobbiest of hispters. There was the bluegrass band that refused to play “Wagon Wheel” despite multiple – usually slurred – requests. And then there was the beer itself.
I tend to enjoy rye IPAs, so I was surprised when I tried one that was maybe the worst beer I’ve ever had. I also usually can’t stand sour beers, so I was even more surprised when I tried a cherry gose that was one of my favorite new discoveries.
Don’t take my word for it, though, that our preconceived notions about people and beer are often wrong. April is N.C. Beer Month, so go out and test those boundaries yourself.
Neophytes can try a beer other than Shock Top – and they should, if only to punish the company for those annoying commercials with the talking orange. Or if you think you’ve already got things figured out, you can try a different iteration of that one style you dislike and maybe come away surprised.
The fine folks at the state tourism bureau and the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild have put together quite the website with everything you’ll need to plan a beer-drenched April: ncbeermonth.com. You’ll find details on pairing dinners, help planning road trips and everything in between.
The Triangle alone has two dozen events this month. All across the state, beer lovers can pick from more than 100 themed dinners, festivals, grand openings and more.
So get out there, make some new friends, try some new beers and please don’t wear one of those silly foam whale hats unless you’ve had at least a few drinks.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
A few Triangle events in N.C. Beer Month
Hillsborough Street Earth Day Music Fest: Come tap some beers and your inner hippie at Raleigh’s Compiegne Park, 2-9 p.m. April 9, with a lineup of musicians, local beers, food trucks, kid-friendly activities and a dance competition. Admission is free.
North Carolina ’Cuegrass Festival: For a $5 admission fee, come wander around downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District listening to bluegrass music, drinking beer and chowing down on barbecue, noon-6 p.m. April 16.
Brewgaloo: This downtown Raleigh street fair will have a seemingly never-ending stretch of breweries trying to impress you with their best or rarest offerings April 22-23. Tickets: $15-$45.
Find more information about these events and a full calendar at ncbeermonth.com.