Top (Local + Regional) Hops

Admittedly, as a household, we consume many more fermented grapes than we do barley or hops. In fact, it wasn’t until the last year or so that brews appealed to me at all. Maybe it was a former boyfriend with a penchant for overindulging in Miller Lite every weekend, or perhaps it was my own affinity for sucrose-laden Bacardi wine coolers that delayed my appreciation for the cold stuff; either way, we’re predominantly a wine family. But, as we love to eat locally, so also do we love to drink locally. Charlotte not only has a booming restaurant scene, but a quite exemplary beer scene as well (I can’t wait to see more wineries coming our way). David and I took a poll of ourselves and devised our favorites below (based on 100% accuracy of responses; polling size, 2).

1. Birdsong Brewing Jalapeno – This is DTH’s local favorite. In fact, one Sunday afternoon, despite being up since 4:00 a.m., we detoured to Brixx Pizza just because he knew it was on tap to introduce me to the brew. While I very much enjoyed its subtle jalapeno flavor and hint of slow burning heat, I’m not the groupie for it that D is. Nonetheless, it’s unique flavor make it a definite local must try and huge asset to the local scene.
2. Old Meck Brewing Copper – The copper is a traditional amber ale. Well, technically an ale, but thanks to OMB’s brewing process, it’s cleaner and crisper than most of its ilk. The Copper is just straight up drinkable. It’s readily available at most local bars and restaurants and is a classic dinner beer.
3. Old Meck Brewing Dunkel – The Dunkel is more of a winter seasonal (you’ll find one or two more winter seasonal on this list despite the 80-plus temps outside). It’s a darker lager that’s full and hearty. Nonetheless, even as a beer newbie, I find the Dunkel extremely satisfying without leaving that “beer bloat,” that can happen after just 1 or 2 dark ales. It’s a smooth drink and a cool weather favorite around here.
4. Natty Greene’s Brewing Co. Old Town Brown Ale – Natty Greene’s is technically a Greensboro brewery, but it’s readily available in Charlotte. In fact, we paid homage to my Southern roots and his Northern ones by serving a beer from each of our hometowns at our wedding reception. Natty Green’s brown ale won handedly when it came time to choosing what would represent North Carolina, while an IPA from Portland, ME represented his heritage. Though technically listed as a winter seasonal, we enjoyed it far into the spring. This dark beer is sweet with hints of toasted malts and chocolate. I can’t drink more than one at a sitting, but that one sure is delicious. 
5. Triple C Brewing Co. Smoked Amber – While I personally tend to enjoy a sweeter, fruitier beer (hello Blue Moon with extra orange wedge; my name is Caroline; come sit by me), something drew me to Triple C’s Smoked Amber in a deserted sports bar in downtown Matthews one day, and rarely have I looked back. The smokiness of this beer is subtle but definitively apparent. It’s not a seasonal but reminds me of fall around a fire pit waiting for Tennessee football to kickoff (or downtown Matthews around a sports bar on a Wednesday, but by the by). I thought this was a one-and-done order for me, but I still feel pulled to order it visit after visit.
6. RJ Rocker’s Son of a Peach – The gates of summer were unlocked last year when a friend and I discovered RJ Rocker’s Son of a Peach beer. We were both skeptical as we rung up our find at Total Wine, but we were excited to see if it tasted more Bartles + Jaymes (not that I would have minded that) or more fresh, Southern summer. Our wildest dreams were blown away by the flavor of this Spartanburg, SC brewed delight. I returned to Total Wine week after week throughout the summer to load up on the stuff, and the only disappointment I felt was that its popularity boomed around Charlotte, and I often had to race for the last case. When August turned into September, so my sadness turned to depression as it left the shelves for the year. However, this May dawned hopeful and renewed as it made its way back. Maybe forever its return will mark the begin of Charlotte summers in my book.
7. 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat – Perhaps equally life-rocking as Son of a Peach last summer was the discovery of Hell or High Watermelon with the same friend, but this time on tap at our favorite NoDa haunt, Growlers Pourhouse. I couldn’t get over the delightful watermelon flavors (and my morning after and bar tab proved it), but even more exciting? The discovery of its graphically fun case planted snugly beside Son of a Peach on retail shelves. Okay, I’ll make a confession – 21st Amendment isn’t a local brewery or even a regional, Southern one, shipping us their goodness from San Francisco season after season, but it drinks like Confederate goodness to me, and it’s still a smaller batch craft brew, and that to us sounds – and tastes – like a winner. Again, finding this at the end of the season really was hell – or high watermelon. 
8. RJ Rocker’s First Snow – As summer faded to fall and winter, my summer of beer discovery felt like a hazy memory, and I resigned myself to a stretch of bitterly cold months with nothing but my ole pals Malbec and Red Zinfandel to keep me warm. Not that that’s the worst thing, but I discovered RJ Rocker’s First Snow on grocery shelves and remembering the beautiful creature they created in Son of a Peach, I gave it a whirl. After just one sip I vowed to never let it leave our refrigerator door for the season, and that was a promise I nearly kept. Its spiciness was perfect for a red wine sabbatical and kept winter refreshing.
9. NoDa Brewing Company NoDajito – This local beer’s most popular items are most likely Ramble on Red and Coco Loco, served alongside OMB Copper and Dunkel at many local haunts, but by happy accident, we stumbled upon NoDajito over the summer. We had enjoyed a couple of cocktails on our porch one night before heading to dinner at Good Food on Montford, and we happily waited for a table at the bar and ordered this unique beer mixed with lime and mint. Had we not pre-partied, I’m positive I never would have ordered this treat, but I can’t say enough about its refreshing crispness and tartness. An outdoor soiree must-drink.
10. Highland Brewing Company Cold Mountain – On a day trip to Asheville earlier in the year, Davey’s mentor insisted that we swing by Highland Brewing Company for a tour of their facility and tasting. This is a little engine that could brewery, producing much more beer than its size would lead you to believe. Its Gaelic Ale and Oatmeal Porter are most recognizable, but one sip of the Cold Mountain Ale after the tour in the tasting room, and I was hooked. Not only is it seasonally spiced like RJ Rocker’s First Snow, but the hazelnut and vanilla that cut through are truly delicious. Unfortunately, I never could find it again in Charlotte, but it’s worth a jaunt to Asheville just to let it dance across your tastebuds. This brewery is a regional powerhouse, and Cold Mountain serves as a testament to its versatility. 

Honorable Mention:
Nearly any pumpkin beer imaginable, but I can’t go there yet because it’s only May, and I have about 4 months before that becomes a reality again. On a trip to Boston, Davey the Hubbers and I became eternal fans of a bar that rimmed their glasses of pumpkin beer with cinnamon and sugar and spent all season recreating the masterpiece at home. Expect a fully fleshed out list then. Oh My Gourd, y’all, I can’t wait until fall. 

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