Until the passage of the "Pop the Cap" Initiative in 2005, it was illegal to sell beer above 6% ABV in the state of North Carolina. Since that increase, North Carolinian beer lovers have been working hard to build the state's reputation as one of the best places for beer in the country.
With all of the growth of the brewing scene in the Tar Heel state (61 breweries at the time of this writing), it can sometimes be hard to keep track of all of the new breweries popping up on the local beer map. Breweries from other states are moving in, too: both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are working on opening expansion facilities in North Carolina, while Oskar Blues opened their Brevard, North Carolina branch in December of 2012.
Below is our list of the five best recently-opened breweries in North Carolina. Have you tried their beers yet?
Steel String Brewery (Carrboro, NC)
A guitar-shaped bar with ten distinct tap handles greets you as you walk into this new brewery in the hip town of Carrboro, just outside of Chapel Hill, NC. Founded by four friends whose roots are in bluegrass music, this new brewery hits all of the right notes.
A friendly atmosphere surrounds the American-made brewing system which is cranking out batch after batch of beer utilizing local ingredients. From the NC-grown malt and hops to the coffee beans roasted across the street, each of Steel String Brewery's beers contains some distinct North Carolina flair.
Steel String opened their doors in late April 2013 and their beer lineup currently includes Maggie's Farmhouse Ale, a crisp and refreshing saison that highlights local honey in conjunction with the spicy, earthly Belgian yeast aroma. While you're at it, try the Rubber Room, a 4% ABV session pale ale brewed with North Carolina-grown rye. It's an easy drinking beer that packs a punch of grapefruit and citrusy flavors from a full American hop profile. If you want to get your hands on these, or any of their other brews, you'll have to stop by the brewery in Carrboro—they are not yet distributing their beer for outside sales.
Deep River Brewing Company (Clayton, NC)
The sign boasts Johnson County's first *legal* brewery. In the heart of moonshine country, Deep River Brewery is a welcome addition to the land of the pines. It opened in mid-April 2013 in a 2000+ square-foot building that previously housed a cotton mill, and Deep River is committed to keeping great beer flowing in North Carolina.
Follow the river painted on the floor that leads you from the front door to the tap room bar, which is constructed from wood of a 100 year old tobacco drying barn. The rotating tap list includes winners like their Backcountry Black IPA, which provides a deep roasty malt body to back up the 6 different hop varieties used to give this beer some great complexity. We also love the Riverbank Rye-It, which is a deep amber-colored IPA with a phenomenal blend of rye spiciness and citrusy hop aromas.
The stash of oak barrels hidden in the back corner can only be a sign of more fun things to come out of Deep River Brewery.
Wicked Weed Brewing (Asheville, NC)
Specializing in both hoppy west-coast style American ales and open fermented, barrel aged Belgian-style beer, Wicked Weed Brewery is quickly making a splash in the Asheville scene.
To the best of their knowledge, Wicked Weed is the first brewery in the southeast to use open fermenters. Their methods create a nuanced flavor profile not seen in beers fermented in the typical sealed fermentation vessels. They've opened up an off-site barrel aging facility with the capacity to hold up to 400 barrel aged beers, aged in rum, bourbon, and wine barrels. The result is a line of intriguing brews you won't find being made elsewhere in the state.
Must-try offerings at Wicked Weed include The Freak Double IPA, which they describe as "a San Francisco-inspired hoppy monster." With 8% ABV and an enormous amount of IBUs, this beer is all about the West Coast hops, with a citrusy, weedy scent and big, dank flavor. Don't leave without trying the Wild Abby, a Dubbel-inspired brew that was aged for three months in Sangiovese wine barrels with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus which bring a tart and wild flavor to the beer. This malty, complex beer is a signature in the Wicked Weed sour program.
Raleigh Brewing Company (Raleigh, NC)
Raleigh Brewing Company offers beer and brewing classes, a homebrew shop, a production brewery, a relaxed taproom, and events, all adding up to what John Federal, RBC's general manager and head brewer, calls a "brewtopia."
Raleigh Brewing Company has designed their core beer line-up around the theme 'a beer for everyone.' They have an extensive selection of beers ranging from light to dark, hoppy to malty, dry to sweet, and roasty to floral. All said, their tap room features up to 20 taps, including root beer and kombucha. Federal's favorite beer is the House of Clay Rye IPA. It's a recipe that he spent a lot of time developing as a homebrewer before brewing it at the commercial scale. The subtle rye spiciness balances beautifully with the bouquet of hops, resulting in a refreshing hoppy ale.
Raleigh Brewing also features a weekly Tuesday "Employee Beer tap" pouring the creations of the various brewery employees. It's a great way to make sure all brewery employees are involved in making beer and getting creative with recipes, plus the public gets to try a new beer every single week!
Heist Brewery (Charlotte, NC)
Located in the historic Highland Park Mill in the NoDa area of Charlotte, The Heist Brewery is the newest brewery in the suddenly booming Charlotte beer scene.
The brewery is based around a German brewhouse, but you won't just see German-style beers coming out the door. Their oatmeal stout uses nine different types of malted barley as well as flaked oats, making for a complex malt profile with a substantial roasted chocolate flavor backed up by a dark caramel sweetness. Served on a nitrogen tap (instead of carbon dioxide), the texture and thick, creamy foam are not to be missed.
The crowd favorite at Heist is the IPA, a moderately sweet beer that packs a punch. Cascade hops provide a grapefruity flavor without making the beer overly bitter. It's almost too easy to drink, especially since it clocks in at 8.5% ABV.
More to Try...
Coming to North Carolina? A few other favorites worth adding to your list beer destinations include White Street Brewing Company in Wake Forest, Trophy Brewing Company in Raleigh, and Hi Wire Brewing, which opened in the space previously occupied by Craggie Brewing, just outside of Asheville.
Do you have a favorite North Carolina brewery or beer? Tell us in the comments!
About the Author: Chris Creech is a Certified Cicerone, BJCP Beer Judge, and award-winning homebrewer. You can find him on Twitter at @NChomebrewing