Toast from the Coast
Dive Into Wilmington's Craft Beer Scene
By Jason Frye
Welcome to Wilmington, where suds-sippers and sun-seekers will find everything they need for the ideal getaway. We’ve got plenty of reasons to raise a glass and say “Cheers!” – to beer! to beaches! to food and friends! – and to put Wilmington on your map of beer bonanzas. More than a dozen breweries call our historic downtown and island beaches home, and that means you’ll be able to find an ideal IPA, the perfect porter, that superb sour you’ve been seeking. Beach beers, boat beers, lazy afternoons watching the water beers, and that sip of suds that transports your tastebuds from your backyard back to the brewhouse are all here waiting for you. To help you balance beach time, beer time and downtime, we spoke with brewers, scoured taprooms, and searched every bottle shop in town to find 10 outstanding breweries (and 51 beers!) so good you’ll make Wilmington your next beer-cation destination.
Front Street Brewery
You’d be right to call Front Street Brewery the Cradle of Craft – or the Cradle of Wilmington’s Craft Beer Scene, at least. Back in 1995, they opened as the first and only brewery in town. Thanks to the groundwork Front Street laid, our beer scene is flourishing today. But this is no beer museum: It’s an active brewery (you can tour the brewhouse) and restaurant, and one that needs to be on your list for dinner, drinks and more drinks.
With 10 beers on draft at any given moment, a monumental whiskey collection (seriously, 472 whiskeys, one of the largest collections in the state), and a menu packed with pub-grub like chicken wings, pretzels and burgers – plus some pulled chicken nachos you’ll dream about – you won’t leave hungry or thirsty.
Instant pairings, recommendations of flagship brews to go with most menu items, and beer and whiskey pairings selected by Brewmaster (and whiskey fan) Christopher McGarvey help create an ideal experience all around.
But none of this is possible without the brews.
Their Port City IPA dates back to the opening of Front Street, but McGarvey heavily revised the recipe to make it relevant today. “We needed a strong IPA to stand with the other great IPAs in town,” he said. This version is a stylistic blend, delivering the pithy, grapefruity, dry finish of West Coast IPAs and the juicy, fruity hop notes of a New England IPA. It’s refreshing, bitter, fruity and well balanced.
Dram Tree Scottish Ale, another flagship brew, looks beautiful in the glass, with a lovely head and a rich reddish-brown hue akin to the dark waters of the Cape Fear River flowing nearby. De-husked chocolate malt delivers the color and a delightful roasted aroma. Notes of dried fruit and chocolate peek through, and though it finishes quite dry, a slight mocha note lingers after your sip is long gone.
Beam Me Up, Scotty, is McGarvey’s playful take on a coffee porter. Dram Tree, the base beer for this brew, resides somewhere between a Scotch Ale and a Porter, so he added iced Sumatran coffee from next-door-neighbor Port City Java to create a rich, roasty, malty brew. Dram Tree’s fruity notes show up to complement and amplify similar flavors in the coffee, making this beer an intriguing sip every time.
Robot Unicorn Attack, a fruited sour (if you’re unfamiliar, sour beers are, well, sour), is the result of an Irish Red base and ample amounts of black currants and juice. It’s great for sour beer fans, who will be delighted to find it on the draft list, and for new-to-sour drinkers as it’s restrained, focused and not unfamiliar. The black currant delivers a sweeTART-like sour pucker, but the malty backbone typical in Irish Reds balances it out.
Flying Machine Brewing Company
Keeping more than a dozen beers on draft means Head Brewer and co-Production Manager Carl Cross stays busy, but at quitting time he’s in the taproom, nursing a pint and making mental notes on which beers are flowing and how people respond to his brews from the first sniff to the last sip. Flying Machine has found an ideal balance between beer innovation and brewery tradition, delivering pitch-perfect renditions of classic styles like Kölsch, Pilsner and IPAs while stretching their creative muscles with inventive takes on those same styles, as well as a killer lineup of sours and unexpected brews. Dean Moore, Quality Assurance Manager and co-Production Manager, says this inventiveness “is why we’ll never get tired of brewing. We can take a recipe that’s hundreds of years old, but do it our way.” A favorite stop for food trucks and a frequent spot to catch community arts fairs, Flying Machine’s taproom is always buzzing with energy.
Double IPAs, a uniquely American spin on the British classic, don’t just double down on the hop-centric nature of the brew, they also deliver a big ABV (that’s alcohol by volume, the measurement of strength in a brew). Flying Machine’s Double IPA, Ink Jet, hits the mark on both counts. Cashmere and mosaic hops deal out tropical notes from passionfruit to tangerine to kefir lime, and a delicate balance of malts keeps a typically hop-forward brew from being too overwhelming. Yes, the hops are aggressive on the nose, but they don’t overwhelm your palate, making for a brew that you come back to again and again.
Vimana, the spectacular Kölsch mentioned above, is simplicity in a glass. A golden, straw-like color; a foamy, aromatic head; hints of pear, apple blossom and cracker in each drink – it’s a crisp, easy-drinking beer that exemplifies this German style.
Light of Lager Mountain is one of many brews that are part of Flying Machine’s larger Lager Mountain series, something Cross calls “a quest for the perfect lager.” Untapped, the beer-rating app, lists Light of Lager Mountain as their #13 lager in the world, so Cross’ quest for perfection is within reach. Brewed with American white rice and a blend of German and American hops, its gorgeous, pale gold color is mirrored in the crisp, clean finish. Hints of white peach, honeysuckle and orange blossom wake up your palate and draw you back for the next sip.
Sea of Tranquility, a blended farmhouse ale, combines five beers (peach saison, rye farmhouse, mosaic hop Brettanomyces pale ale, a golden sour and braggot – a mead-beer hybrid) aged in red wine barrels, Barr Hill Gin barrels and Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. The result is a distinguished beer with a smooth mouthfeel and a tangy tartness reminiscent of green apple, pineapple and unripe peach.
Finally, two beers that you’ll see at nearly every table in the taproom: Luscious, a raspberry sour ale, and its Beer Slushee (you read right: it’s a frozen slushee made of beer) counterpart. Luscious is an accessible but unapologetic sour, delivering a sweet and sour raspberry tang that’s kept in check with orange zest and vanilla. This beautiful raspberry-hued beer is not mouth-puckeringly sour, more like eating a sour candy than sucking on a lemon, and it’s a brew that will satisfy sour lovers and initiates alike. In the slushee form, the color mellows but the raspberry tartness doesn’t hide; instead, the ice crystals help diffuse it across the palate more evenly with every drink, making for a similar, but wholly individual, tasting experience.
It’s not just these brews making a splash for Flying Machine, it’s everything on the menu. But the good news is that when you’re in the taproom, a tasting flight will help you zero in on that perfect next pint.
Wilmington Brewing Company
Ask locals for a beer recommendation and you’ll hear Wilmington Brewing Company’s “Tropical Lightning” come up again and again. This big West Coast IPA is spot on in terms of style, with a boozy 7.4% ABV and plenty of wallop thanks to Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra and Warrior hops. The lower malt-to-hops ratio of West Coast IPAs means the hops shine through, and from the nose to the finish, Tropical Lightning earns its name with heavy tropical aromas of passionfruit, lychee and grapefruit and sweeter hints of orange pulp and pineapple to mellow each sip. Undoubtedly one of the most popular brews in Wilmington, this is a beer hop heads will fall in love with in an instant.
Soon, visitors to the brewery will have even more space to spread out and enjoy some suds as WBC is expanding, adding a 5,000-square foot event space they’ll use for can release parties, live music, private events and, importantly, barrel storage for aging beers. This addition, plus expanded parking and renovations to the brewhouse and the taproom, will make picking up a four-pack to go or meeting friends for a pint an even better experience.
Their decision to focus on can release parties make good sense, as WBC’s “Beer with a View” series exploded in popularity due in part to their locally-focused can art. Aerial photography of our coastal landscape from local drone photographer Aaron Koenig graces each can, from classic beach scenes to rideable waves to a sandbar island whimsically decorated with a palm tree (on the Palm Tree Island Pale Ale, which took home a silver medal for American Pale Ales at the North Carolina Brewers Cup in 2020). These cans – sold in 12-ounce six-packs – aren’t just lovely to look at, but the size and strength (around 5% ABV) make them easy to drink as well.
SUP Bräu – with its foamy ocean art – drinks like a textbook Pilsner: light malt sweetness holding a slightly dank, piney hop in check, making for a crisp beer that lingers on the palate a moment before dissipating. The Blonde Ale – with its colorful overhead shot of blankets, umbrellas and sunbathers on the sand – was made with the beach in mind: the hop bitterness meshes with the sweet orange peels to give it a lovely color and a flavor that provides a light and tasty mouthful every time.
It’s not all hops at WBC, though their Label Fiasco New England IPA took home a silver medal in its category at the North Carolina Brewers Cup 2020. The Jalapeño Saison’s slight peppery heat is a sleeper hit, and Blair’s Breakfast Stout is a local fave. It's got hops – Magnum and Willamette – but they know their place, behind the incredible blend of malts and oats responsible for the roasty, coffee-like notes in the brew. Toss in lactose sugars, cacao nibs and a touch of brewed coffee, and you have a drink that tastes like a breakfast treat (though at 7% ABV, I’m not sure how many you should down before lunch).
Taking its name from the endemic, carnivorous Venus flytrap found nearby, Flytrap Brewing serves up American- and Belgian-style ales. This brewery, taproom and beer garden in the Brooklyn Arts District hosts food trucks and community events like art fairs, craft classes, live music and more. With anywhere between a dozen and 16 brews on draft, and with styles ranging from session IPAs to Dubbels to Saisons and the many variants to Red ales and hop-laced Tripels, it’s a spot rich in beer, and those beers are rich in flavor.
The Belgian Blonde, a core beer, has a slightly hazy straw color thanks to a bit of wheat in the recipe, helping draw out grainy notes that emphasize the honey sweetness, and a roasted, caramel-like maltiness. Fruity notes glide across the palate as you drink, delivering lemon, orange blossom and zest at just the right time. Weighing in at only 5.2% AVB, it’s a crushable beer for certain.
Flytrap’s Saison is an outstanding pint on its own or in one of the many creative variations the brewers make. The core Saison is a spot-on Belgian farmhouse ale, with the right notes of funk, peppery spice and a slight herbaceousness. The malt and hops take a back seat to the yeast here, but their harmony creates a compelling brew that’s a solid choice on draft but that’s even better after a little time spent conditioning in the bottle.
They like to get crafty with the Saison, aging it on various fruits and imparting it with unusual flavors. The Sour Kiwi and Papaya Saison sat on whole fruit with a bit of lactobacillus added as an additional souring agent, and the results are excellent. A fruity-spicy aroma leads into notes of kiwi, peach and, of course, papaya. Add those flavors to the peppery notes from the base Saison and a bit of dry, papery flavor brought on by the aging, and you see why they like to play with this beer.
The same holds true for the Sour Saison with Guyabano. Guyabano, a tropical fruit also known as soursop, tastes like an amalgamation of green apples and ripe strawberries with a subtle citrus undertone. The result is a beer that drinks slightly sweeter than its kiwi-papaya cousin, but without skimping on the tart sourness that makes this version so drinkable.
Flytrap, like a number of Wilmington breweries, works with other businesses in town, and the Folks Coffee Stout, made with a healthy dose of locally roasted, organic, fair-trade coffee from Folks Café, is a match made in heaven. Neither the coffee nor the malt present as too acerbic, rather their roasted, caramel, coffee bitterness meld to create a bolder version than either of the component parts, and that big coffee flavor keeps the malty sweetness at bay, resulting in a drink that’s more akin to a cup of black coffee than a super-sweet coffee concoction.
New Anthem Beer Project
New Anthem Beer Project started brewing in a former livery stable on Dock Street downtown, but their beer – and IPA-centric slate that’s unafraid to explore sours, stouts, Pilsners and more – and reputation soon outgrew that space. They found a second location where they could expand into a 30 barrel brewhouse, a barrel-aging room and a bigger, brighter taproom. Of course, they kept the original spot, where the little horseshoe-shaped bar and huge doors open to the street gave rise to their popularity, and it’s where that spirited little brewhouse continues to pump out beer after beer.
Their hop-forward beers have garnered more attention than just those of Wilmington hop-heads: Judges with the North Carolina Brewers Cup 2020 competition saw fit to award them with a gold, silver and bronze. Clapback, a Double IPA laced with Citra hops and balanced with pale malt, oats and wheat, took Gold in the Double IPA category. She Just Danced Away, a tart little beer that falls somewhere between a göse (pronounced GOHZ-uh) and a farmhouse ale, dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin to draw out the notes of deeply ripened fruit, took the Silver for Brett, Mixed and Wild Ales. And The Vapors, an IPA with lactose and Citra, Simcoe and Galaxy hops, took Bronze for Specialty IPAs.
Steez, one of their most popular IPAs, has a nose full of orange, citrus pith and mango cut by a dank, resinous piney aroma that’s sharp enough to make the mouth water. This hazy yellow brew delivers those same flavors – plus tropical fruits like lychee and nectarine – on every drink. Pale malt, wheat and oats make an attempt to rein in the hops, and they do, but just before the hops manage to run away. This makes for a hop-smacking brew with bold citrus flavors and a soft, almost chewy, mouthfeel (thanks to the oats and wheat).
New Anthem calls Poets and Fools an “almost classic American Pilsner,” reflecting their philosophy of pushing the boundaries of beer from all directions. While it carries many of the characteristics of standard Pilsners, it brings in flavor elements not often found in the style. The billow head is full of malty, grainy, doughy aromas, kissed with honey, and a few unexpected spicy, almost peppery hop notes linger in the background. One sniff sets you up for a sip where grainy malts and the delicate scent of grassy, spicy hop flavors linger in the mouth a moment before fading, leaving a slightly sweet, slightly bitter flavor hanging around until the next sip refreshes the cycle.
Waterline Brewing Company
At the foot of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, Waterline Brewing Company’s taproom and outdoor beer garden are hotspots for beer hounds of every stripe. Their flagship brews – six in total – run the spectrum from golden beers with a crystalline clarity to the rich mocha tones of their Oatmeal Stout and Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, with flavors to match. Live music and events ranging from standup comedy shows to craft fairs to farmers markets to food-truck-a-paloozas keep things interesting, but whether you’re there for tunes, fresh veggies, some even fresher art, or just to sit in the sun and enjoy a beer with your friends – two legged or four legged – there’s a seat, and a beer, waiting for you.
Waterline Wee Heavy, that Scotch Ale mentioned above, exemplifies the style. Malty, sweet without being cloying, heavy-hitting with 9% ABV and a rich brown color topped with a creamy head, it’s everything a Scotch Ale should be, and it’s got the hardware to show for it. In 2020, this brew took a Bronze in the Old Ale or Strong Ale or Barley Wine-Style Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival, a competition that draws thousands of entrants every year. If it’s on tap, make this your first round.
If the Wee Heavy isn’t available and you want a malty, chocolaty, roasty brew, grab the Oatmeal Stout. The oats lend a creaminess to each sip, rounding out the sharp edges of the hops, which deliver an ever-so-slight bitterness to each drink. That bitterness plays well with the dark chocolate bite of the malt, making for a toffee-like flavor that lingers, along with the hops, for a moment, then dissipates.
Every brew isn’t a rich, malt-forward drink though. Take the Skankin’ Pickle Göse, named for an energetic and endlessly-touring Ska-Punk band from the ‘90s, and an unmistakable pickle flavor. Baskets of fresh cucumber, bales of fresh dill and a heaping load of Sorachi Ace hops create the pickle illusion. By dry-hopping the Sorachi Ace, they keep the bitterness balanced to rein in the other flavors. Each sip starts with a hit of pickles so big you almost want to pucker, but the hops and malt keep it from reaching that point; instead that flavor wanes quickly and hints of it linger in the briny finish.
For Waterline, we’ve saved the best for last: their Kölsch. About as close to perfection as you can get without being brewed in Cologne, Germany in sight of the Cathedral and the Rhine River, this Kölsch captures every essence of the style. The subtle hoppiness, the hint of fruity sweetness, an undertone of malt that pulls the whole thing together, lending each drink a hit of honey, a little pear blossom – it all comes together in the glass.
At Bill’s Brewing, every pint comes with a side of volleyball and some of the best fried chicken around. Bill’s might have started as a beach volleyball playground, but over the years it’s grown beyond the sand and the nets, expanding to include a food truck, a full-on restaurant and a brewery operation that keeps on expanding, recently adding a 15-barrel system that more than doubled their previous brewing capacity.
Locals clamor for seasonal and limited releases like their New England IPA, This is What Space Smells Like (which has also found traction nationwide among fans of the band Phish, whose lyrics inspired this brew’s name), Show Off Your Peaches (a tasty IPA brewed with peaches and lactose) and their Bourbon Barrel Aged Breakfast Stout, but their flagship beers have just as many fans. In fact, Bill’s had a great showing at the North Carolina Brewers Cup 2020 competition, netting a Gold for New England/Hazy IPA with Party in the Back; a Bronze in Dark European Lagers for their Merganser, a delicious Schwarzbier; and another Bronze in American IPA for Wave Break, their top seller.
Wave Break, their flagship New England IPA, is truly more of a hybrid, drawing on the fruity, juicy element of New England IPAs and the malt profile of West Coast IPAs. The result is a hop-rich but balanced brew that showcases the best of Mosaic and Denali hops and some strong malt flavors. Tropical aromas translate to the palate as you sip, and the earthy, piney elements of the hops let the flavor linger a while. That fried chicken I mentioned a moment ago? This beer is the perfect go-with.
Merganser, a Schwarzbier, has every element you want to find in a black lager: delicate hop bitterness and a smooth, roasted malt flavor; a deep color reminiscent of the tannin-rich blackwater creeks that crisscross the area; and a surprisingly light body and dry finish. In a word, this beer is drinkable. Not only was it a medal winner at the North Carolina Brewers Cup 2020, it’s a medal winner in every competition it’s entered. Order a pint of this with your barbecue, fried oysters or pretzels and you’ve got a killer combo.
Party in the Back, a gold medal-winning New England IPA, was an instant local classic, and not just for the colorful and playful can art which features a mustachioed and mulletted man who, no doubt, can’t wait to crack the top of this beauty. Hazy and juicy with a rich, full-bodied mouthfeel, this IPA is certainly hop-forward, but it’s not a palate killer thanks to the interplay between the hop bitterness and the 7% ABV. The boozy nature of the beer helps hold the hops back, making it a beer that begs for a bite of a fried chicken sandwich, one of their excellent barbecue sandwiches, of some more of that fried chicken (that I can’t seem to shut up about).
Bill’s has plans to expand their volleyball and beer empire and turn their current collection of buildings and brewhouses into a cohesive one-stop brewery-restaurant-volleyball hangout. A new taproom with a brewhouse observation area, bleachers and porches where you can sip on a brew and watch the volleyball action, and the eventual addition of a canning line are in the works.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery
With a roomy bar and dining room, spacious outdoor area (with plenty of picnic tables and a stage for live music), and a kitchen slinging everything from pizzas to po’ boys to peel-and-eat shrimp, Wrightsville Beach Brewery built a space and menu that compliments their vast beer list. In addition to the dozen flagships always on the menu, the experimental brews, one-offs and stylistic mash ups (like a Double India Belgian Ale) keep the list fresh for loyalists and give new guests plenty to consider. Vienna Lagers, Berliner Weisses, sour IPAs, Belgian Strong Ales – in dark and golden pours – and even Barleywines have a place on tap here, so it only makes sense they offer samplers and flights to allow for testing.
The Signal Fire Session IPA (a collaboration brew with a local reggae band) delivers on that easy-drinking, sessionable promise and on pronounced hop flavors. Session beers are typically lower in alcohol than other brews, and in the case of the IPA, that means more room for those bold hop flavors. The aroma sets you up for everything you need to know: pithy citrus notes, dank and resinous, and a verdant greenness conjures the picture of the tight little hop buds. The flavor rings true to the aroma, with El Dorado and Cascade hops combining to add a little spicy sharpness. With an oaty back, the hop wildness gets tamed, but not much; this is definitely a drink for hop-heads. Pair it with something spicy or rich like the Buffalo shrimp wrap or crab cake pizza.
Another brew that holds up well to against their menu, particularly the shrimp or fresh catch taco (and they mean fresh catch – the fish market it three miles away) is the Piping Plover Pilsner. This crisp, clean Pilsner is exactly what you expect: a smooth, pleasantly bitter ride throughout the drink with a bit of malty sweetness keeping it in check. It’s a brew that’s super for summers and will pair with seafood whether you’re sipping and supping here or taking some home to have with a Low Country Boil of your own making.
Can you be on the coast and not enjoy oysters? Wrightsville Beach Brewery doesn’t think so, which is why their Oystermen Stout doesn’t just pay homage to our watermen with its name – it also happens to be a great match with oysters however you like them. A true-to-style Irish Stout, it has a powerful malty flavor that takes the driver’s seat and never lets go. A bit of roasty sweetness edges on bitter, which helps the hops control the finish, giving it a pleasant bitterness that keeps the whole drink from becoming too desserty. Instead, the sweetness offers up a counterpoint to the rich, buttery, briny-sweet flavors of local oysters. Try this one with an oyster po’ boy, the fried oyster bites, or, if oysters aren’t your thing, the burger.
Mad Mole Brewing
Mad Mole Brewing certainly has a name that will grab your attention (and so do their brews, which incorporate “mole” – a portmanteau of the owners’ names – into their name), but this small taproom and seven-barrel brewhouse is notable for two other reasons: the sun and the awards. Thanks to an array of solar panels on the roof, Mad Mole’s brewery operation is a sustainable setup, with the sun regularly generating about one-third of the brewery’s electrical needs. This innovation garnered them an award in 2019 when they were crowned “America’s Favorite Solar Craft Microbrewery.” Mad Mole is no stranger to awards. At the North Carolina Brewers Cup 2020 competition, they took home a trio of medals: Silver in International Pilsner for Ledermolsen, Silver in Belgian and French Ale for Marilyn MonMole, and Bronze in American Amber and Brown Ale for Mole Dancer.
The beautiful blonde ale that is Marilyn MonMole is low on hop bitterness and has a malty-sweet flavor that sticks around without becoming the star of the show. The star is the yeast, delivering spicy, fruity elements. Marilyn MonMole has some robust banana notes, typical in Blondes, but it never grows tiring; rather the complexity of this brew will have you and your drinking companions picking out different and distinct notes from drink to drink. Don’t be surprised if you need a second pint to continue the discussion.
Ledermolsen, a Pilsner, follows in the footsteps of Marilyn MonMole with a gorgeous color and pour. The lovely gold brew and thick, fluffy head are indicative of the Pilsner, and that’s just the introduction to this true-to-style Pils. A light malt/grain sweetness gives way to a touch of honey on the finish, and, combined with just enough hop bitterness to make the hops, malts and sugars stand out, it’s a solid choice for a hot day or with something spicy, meaty and filling from one of the food trucks that frequent this spot.
Darth Mole, their American Stout, is a pour about as black as the cape of its namesake, Sith Lord Darth Vader. Fortunately, this brew never turned to the dark side, instead staying focused on being drinkable in any weather. That’s odd for a stout, but when you’re a brewery in a Southern city on the coast, you better have options that work equally for days at the beach and nights by the firepit, and this beer does it. Rich aromas of caramel, chocolate and coffee – typical in Stouts – come out in the nose, but they’re joined by fruity elements like prune, plum and raisin. These fruity components don’t hang out long when you take a sip – though there is a moment where you can taste Raisinetes – because here the coffee, chocolate, caramel and roasty flavors take center stage.
Broomtail Craft Brewery & The Sour Barn
Broomtail Craft Brewery, and their sister site, The Sour Barn, draw on equine inspiration – most of their brew names call back to horses in some way, reflecting both their love for these animals and the locale – a barn – of an early homebrew setup. But the hallmarks of this brewery are the scientific knowledge of brewer and owner Barry Owings and the artistic skills of his wife, Lisa, who together create some devilishly good beers. Their focus is on the sour side of the spectrum, a tricky spot for brewers due to the nuances of kettle- or barrel-souring and the aging process. That’s not to say they’re sour-exclusive, because they’re not, but the meticulous attention to the brewing and aging process that sours require does inform how they approach everything they make.
Take their Red Roan, a Dopplebock with a deep red color and deceptive 8.6% ABV. The malts, which deliver a lovely aroma like caramelizing fruit, and deep flavors imparted by the yeast help mask the big boozy nature of this brew. During the 90 days it ages – in a process called lagering, which is a low temperature resting that allows the yeast to mature – the flavors develop and the beer grows more clear and more balanced.
In addition to the Red Roan Dopplebock, Broomtail cooks up a number of IPAs, Double IPAs, Cream Ales, Porters and Stouts, each one just as nuanced as the sours they brew.
One of those notable sours is their göse, a lemony, sour, salty, often herbaceous beer that works well with all sorts of seasonal fruit additions. The salt flavor here is not briny or unappetizing; rather the salt in a göse performs a similar function to the salt you put on food: it enhances and accents the other flavors. Broomtail spikes their göse base with fruits like strawberries and grapefruit as a way to complement the sour nature of the beer. Their Grapefruit Göse is absolutely loaded with flavor, as is their Strawberry Göse, and both incorporate sea salt harvested from Wrightsville Beach. Some drinkers might question the addition of strawberry, but their sweet and tart nature is elevated by the göse while playing with the sourness, allowing the sweetness to show up, but letting the salty and sour notes keep it in line.
One of their best beers is their base Sour Ale, a brew free of fruit additives and one that really shows the wine-like complexity of sour beers. An amber, almost copper-colored beer, it packs a punch at 8.2% ABV and it tastes like it. Pruny, roasty notes delivered by the malt give way to citrus-sour aromas like pineapple, kiwi and black currant. Hints of sherry and toasted oak are reminiscent of wine on the nose but disappear when you take a sip and let the carbonation tickle your palate. Then the toasty, caramel, stonefruit flavors creep in and the sour funk that fans of the style love so much takes over. If you’re new to sours, that first mouthful is a lot to take in, but think of this beer as a sipper and take your time with it. As you do, the subtleties of this style will unroll, and you’ll discover deeper flavors with each drink.
If you’re into sours, then The Sour Barn – a big taproom and even bigger outdoor beer garden, complete with fire pits, a stage and room for your on-leash pups, plus a regular schedule of food trucks – is your spot. They keep a dozen beers on tap, both sours and “clean” beers (sour beers are sour in part due to specific yeasts or bacteria introduced to the beer or wild yeasts that find their way into the brew, whereas clean beers are crafted in a sterile environment with total control over the yeast introduction), as well as a giant selection of sours and Belgian beers in the bottle. At The Sour Barn, they sour and barrel age their beers, and they’re always happy to have a conversation about the process and nuances of the various sour beer styles available.
*Please note that some craft beers referenced are seasonal and may not be available.