Written by Eric Ginsburg, photos by Sam Bridges
By the time 4 p.m. hit, the wave of the first Carolina Brewsfest had started to crest.
The six-hour High Point beer festival had begun at noon on May 2, and after a few hours some of the vendors had started to pack it in, with Bandito Burrito food truck rolling out and Unknown Brewing taking down its tent to head back to Charlotte. But even as the tide started to pull back, receding from the beachfront created at the Mendenhall Transportation Center downtown, things didn’t get really weird until 5 p.m.
By that point the ’90s cover band — the same boring act that headlined the unrelated High Point Get Down beer fest last October at the same location — had whipped the saucy crowd into a Sublime sing-a-long. Picture karaoke night at your neighborhood bar, but with bigger amps, more sunlight and a backing band.
The shaded area was split into three tiers, with food trucks taking up the rear guard, die-hard Nirvana fans and the band lurching in the front and a swath of breweries and revelers occupying the packed midsection. With more breweries on hand than other local beer festivals such as Hop Fest, attendees had plenty to choose from, including several of North Carolina’s youngest breweries.
Brüeprint and Flat Top were among the infants of the bunch, both just shy of their first birthdays. With plenty of time left on the clock, Apex-based Brüeprint had run out of its peppery seasonal saison but still offered its compelling Scotch ale and a good dry-hopped brown ale. Flat Top, from the boonies near Boone, was one of several brewers slinging interesting IPAs, particularly its “Ryed Along” black rye IPA.
There were plenty more to try, including relatively new Gibb’s and Pig Pounder from Greensboro as well as hometown hero Liberty, which recently took home more gold medals in the 2015 Carolinas Championship of Beer than any other brewery in the state as well as seven silvers and a bronze. Maybe that’s why head brewer Todd Isbell was in such high spirits as he poured pints last weekend, quickly kicking the blackberry wheat draft and switching over to stalwarts like the Liberty lager.
It was challenging to find information about which breweries would be attending the Carolina Brewsfest before showing up, but more than a dozen turned out with options like a Southern tea wheat ale (from D9 Brewing from Cornelius), a lemongrass pale ale (from Bombshell, whose logo is reminiscent of Jurassic Park) and a “HipHopOpotamus” farmhouse IPA (from Steel String Brewery in Carrboro, which was co-founded by Guilford College grad Eric Knight).
The choices skewed towards the hoppy end of the spectrum by coincidence, something not even the presence of Duck Rabbit, known for its milk stout, could counteract. But nobody complained, even when things wound down rapidly before the advertised 6 p.m. closing time.
There was a kinetic energy in the air, aided and abetted by the nostalgic music but fueled by flowing alcohol — maybe that’s why I was hit on by more strangers than ever before in my life. I could blame my cameraman for any debauchery, who picked up a father-daughter duo at the event and drove us all to Liberty, where High Point University kids completely freaked out as they watched American Pharoah take the derby title on the big screen.
By then, though, I had switched to water, because my cup hath runneth over from the generous pours and general Saturnalia that was the inaugural Brewsfest.