Serious Eats: Drinks
On the Beer Trail: Birdsong MexiCali Stout in North Carolina
Editor's Note: Ethan Fixell tours the country as a comedian—and as a beer drinker. Can he sip a local beer in every state? Watch him try.
The hardest part about being a comedian on the road is that things don't always go according to plan: audiences betray, performance spaces fail, and shows get cancelled. The key to dealing with such setbacks, however, is to make lemonade whenever possible—and luckily I had just the right lemons in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Following a performance in Charlotte, a few locals recommended that my comedy partner, Dave, and I stop by Liberty Brewing. Independent micro-brewpub beer ranges from incredible to incredibly awful, but Liberty's fared better than most. Highlights included a sweetly malted Nut Brown, a peculiar Blackberry Wheat, and a deliciously toasty Oatmeal Stout.
Satisfied with our North Carolina drinking experience, we headed to a hotel for the night to prepare for our brutally early 6 a.m. flight to New Hampshire the next morning. A sudden knock on my hotel room door disrupted my nightly ritual of brushing, flossing, and Rogaine-ing.
"I don't think we're gonna make it to Manchester, dude," said Dave, flashing his phone's weather app.
An impending storm threatening New England with over two feet of snow would cancel our next show, obliging us to stay an extra day in Charlotte. If this sounds like a major bummer to you, you're simply not thinking like a beer-loving comedian: we were now stranded in an awesome town with nothing to do but drink.
I did some online research, and the best starting point seemed to be The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, responsible for some widely praised German-style beer. But a man on a mission mustn't settle for a Yelp review from "FranktheTank69" who happened to be "jes passin' thru"...he must enlist an army of personal local contacts in every major American city to root out the diamonds in the rough.
"Meck is good," said Dan, my resident expert friend, "but it's the 'Budweiser' of Charlotte. I know of a few more unique options." Dan was certainly speaking my language.
"But first...you guys need a beer?"
Dan, it turns out, was fluent in my language.
He led me and Dave to his at-home bar and opened up a large format bottle of Redeemer, an imperial IPA from nearby Olde Hickory Brewery. With a funky, slightly fruity scent and a pleasantly fresh flavor, Redeemer hits the style on the head.
Having finished our aperitifs, our tour guide and his wife took us to NoDa Brewing Company, named after its location on North Davidson Street. Though it may not be well known outside of North Carolina, the place was absolutely bumpin' at 10 p.m. Apparently, one can't stop at NoDa without sampling their Coco Loco, a coconut porter that disappointingly smells more like its namesake fruit than it tastes like it. Fortunately, their Imperial Coco Loco picks up the slack, blasting you with roasty chocolate and booze before introducing a pleasant acidity in the finish.
But the showstopper was to be found just next door at Birdsong Brewing, an up-and-comer led by 24-year-old brewmaster named Connor Robinson, a former baker. ("Former" at 24? I admit that I am more than slightly jealous of this Doogie Howser of brewing.) Upon introducing myself to Chandra Torrence, one of the seven Birdsong owners, we were offered a late night tour.
"A drink is mandatory for all vistors," Chandra warned, as she placed a MexiCali Stout into my hand and led us from the taproom into the brewery. I was just following the rules.
I could distinctly taste the fresh, local cinnamon and coffee Birdsong uses to sweeten their delicious stout. Meanwhile, a curious touch of chili pepper offset the sweetness. Strolling around my new favorite North Carolinian brewery, sipping the most interesting beer I'd had in months, I smiled to myself, reminded that the ideal recipe is often one balanced by the unexpected.
About the Author: Ethan Fixell is a writer and comedian from New York City best known as one half of comic "dating coach" duo Dave and Ethan. He is also the creator and editor of ActualConversation.com. For more on Ethan, visit EthanFixell.com.