It is no coincidence that a recent Wall Street Journal article bemoaning the declining fortunes of America’s “King of Beers” was filed from North Carolina, home of four time winner of the Beer City, USA poll (Asheville, NC) and a booming state wide craft beer scene. North Carolina, where we call home here at W5, is an appropriate place to write an article about the demise of Budweiser because as the articles’ title implies – “Bud Crowded Out by Craft Beer Craze” – North Carolina is deep in the midst of a craft beer craze.
Beer drinkers, particularly of the millennial variety, increasingly favor craft beer and we have an abundance of craft beers in North Carolina! I do not pretend by any means to imply that North Carolina is on par with states like California, Colorado or Oregon in terms of the maturity of the craft beer scene, but the number of breweries in North Carolina has grown from just 26 in 2006 to over 110 today.
There are two reasons that help explain why people are drinking more micro beers and fewer macro beers. First, people are becoming more inclined to drink craft beer for the very important reason that craft beers simply taste better. I am as big a fan as anyone of an icy cold Coors (or six) on a hot summer day, but I don’t think anyone can deny that craft beers offer a greater depth of complexity and nuanced flavors than beers like Coors or Budweiser.
The second reason people are drinking more craft beer, which goes hand in hand with the larger local food movement, is that people like to consume beer that is locally brewed and is a reflection of the community of which they are a part. Localism is huge these days from food, to community planning, to beer. Localism is so big that more established breweries are obscuring their roots in those previously mentioned beer meccas of the West Coast to take on a local identity.
Asheville, NC is soon to be home to East Coast breweries for the second and third largest craft brewers in the U.S. – California’s Sierra Nevada and Colorado’s New Belgium of Fat Tire fame. Oskar Blues Brewery, from Colorado and the 24th largest craft brewer, opened its East Coast brewery near Asheville in 2013. While it makes logistic sense for a brewer with national aspirations to open an East Coast brewery in North Carolina, as a good midpoint distribution center between the Southeast and the Northeast, there are clearly also some style points that go along with marketing that beer as a North Carolina based craft beer.
Oskar Blues beers that are brewed in North Carolina have “Brevard, North Carolina” prominently displayed across their cans. What I find to be interesting about this is that many North Carolinians who were previously unfamiliar with Oskar Blues now believe this beer to be an original North Carolina creation. While it is technically a craft beer brewed in North Carolina I find it more accurate to describe it as Colorado craft beer with a North Carolina brewery. I really like Oskar Blues beer and enjoyed my fair share of Oskar Blues when I lived in Colorado, but when I am looking to pick up a six pack of local North Carolina craft beer I skip past the Oskar Blues and pick up one of the many equally tasty options whose roots do truly run deep through NC.
I will be interested to see if Sierra Nevada and New Belgium also market the beer they brew and distribute out of the Asheville region as North Carolina craft beer. I think it will be more difficult to convince consumers that these beers are original NC craft beers because both have much greater brand awareness than Oskar Blues, but we shall see!
In the meantime here are a few of my favorite North Carolina craft beers as well as my favorite brewery in North Carolina. I am not sure how widely these beers are distributed outside of North Carolina but if you ever see one, or come to visit our beautiful state, be sure to try them out!
Gaelic Ale – Highland Brewing Company – Asheville, NC
Highland is one of the oldest craft breweries in North Carolina, opening in 1994, and they have really got it dialed in. Gaelic Ale is a deep amber-colored American ale, with a rich malty body. Gaelic was Highland’s first beer and was named in honor of the Scots and Irish who settled the Appalachian region. It was also my first NC craft beer which may explain why I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this beer.
Natty Greene’s is named for Major General Nathanael Greene who led the Southern Campaign during the Revolutionary War and who is also the namesake for Greensboro, where this brewery is located. Their Southern Pale Ale is a medium-bodied deep golden ale with a distinct bitter character and a hoppy, piney-citrus finish.
Ka-Bar Brown is a beer that I tried just recently and I am a big fan. Made with traditional brewer’s malt, a touch of crystal, chocolate malts, as well as Mt. Hood and Cascade hops, this English Style Brown Ale has a slight nutty undertone and a mild bite at the end. Railhouse is a veteran owned brewery that uniquely focuses on the malted barley instead of the hops that are such a dominant part of the craft beer scene.
While I haven’t been totally won over by the taste of this beer, a ginger pale ale which is brewed with both fresh and candied ginger to create its balanced yin-yang flavor, I love the localism that this beer and this brewery represent. Cackalacky is a quirky and beloved nickname of North Carolina and Fullsteam positions itself as a “plow-to-pint” brewery that uses local Southern ingredients as much as possible to give their beer distinct character and to create jobs and wealth for North Carolina farmers and food producers.
You can only get Outer Banks Brewing Station beer from their brewery on the beautiful beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. But should you ever find yourself out that way be sure to check this place out. They have fantastic beer and their food is also great. The Outer Banks Brewing Station is also the first wind powered brewery in the United States! Be sure to look out for their windmill and stop in for a beer!