Tar Heel Tasting

With forty-plus breweries in the state, each producing several different beers, North Carolina has become a beer lover's haven. So we asked Michael Brawley to put together a tasting of Tar Heel brews for our panel (plus one interloper from Georgia). Brawley's eponymous beverage store is recognized as one of the top beer-buying destinations in the state, and he knows every brewer around. We were hosted by Duckworth's Grill and Taphouse, beer-nerd central and proud claimant to sixty-one craftbrew-only taps. Brawley and Michael Habboucha, Duckworth's manager, put together a blind sampling of local beers, with a surprise treat at the end. For the panel, we invited Charlotte mag staffers and writers, representing the full spectrum of beer preference.

Sarah Crosland Annie Monjar Jeremy Markovich Richard Thurmond
Sarah Crosland
Food Editor
Annie Monjar
Contributing Editor
Jeremy Markovich
Television producer, writer
Richard Thurmond
Van Miller
Contributing Editor, Wine columnist
I'm not a beer drinker. I'm an eater who occasionally orders beer when appropriate with certain foods and a twenty-something-year-old who will drink beer when it's mandatory in social situations. In other words, I know nothing about the drink except that the darker it is, the more likely I am to want to spit it out. I'm a recent college grad and still feel that Blue Moon is an exotic beer. However, this past year I did learn what a hop is, and have started to try different ales, lagers, stouts, Belgians, and what-drink-you, so my palate's a bit more discerning now. That said, I always buy beer based on price and how cool the label is. I'm a beer drinker who used to drink anything. I'll still drink nearly anything, but my tastes are starting to become more refined, and I try to avoid anything that comes in a twenty-four pack. Sure, a Rolling Rock gathers no moss, but I'd rather have a Sierra Nevada. I admit it: I'm a beer snob. I used to be a Sam Adams Boston Lager guy, but I've graduated to a bracing pale ale like Sierra Nevada. If I'm feeling frisky and there's a nip in the air, give me a smoked porter like the one from Stone. Even better, give me a place with fifty taps where I can sample all night long. Then give me a ride home. In college, my goal was to chug as much bland, watery beer as possible, and occasionally pour a pitcher over somebody's head. I still stand close to the keg, but only if it's a good beer like a Pisgah IPA, which is neither chugged nor spilled, but instead discussed like cars, women, or wine.

Foothills Torch Pilsner (Winston-Salem)

SC: Maybe I'm just used to overly carbonated beers, but this one tastes almost creamy. It definitely has a crisp edge, though. With a light amber color, and an even lighter taste, this is the kind of beer I'd want if I were having a few.
AM: It's light, crisp, and a little hoppy. It's a bit too bitter for me, but still pretty refreshing.
JM: Everything is light. The color, taste, and so on. The carbonation certainly doesn't rip your tongue off. Like Schaefer, it's the one beer to have when you're having more than one — except it's much better than Schaefer.
RT: It's the color of honey and tastes like a German beer garden. I don't love it; it's like a really good Budweiser.
VM: Light and yeasty — tastes like a wheat beer. Hoppy, refreshes in middle, but bitter, sharp finish. I like it.

Terrapin Rye Pale Ale (Athens, Ga)

SC: This looks like golden apple cider in the glass. And the taste doesn't disappoint. It's not cider, but it is slightly fruity and light. I like it better than the first one.
AM: Slightly darker than the first, more gold. Not as severe, either; still a little hoppy, but the taste is more upfront, with less aftertaste.
JM: Like an IPA without the initial bitterness or bite. Laid-back, stronger flavor that doesn't last as long.
RT: OK, we're getting better. Has a goldenish (is that a word?) color and a floral aroma. Is this a pale ale? This won't be my fave though.
VM: Neutral aroma. Fruity up front, then hoppy. Good dry finish. Effervescent, refreshing light style, but with serious flavor. Good.

Mother Earth Sisters of The Moon IPA (Kinston)

SC: This one smells like citrus before you even take a sip. The carbonation is so thick it makes the beer almost look velvety. The taste is much bolder than the first two and while I like the initial taste, I'm not a fan of the aftertaste — it's too bitter.
AM: Strong! Hops all over. Cloudy looking. Has a little bit of caramel, pumpkin pie flavor.
JM: A beer that makes you thirstier. It sucks the moisture out of your tongue. More opaque. Stays on your breath. You'll remember it.
RT: This one's a little cloudy, like it's playing hard to get. But it has a bracing, sharp, almost astringent flavor—and that's how I like my beer. I like it to tell me, hey, you're drinking a beer! I like big, citrusy, biting hops, and this baby delivers with style.
VM: Malt nose. Big serious hops that coat your tongue, but then it finishes dry. Really good. This is one serious quaff.

Green Man ESB (Asheville)

SC: The dark color of this one reminds me of bourbon. It smells like chocolate and coffee to me. However, while I like both those things, I don't like this beer. It's too filling and too strong. Two sips are enough.
AM: Smells sour, and has a reddish color. Favorite so far: malty, sugary, tastes like cinnamon and coffee grounds.
JM: Coffee. I like it black. And strong. This smells like a new cup. After you drink it, it's sweet. The taste doesn't linger on your tongue. You could probably only have one or two. It's distinct, and I like distinct in a beer. I like it, but wouldn't unleash it on unsuspecting friends.
RT: I smell toffee! This is a fine-looking reddish amber brew with a sweet flavor. It tastes like a dark British pub—like a Newcastle with a bite. Lots of character.
VM: Toasted coffee aromas. Flat English bitter style that should be served warmer. Toasty malt flavors. Good.

OMB Olde Mecklenburger (Bavarian lager) Charlotte

SC: This beer's light color looks like a wheat field ready for harvest. It smells like fruit with hints of floral. I'd recommend it for warm days when you're looking for something light. I want another.
AM: Very yellow, much lighter. Tastes like corn on the cob, but I also taste some wheat. Very light and easy to drink—doesn't have the bitter hoppiness of other beers. I could drink this beer anytime.
JM: The antithesis of number four. Almost fruity. Like honey. Distinct. Mouthwatering. Not a lot of taste. Would be a good warm-up beer.
RT: Very light, with a rich, almost metallic flavor. I guess it's better than Bud, though.
VM: Fruity, honey aroma, with overtones of straw and wheat. Sweet up front, but finishes flat and watery. Too light, anemic. Doesn't deliver. Like a great prospect that chokes in the clutch.

Highland Gaelic Ale (Asheville)

SC: The slightly darker color of this beer makes me apprehensive, but I actually like it. It has a clean, bold taste at first. If it didn't have an aftertaste that reminds me of coffee breath, I'd like it more.
AM: Light amber color with a sweet brown sugar smell. Tastes a little like barley, with a slightly bitter end. Less exciting version of the Green Man ESB.
JM: Not bad, but not memorable. It's a little darker than that last beer. I was surprised to find out it was Highland Gaelic Ale. I always liked this beer, but compared to the others I've had tonight, this one didn't seem as great.
RT: Copper colored; this one is light but very tasty. I could drink this excellent brew all night. In fact, I think I have, on more than one occasion. I correctly ID'ed it as Highland Gaelic Ale.
VM: Medium amber color. Toasty aroma of malts and hops. Good balance. Nice, toasty, smooth flavor. I could drink this one all night long. Where's my kilt, dammit?! Call a cab, I'm not driving anywhere!

Aviator Devils Tramping Ground Tripel (Raleigh)

SC: This beer smells like a frat house. It tastes much better than it smells, but reminds me a little of potpourri with hints of cinnamon. I wouldn't order it, but I don't hate it.
AM: Light in color with a wheat flavor, but not too hoppy. Very refreshing. Slight taste of corn.
JM: Light, fruity, spicy. Bright yellow with a white head. A beer that feels summery. Either you'll love it or you'll hate it.
RT: My, what a big head you have! This beer looks light but packs a punch. I detect a little Belgian spice. Very drinkable once you get used to it.
VM: Light golden color and honey, yeasty aromas. Citrus tang, with a nice hint of hops. Perfumed fragrance. I would get tired of the flavor after a while.

Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout (Farmville)

SC: This looks like Coke. It's almost opaque and smells like mocha. It's sweet, and if I were looking for a beer to drink on a cold, winter night (which I really never would), this one might tempt me.
AM: Opaque dark brown. Smells strongly like coffee and chocolate. Has a warm taste, almost creamy. Like drinking a strong, spiked mocha. Delicious, but couldn't do much more than a few sips.
JM: Dark and chocolately. It looks intimidating, but it's light for a stout. Not overly carbonated.
RT: This is like a cream soda of a beer. Except I don't like cream soda, and I do like this fine brew.
VM: Roasty toasty aromas with a root beer color. Medium stout quality. Good deep coffee flavors. Served at room temp, this would be a great winter beer. I love it. Take away my keys, I'm gonna sit here all night and develop an Irish brogue!

Trappist Westvleteren 12 (Belgium*)

*Among the top-rated beers in the world, this extremely rare ale is produced by Belgian monks and is available only at the abbey in individual bottles. Fewer than 100 people in North Carolina have ever tasted this beer. Panelists were not allowed to choose it as their favorite.

SC: Wow. This beer lives up to the hype—which is hard to do when you're rated the number-one beer in the world. It's sweet and delicious, something I never thought I'd say about beer.
AM: Very lively smell—smells almost fruity, like apples, maybe. Has a red, cloudy color. Very intense caramel flavor, very sugar. Sort of malty. Kind of warm tasting. A little too sweet.
JM: Never had a beer like this. Smells like tobacco. Sweet, almost grapey, not a bad aftertaste, not a bad … anything. Best beer I've ever had.
RT: Mmmmm. Smells of leather and tobacco, and I mean that as a high compliment. Looks like cola and tastes extraordinarily well balanced. No one flavor dominates. I would drink this beer anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance. Wait, what's that? This was brewed by monks? Well hallelujah and hosanna, how do I convert?
VM: Deep amber color. Strong honey aromas. Sweet complex honey/molasses toasted flavors. Tastes like a mead with hops and malt. Very good. I could swim in a vat of this stuff. Do the backstroke, and drink my way to the bottom.

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