The 2015 Beer Issue

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written by Eric Ginsburg, illustrations by Evan McIntyre

The local beer culture is a swiftly moving target. So fast that, between the first and second drafts of the 2015 Beer Issue, we discovered plans for a new brewery and had to adjust.

Since the beginning of 2015, Triad City Beat has broken news about four Triad breweries underway, at least one in each city. That includes news about the latest, Joymongers Brewing in Greensboro, on Sunday.

Three years ago, nobody would’ve seen a point in an annual beer issue; that’s how rapidly new breweries stormed Winston-Salem, and then Greensboro, adding to the longstanding trifecta of Foothills, Natty Greene’s and Liberty.

There’s a regional component to the Triad market, of course — MillerCoors announced it would close its massive plant in Eden, Four Saints opened in Asheboro, Red Oak chugs along in Whitsett and Burlington Beer Works declared its impending birth all in the last year. But we’re an urban publication, focused by necessity on the Triad’s three cities, even though there are some utterly fantastic breweries around this great state.

And when it comes to beer, there are so many new brews coming out regularly in these three urban centers that it would be a full-time gig to try a pint of every last one.tcb_beer_items

The Triad’s eight head brewers — polled about their favorite “beers from peers” in this issue — hardly have time to try anyone else’s creations. As Calder Preyer, father to a 18-month-old and the head beer-maker at Preyer Brewing in Greensboro, put it: “A trip to Winston-Salem sounds almost like an exotic adventure at this point.” Everyone else agreed, lamenting that they hadn’t tried anything yet from this brewery or that.

Maybe you, too, can hardly keep up with all the permutations of the Triad’s beer scene over the last year. Or maybe you’re on top of it all, but are thirsty for more insights. Either way, we’ve got your back.

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Winston-Salem

FOOTHILLS

foothills
photo by Carolyn de Berry

Foothills, the second-largest North Carolina brewery, will expand into Georgia come 2016. The brewery is already operating at 90 percent of capacity, a little too close to full for comfort, so its adding four 400-barrel tanks to expand its capacity, head brewer TL Adkisson said. Before then, Foothills will release its Frostbite Black IPA at the beginning of November, followed by its Moravian Porter. And the November and December IPAs of the Month, the last in a 24-month series, are on the way, as are more beers in the brewery’s Footmen series that allows brewers to experiment.

House favorite: “We did a maplewood-aged sauvignon blanc version of our Jade IPA,” Adkisson said. “That was my personal favorite that we’ve done this year. I’ve always been a fan of our Jade…. but this was a lot of fun to do.” Using honeycombs from the same region of New Zealand as the sauvignon blanc accentuated the aromas, tartness and acidity of the beer, Adkisson said, making it a fun beer to brew and drink, he said.

TCB: Foothills lets its brewers experiment, which is how we end up with an IPA of the Month as well as special releases in the Footmen Series. The Imperial Smoked Cherry Porter, a Footmen beer, was the best of the bunch in the last year, at least that I had the privilege of trying.

Expert opinion: Several head brewers named Foothills’ Jade IPA first when asked about their favorite locally made beer. “I’m not an enormous American IPA fan, but that one’s fantastic,” Pig Pounder head brewer Sam Rose said. And Dave McClure and Derek Meyn, head brewers at Hoots and Small Batch respectively, both name-dropped the Torch Pilsner.

 

SMALL BATCH

SONY DSCAs the year starts pulling to an end, Small Batch Beer Co. is growing, but true to its name, not a whole lot. The brewery is expanding from a one-barrel system to three, which should keep it from running out of beers as quickly. The brewery will grow from eight taps to 12, probably in the first week of November, head brewer Derek Meyn said. Small Batch already serves food — maybe the best of any Triad brewery — and the owners are opening an adjoining burger joint next door before the year is over.

Small Batch always offers something new — there’s a “brilliant red” saison beer with hibiscus and kombucha coming soon. There’s a pumpkin-ginger American pale ale, a chocolate pumpkin-spice imperial porter and Meyn — who joined Small Batch five months ago after working at Natty Greene’s — said people can likely look forward to some high-gravity Belgian brews and Russian imperial stouts as well.

House favorite: “Probably right now my favorite is our Thai basil cucumber saison,” said Meyn, who gets the Thai basil from his garden, adding that the current batch will be the last one for a while. “I just think it’s a great combination, I think it’s a wonderful beer.” He also named the Percolator, calling it “fantastic.”

TCB: What a good year for Small Batch. The brewery released Taku Rakau and the White Walker White IPA, respectively my favorite local pale ale and IPA of 2015 (though the Gibb’s pale is a close second and admittedly I’m not as IPA-crazy as the rest of the nation). Honorable mention goes to the Double Shot Percolator, the only coffee-flavored thing I’ve ever liked, and Cuckoo for Coconut, an American imperial/double stout with coconut flavoring.

Expert opinion: Calder Preyer at Preyer Brewing and Dave McClure at Hoots agreed — the Mr. Lemon Man IPA at Small Batch is a standout. That’s not surprising, considering that if Small Batch had a flagship beer, this would be it. The hoppy lemon beer has been with the brewery all along, but Small Batch has been forced to change the name, twice. So if you had the Limonhead IPA and remember liking it, fret not: this is the same beer. Preyer also gave a shout out to the Percolator.

 

HOOTS

Photo by Carolyn de Berry
Photo by Carolyn de Berry

Hoots Beer Co. just turned two, but the bar didn’t start brewing its own beer until June 2014. Located inside the West End Mill Works near the Porch Cantina and Sutler’s Spirit distillery (which is now open for tours), Hoots has started hosting movie nights, karaoke and other events. It may be the hippest of the Triad breweries, and that’s not a bad thing: It feels authentic and full of character.

The brewery focuses on sessionable beers — beers that won’t knock you on your ass. Head brewer Dave McClure says they’re working to increase capacity in small ways, but most of the changes here are visible on tap. A new Common Harvest beer just came out, a California common-style brew similar to Anchor Steam with ale and lager characteristics, he said. And Hoots is toying with the idea of a fourth beer in its Zinzendorf series, possibly an imperial stout, he said.

House favorite: “Common Harvest is one of my favorites right now because it is new,” McClure said. “It’s one of those beers that people don’t know what to think of it but they’ve been drinking it and they respond really well to it.” McClure puts their dark and pale mild beers in second place personally; that’s just his style of beer. Plus, as he points out, it’s one of Hoots’ cheapest.

TCB: Despite my affinity for the Watchnight, a bock-style beer, my favorite Hoots beer of the year has been the Zinzendorf saison, a beautiful piece of work for the warmer months. Honestly, everything Hoots releases is very solid, and its Wheel Bite Wheat is my favorite wheat in the Triad.

Expert opinion: Remember (above) when Calder Preyer said that a trip to Winston-Salem would feel like an exotic vacation? He isn’t alone among brewers, and even those in Winston haven’t had much chance to check out Hoots despite the brewery’s strong distribution in bars across the Triad. So we called in reinforcements: Small Batch co-owner Ryan Blain really enjoys the 100 Days Porter. “It’s really roasty but not super heavy,” he said, adding that it “sticks to the standards on what a good porter should be” and is a “good winter warmer.”

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Next page: High Point and Greensboro