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Brews & Blues 2000

March, 2000

By Bobby Bush

With 20 brewpubs and half dozen microbreweries scattered across the state, craft brewed beer has made great strides in North Carolina over the past ten years or so. But no matter how big it gets, the popularity of craft beer in the Tarheel State pales in comparison to statewide college basketball fanaticism. As fate slam dunked it, both Duke and UNC took to the court in their Sweet Sixteen battles during the first night of the 7th Annual Southeast Microbrewers Invitational. As a result, about 500 lucky souls had nearly a private session with the breweries assembled at the Durham Civic Center on Friday, March 24. By the following evening, for 4-hour session number 2, the aisles were packed with a swarm of about 1,600 basketball-satiated, beer-starved fans.

Brewery employees (not distributor reps) represented all thirty-one breweries. Sixteen hailed from the host state. South Carolina and New York were represented by three breweries each, while Tennessee and Vermont sent two apiece. California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Oregon were one brewery strong. Over 100 different beers were available in a multitude of beer styles. From Cottonwood (Boone) Brewery’s firkin-conditioned ESB to Brooklyn (NY) Brewing’s Belgian-esque Blanche de Brooklyn to Asheville, NC’s Highland Brewing’s rich, smooth Oatmeal Porter to Oregon Brewing Company’s near-addictive Rogue Mogul Ale, the choices (even with our alcohol-restrictive laws) were remarkable.

With new brewer Jeremy Erb working the taps, Zebo Brewery, a swanky several-years-old brewpub from Charleston, SC, participated in his company’s first festival ever. It was also a first fest for Tapps Billiards & Brewpub, a six-month-old Raleigh brewpub that also was one of several vendors selling food at the festival. Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery just opened in High Point in January, but brewer Eric Lamb wouldn't have missed this event for front row seats at the Final Four. From western NC, micro Catawba Valley Brewing Company, established 1999, was there with smiles, filling glass after glass with Indian Head Red, Buffalo Nickel and Brown Bear Ales. Joining the Carolina brewing youngsters were the state’s oldest still-operating craft breweries, coastal Manteo’s Weeping Radish, a German-style brewpub established in 1986, and Greenshields Brewing, which was founded in Raleigh three years later by Gary and Martha Greenshields.

Beers of note included a Belgian Dubel from Mad Boar (North Myrtle Beach, SC); Maryland’s Wild Goose Spring Wheat Ale; Olde Hickory Brewery’s caramel smooth Scottish Ale; Chapel Hill’s Carolina Brewery Anniversary Ale (a Belgian Wit in honor of their 5th year) and, from Fayetteville, Huske Hardware Golden Raspberry. Many of the festival’s best beers (read: high alcohol, big beers) were served at a private brewers’ party, called the Stout, Stogies and Single Malt Scotch Affair, held the evening before the official opening night’s session.

Subtitled Brews & Blues 2000, attendees at this well run 2-day festival were entertained by Blues-A-Matic on Friday evening and The Heaters on Saturday. Festival organizer Tyrone Irby, who knows a thing or two about beer and festivals, has two other major beer events planned this year, as well as several beer dinners, all under the auspices of his beer aficionado association, BeerHunter.Org. Membership in this esteemed association includes a t-shirt, tickets to beer events and an invitation to the private brewers' parties. A portion of this festival’s proceeds benefited local charity Single Women With Children, Inc.

This annual gathering in Durham is getting to be a reunion of sorts. Familiar faces in the crowd. Happy people serving great beer from behind every table. A potluck beer dinner, in all its liquid, magnanimous splendor. Basketball or no, the 7th Annual Southeast Microbrewers Invitational was one fine festival.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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