I signed up for Untappd, a beer app, so I could keep track of what I’d tried and how I felt about it. The vast majority of the 665 unique beers I’ve “checked-in” on don’t merit any comment — they’re not bad, just unremarkable. I pay too much attention to the dumb badges you can earn on Untappd, and sometimes checking in distracts me from human social interaction. But in the plus category, I can easily find the best beers I’ve tried lately and pass along that knowledge to you.
1. The saisons by Neuse River Brewing
Beer tourism, especially when paired with pizza, meatballs, arcade games and friends, is the best way to travel. My girlfriend and I spent a recent Saturday in Raleigh, day-drinking our way through four breweries and a barcade with a posse of Triangle friends. We started with flights at Neuse River Brewing, which easily ranked as my favorite brews of the day. Particularly, the three saisons on draft were all excellent, including the regulars Biere de Neuse and Neusiok Imperial Saison as well as the limited release Jardin au Poivre. This brewery alone would be worth the trek.
2. Mai Coconut Porter by Hoots
By using rice, Hoots created an imminently drinkable dark beer that also tastes fantastic. I tried it at Mission Pizza Napoletana’s “Knife Fight,” and commented to brewery co-owner Eric Swaim that I could easily down a few in a row. It’s so popular that Hoots doesn’t even have it on draft at the bar, but you can find it at a few other Winston-Salem spots.
3. Beet Gose by Small Batch
Winston-Salem’s other small brewery (soon to be joined by Wise Man Brewing) couldn’t figure out how to make its Beet Gose retain the bright pinkish red color of its special ingredient. But by tinkering with when to add beets in the process, co-owner Tim Walker said Small Batch finally nailed it. The taste is the same delicious recipe, but now there’s a magnificent shade to match.
4. Lexington Smoked Spring IPA by Natty Greene’s
Natty Greene’s continues to release quality specials, and while I’m embarrassed about how few of the brewery’s sours I’ve tried, I can say this smoked IPA is on point. I found it at Beerthirty, a new Greensboro bottle shop and bar, where I also tried the delicious Aunt Sally dry-hopped sour by Lagunitas and learned that there’s a microbrewery operating in Kernersville. Who knew?
5. Sun Hands Belgian Summer Golden by Haw River
Haw River Farmhouse Ales is undoubtedly one of the best breweries in North Carolina. Ask me about it when you see me — by then I’ll have made it out to Saxapahaw to experience it in person. But Haw River’s beers are readily available throughout the state. Look for Sun Hands, a satisfying summer brew I found at the new Hops Burger Bar in Greensboro.
6. Emmy’s Grand Cru Belgian Ale by Preyer Brewing
It’s hard to pull me away from my staple GSO-zuh gose ale on trips to Greensboro’s Preyer Brewing, but Emmy’s Grand Cru is worth the diversion. Be careful though — the high alcohol content will quickly sneak up on you.
7. Alberta Clipper Porter by Great Lakes Brewing
Melt Kitchen & Bar in Greensboro reliably brags one of the Triad’s best beer lists even though the restaurant can only tap a few beers at a time. If it’s still on draft, try the Alberta Clipper Porter, a beaut from the ever-dependable Great Lakes, but you’re pretty well assured to find something excellent and new at Melt regardless.
8. Fox-in-the-Morning by Gibb’s Hundred
Gibb’s Hundred Brewing consistently produces high-quality beers, including its Berliner Weisse or scotch ale. On my last visit to the downtown Greensboro brewery, I tried the new Fox-in-the-Morning Saison and I highly recommend it.
9. Hop of the Month – April (Kazbek) by Foothills
Last year, Foothills premiered a new IPA every month. And that’s great, because this Winston-Salem brewery didn’t become a giant by accident — they’re pros. But I don’t love IPAs (go ahead and clutch your pearls, beer nerds), so I was delighted to hear Foothills would modify the release to be a hop of the month. I don’t typically love pilsners either, but the Kazbek pils that Foothills released in April is spot on.
10. Fumapapa by Pretty Things
I rarely (read: basically never) buy any beer that clocks in about $7 — there’s just too much good stuff for cheaper. I made an exception when Pretty Things, a beloved Boston-area brewery, decided to close down. I snagged this Russian imperial stout from Beer Co. bottle shop when I saw the bomber bottle for $10, knowing I’d likely never see a Pretty Things beer again. And I shed a metaphorical tear as I drank the Fumapapa.
11. Tropicmost Passionfruit Gose by Wicked Weed
Is Wicked Weed the best brewery in North Carolina? Quite possibly, especially if you appreciate sour beers, but regardless this Asheville operation is consistently considered among the state’s finest. The readily available Tropicmost Passionfruit Gose is so good that if I see it, I don’t much care what else is on the menu.