Earlier this year Matthew Curtis, a British beer blogger I’ve a lot of respect for put out a tweet that pushed me off the indecisive fence I’ve been known to camp out on from time to time. I’d been percolating the idea of attending the Beer Bloggers Conference for a while. As a newbie to the blogging scene I was slightly intimidated by the prospect of hanging out with seasoned bloggers and professional writers. Contrary to my instincts, I decided to take a—what can’t kill you can only make you stronger mentality and took the plunge for a 4-day weekend in North Carolina.
We started out the pre-conference tour in Raleigh. To be perfectly honest I had minimal knowledge about the city’s beer scene so I started the day with no expectations or predispositions, which probably has it’s advantages and disadvantages.
The first stop of the day was Raleigh Brewing Company, walking through the dark yet cozy taproom brought back fond memories of the quintessential British pub. After a quick gander at the draft list we were taken on a thorough tour by headbrewer Alex Smith.
During the tour Alex commented on the pride in their homebrew roots and it’s clearly something they embrace. A homebrew supply store adjoins the taproom helping them to create important ties with the local homebrew community. This is further reinforced by a quarterly homebrew competition they open up to the public allowing the eventual winner to brew on the professional system
Following the tour I took a recommendation by the brewer and decided to get a pint of their Pale Ale, Dear ‘Ol Dixie. This was a really enjoyable Pale, bursting with tropical hop aroma and flavors and low alcohol enough to enjoy a few back to back.
Next up was Lone Rider Brewing Co. We arrived at the Taproom during the peak heat of the day and I headed straight for something light and errr… refreshing? An American brown ale by the name of Sweet Josie. Perhaps not the ideal hot weather beer but something that would be a fridge staple during the cooler months.
In need of serious refreshment, I went back to the tried and tested style I really enjoy, Red IPA. Red Spur provided the hoppy refreshment I was looking for with a nice amount of sweetness to keep it somewhat balanced. After those (kinda) thirst-quenching ales we were shown around the brewhouse by CEO and co-founder Sumit Vohra.
After the brief tour we had an opportunity ask Sumit some question. One of areas of discussion, and a topic regularly discussed in beer circles—when is the [craft beer] bubble going to burst. His response was succinct yet effective “You don’t know where the edge (of the craft beer bubble) is”. I happen to agree with this opinion, we can look at all the data we want and make all kinds of predictions but there are a lot of other variables in play to truly know where the growth will stop.
We later found ourselves on the topic of —what’s more important, quality of your product vs. marketing of your product. Sumit seemed more of the quality side of the argument saying, “Without quality you have nothing”. While I agree that quality will help the technically superior breweries rise above some others. They will also need to compliment that with well-positioned marketing to help them differentiate from the increasingly crowded beer market.
We headed out from Lone Rider on an increasingly rowdy bus ride, leaving Raleigh city limits and headed to the suburb of Wake Forest. It had a small town feel but the resident brewery, White Street Brewing Co. is outputting more than just mediocre beer to satisfy the thirst of the locals. I found myself really enjoying their award winning Kolsch (2014 World Beer Cup Gold Medal) and Scottish Ale. After a day of many samplings, these lower ABV, well-executed beers were just what I was looking for.
The beers were accompanied by some damn tasty Barbecue (another reason why I was excited to visit this state, they know their smoked meats) and provided so much needed sustenance if I had any hopes of surviving weekend. After the protein and carb refill, we headed back into the city. One of final scheduled stops for the day was a sneak peek at the soon to be opened Raleigh Beer Garden.
The Beer Garden’s Irish owner Niall Hanley, owns a few other bars around town but the scale of this venue is on a completely different (and impressive) level. The bar was spread put over three levels with each having it’s own unique spin. The ground floor is focused on liquor and eventually cocktails, the second completely dedicated to local beer and the third, beer from the rest of the US and beyond.
Their knowledge and commitment to serving quality draft beer will certainly be tested. Their beer cooler is a labyrinth of kegs, hoses and regulators and managing it will be no easy feat. It’s hard not to be impressed by the venue, 8,500 square feet of welcoming, nice furnished space with an incredible tap selection just begs you to stay for one more. I’m pretty confidence this will be a go-to spot for craft drinkers in the Raleigh area.
The night rounded just down the road at the Hibernian Pub (also owned by Niall Hanley) with some bottles from Big Boss and Aviator Brewing Companies and after a Jameson’s on the house compliments of the owner my night was winding down.
My short stay in Raleigh was a whirlwind of a tour but my impression were this, like a lot of cities in America has a fast developing craft beer market with dedicated to making quality product and providing a memorable experience for any visiting fan of craft beer.bbc15