Food & Drink

Taste This!

What: Brewery tours

How much: free

When: second Saturday of each month

Where: Carolina Brewery

120 Lowes Drive, Suite 100, Pittsboro

545-2330, www.carolinabrewery.com

It would be unseemly of me to mention right up front that Carolina Brewery's brewery tours culminate with a sampling of free beer, so I won't. Instead, I'll begin by explaining that the tours are offered only at the brewery's spanking new facility in Pittsboro, and are available by advance reservation, which you can book by calling the number below. Tours begin at noon and 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month, and last about 45 minutes.

Brewmaster John Connolly or one of his staff leads the tour, which covers the entire process from raw ingredients to final product (of which, I might add, free samples are given). The tour begins with a chance to touch and smell the hops and malted barley, which, in varying combinations, are the essential ingredients of virtually all beers. Participants are then walked through the brewery, from the gleaming copper and stainless steel kettles where the chemical magic begins, through the heat exchanger and fermenter, and on to the filter and serving tank where the beer is refined and aged. At any point along the way, questions are welcome. If you've ever wondered why some beers taste more bitter than others, say, or just what it is that distinguishes an ale from a lager, here's your chance to ask.

The tour then proceeds to the taps that dispense the results of the brewmaster's art. At Carolina Brewery, those results take the form of a wide variety of beer styles, from crisp, light Sky Blue Golden Ale to dark, chocolaty Oatmeal Porter to the intensely hoppy Flagship IPA, which won a Gold Medal at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival. And here, finally, is the logical point where I should point out that tour participants will be offered a free tasting flight of six beers, along with guided tasting notes. Afterward, participants are given the opportunity to purchase half-gallon growlers of their favorites to take home. You're also welcome to adjourn to the dining room, where a menu of American fare prepared by Culinary Institute of America-trained executive chef Andrew Forster is offered.

The next tours are scheduled for April 12. That's more than two weeks away, but it's probably a good idea to book reservations well in advance, because the tours have quickly become popular. I can't imagine why. You think maybe the free beer has something to do with it?

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