You think you like beer?
You’re a piker compared to my friend Steve Bergey. While the rest of us frittered away our time in March on office pool basketball brackets, Bergey contributed a higher service to mankind by conducting a one-man, double-elimination beer-off tournament to identify the best India Pale Ales obtainable locally.
Over 11 weeks, Bergey sacrificed himself to the greater good by consuming two beers per day, eliminating the losers and matching the winners against each other until he reached a Final Four of hoppy glory. You’ll have to keep reading to find out the winners.
Bergey, of Carrboro, is a somewhat extreme example of a phenomenon that is transforming the Carrboro-Chapel Hill area into a beer drinker’s Mecca. In the last three years, beer lovers here have seen the opening of three new craft breweries in Carrboro alone, with two more in the works. There has been a bloom of new bottle shops specializing in craft beers, more taprooms selling them on draft and even a home brew shop where you can buy the grains, malts and hops to make your own.
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April is North Carolina Beer Month, and April 12 was National Beer Day. So on that day, I felt it my obligation as a journalist (and a home brewer of modest ability) to study the beer scene.
Where better to begin than the aptly named Beer Study, strategically located on the Carrboro/Chapel Hill border that has become the go-to refueling station for local sudsers. There, manager Taylor McAdams schooled me on all things hoppy.
First question, why does so much beer sell here? You would think the answer is obvious: It’s the 25,000 UNC students, stupid.
Not so, says McAdams. Beer Study caters not to students, but to the recent grads and young professionals with the palate and cash to buy craft beer. Craft beer is an expensive indulgence, and there are plenty of young techies and recent MBAs around with the money in their wallets to buy at Beer Study a bottle of Nuptiale A2 Black Damnation Twelve for $43.29.
Think of the best-known beer destinations around the country – Denver, Portland, Asheville; they have in common a youthful population, vibrant economy and funky bent of mind. “Craft beers are more in demand and appreciated in areas that are more open-minded,” says McAdams.
There also is a vibe of entrepreneurialism in microbrew land. One local success story is Steel String Brewery, a brewpub in Carrboro started three years ago by four friends who had been home brewers. The response has been so strong that Steel String recently increased capacity 75 percent by adding two more fermenting vessels. Next month, it will begin selling its most popular labels in six-packs and four-packs.
The success, says Eric Knight, one of the founders, is due in part to Steel String’s uniquely local feel. Two of the founders went to Chapel Hill High School. “I think every brewery needs a sense of place and needs to reflect the place where it is,” he said. “We’re proud to be in Carrboro.”
Other new breweries in Carrboro are Yesteryear and Starpoint, and two more are planned, including one called Dingo Dog that will donate profits to animal protection. That is definitely a sense of culture.
Chapel Hill is not without good craft beer. The granddaddies of the microbrew scene are Top of the Hill and Carolina Brewery. Both have expanded, Carolina Brewery to Pittsboro and Top of the Hill down West Franklin Street (appropriately enough, to the old Chapel Hill News Building ).
If you’re wanting to dip into the local beer scene, a good time will be May 29, when the Town of Carrboro will join with Steel String and 20-plus local brewers to host the Cardinal Directions Beer Fest at the Carrboro Town Commons.
Now, back to Steve Bergey, the beer bracketologist. After 11 weeks of seedings and tastings, 110 beers consumed, 35,200 calories absorbed (but only 2 pounds gained; Bergey’s an avid hiker) and $300 in outlay at local bottle shops, he winnowed the field of 22 IPAs to the final four:
Hercules Double IPA, Deviant Dale's IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin and Lagunitas Sucks. Hercules took the championship ring.
The beer-loving world thanks you, Steve.
You can reach Ted Vaden at firstname.lastname@example.org