Food & Drink

Pintful: As a farewell, a look at North Carolina's best beers

EDITOR’S NOTE: John Frank is relocating to Denver to cover politics for The Denver Post. This is his last Pintful column. You can keep track of John by following him on Twitter: @ByJohnFrank.

North Carolina’s craft beer scene is easily described with one word: booming.

One statistic tells the story: The number of craft breweries in the state has nearly tripled in the past five years to 114. And the growth will only continue.

The state is expected to exceed 150 breweries in 2015 and serve as a second home to three national brands – Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium – that will exponentially boost North Carolina’s status on the beer map. The growth will continue as long as the breweries are making quality beer and converting more and more fans.

For the better part of two years, this is the overarching story I told nearly every week while covering the state’s craft beer industry. I visited more than half of the Tar Heel state’s breweries and tasted far more.

This is, sadly, my final Pintful column, and I’ll use it to try to answer the one question I get more than any: What are your favorite North Carolina beers?

My answer is typically another question: Well, what types of beers do you like? Here are a few recommendations to guide your next North Carolina beer journey:

For the craft beer newcomer: An easy-drinking, light-bodied beer is the best place to start. Try White Street’s Kolsch-style Ale, Mother Earth’s Park Day Bohemian Pilsner or Natty Greene’s Wildflower Witbier.

The best India pale ales: IPA is now the top-selling style of craft beer and there are many on the market. The state’s top two: Wicked Weed’s Freak of Nature and NoDa’s Hop, Drop ’n Roll, which are both hard to find, so other great ones include Foothills’ Jade, Pisgah’s Vortex I and Aviator’s HogWild.

The best stouts: Dedicated craft beer fans also seek out the big, bold flavored stouts. These are often rare and featured at special release parties. North Carolina’s finest include Foothills’ Sexual Chocolate (and the bourbon barrel-aged version), Olde Hickory’s Event Horizon, Mother Earth’s Silent Night and Nantahala’s Trail Magic.

The best beers from the grocery store: I prefer to shop in specialty bottle shops because of the greater selection. But if you need a quick six-pack from the grocery store, you can still find great North Carolina beers. Look for Lonerider’s Sweet Josie Brown Ale, Foothills Hoppyum IPA, Duck Rabbit’s Milk Stout and Highland’s Gaelic Ale.

The must-visit brewery: Wicked Weed in Asheville. The relatively young brewery is turning out the state’s most innovative beers, especially impressing with a long list of barrel-aged and sour beers that are hard to find if they even leave the brewery.

Worth the trip: Not all North Carolina breweries distribute kegs, let alone bottles or cans. So arrange a road trip to visit Crank Arm, Big Boss and Trophy in Raleigh, Fullsteam in Durham, Sierra Nevada’s new site in Mills River, Nantahala in Bryson City and Pisgah in Black Mountain.

Newcomers to watch: More new breweries are emerging every year. Be sure to seek out Unknown in Charlotte, Double Barley in Smithfield, Innovation in Sylva, Fonta Flora in Morganton and Hi-Wire in Asheville.

This partial list surely missed many great North Carolina gems. And that’s the best part – there’s plenty to taste. Cheers.