Recently, I asked my Twitter (I'm @DallasHophead) and Facebook friends for recommendations on beers from the Carolinas, as Lady Hophead was headed there for a wedding. And, while I got plenty of great tips I'll check out if I ever get a chance to make the trip myself, it turns out I needn't have bothered: Her cousin Kenneth Ball, a beer lover and homebrewer himself, picked out five six-packs to send home with her as souvenir gifts.
"LoneRider and Big Boss are both in the Raleigh area, and these are some of the better beers they brew," he says of the selection. "Mother Earth is interesting because they do organic beers. Duck-Rabbit has been around for a relatively long time, and their Milk Stout is a really good beer. And Carolina Brewing Company -- they're in Holly Springs -- they have a brewery tour where you can stay for a couple hours and drink all you want. They're really consistent, but also a little more experimental."
Ball says they're very representative of the North Carolina brewing scene -- and none of them is available in Texas, with only a couple even distributing outside N.C. Following are my thoughts on the brews, listed in order from least favorite to favorite.
Big Boss Brewing Co. Hell's Belle: I thought it was a decent Belgian-style blonde, golden with a slightly copper hue. It had some nice yeasty flavor, a little spicy and clovey, but a bitter aftertaste. It's meant to be light and refreshing in spite of a 7 percent ABV kick, and it accomplishes that quite well. It looks like they only distribute in the "Triad Area."
LoneRider Brewing Co. Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen: This one has a nice golden color, but I think Rahr and Franconia's wheat beers have it beat in the taste department. It was little spicy with some banana notes on the nose, though not as much as expected from what the brewery's description said. It is crisp and clean, though, and you could do a lot worse on a hot summer afternoon. This one also doesn't distribute outside of North Carolina.
Carolina Brewing Co. Carolina Pale Ale: This was a good crisp and dry pale ale, amber colored with an interesting blend of fruity flavors from the hops, a combination of mango, pineapple and citrus notes. As with the others, this one isn't distributed very widely, available in just six counties in the "Triangle Area." Check out the charmingly no-budget website, which looks like a relic from the early '90s, if you want to see proof that these guys aren't too worried about marketing. The FAQ section deals almost exclusively with care and maintenance of your keg of CBC beer.
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Mother Earth Brewing Weeping Willow Wit: This one poured a very pale hazy gold with a thin head. It was good and yeasty and on the sweet side. The coriander and orange peel are thankfully subdued, and it's tangy on the finish. Overall, a very nice summer beer, worth picking up if you're anywhere that sells it. There's a long list of stores where the beer is carried on the brewery's website -- a very helpful feature I'd like to see Texas breweries emulate -- but alas, they are all in North Carolina.
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery Milk Stout: The Duck-Rabbit bills itself as "The dark beer specialist," and this outstanding milk stout makes a great case for the claim. It's cola brown, red when held to the light, with a thin tan head that doesn't last. It tastes great, like a good stout but sweeter from the lactose, or milk sugar. There's dark-fruit and milk chocolate malty sweetness, and bitter roasted coffee bitterness at the finish. Easily my favorite beer of the bunch. In fact, it wasn't my first time to try it. I had a bottle in a beer of the month club years ago -- back when it was still legal to receive beer in the mail -- and this one brought back memories of those lovely days. Duck-Rabbit also lists its accounts online, but the closest it comes to Texas is Tennessee.
Clearly, I have a favor to return next time this cousin comes to Texas. I'm hoping to send him home with five six-packs (or a few larger bottles, or some combination), and have a few ideas which ones I'll pick out. But how about you, Aters? If you were sending five beers to represent Texas brewing, which would they be?