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SMI 2001

March, 2001

By Bobby Bush

To the benefit of all in attendance, The Southeastern Microbrewersí Invitational moved from Durham to Chapel Hill for its 8th annual rendition. The crowd of about 500 happy beer drinkers seemed to enjoy the indoor-outdoor fest, thanks to sunny late-March weather, and the cozy confines of American Legion Post #6. The single seven-hour session, as opposed to two shorter nightly sessions in the past, was another improvement on this well-organized festival. A portion of all proceeds is designated for the local charity.

Southeastern Microbrewers Association president and festival organizer Tyrone Irby lined up an interesting assortment of breweries, each represented by a brewer or other brewery employee. Twenty-four breweries, mostly from the Carolinas, presented over 75 beers. The Southeastern aspect was somewhat diluted this year since breweries from Florida, Georgia and Virginia were conspicuous in their absence. Breweries from the Eastern and Western Regions were delegated to an indoor afternoon, which, for fest goers, wasnít as bad as it sounds. A stop for a taste of the exquisitely crafted beers of Brooklyn Brewery (New York), New Old Lompoc (Portland, OR), North Coast Brewing (Fort Bragg, CA), Redhook Ales (Seattle by way of New Hampshire), and Rogue (Newport, OR) made the trip to the army barracks style restrooms less painful.

And outside awaited the beers of North and South Carolina, with one brewery from Louisiana. Though not all of the Carolinasí breweries were represented, the line-up was close to a full house. To the strains of bluegrass from David Via & Corn Tornado and blues by Blue Smoke Blues Band, Jonas Rembert proudly poured Goldenrod Lager and French Broad ESB. French Broad Brewing opened in Asheville on January 18. Another newcomer, Mandalay Tropical Restaurant & Brewery, which rose from the ashes of Charlestonís Zebo brewpub, offered Shipwreck Ginger Beer, Fortification Pale Ale, Goat Cart Stout and Bamboo Brown, all graciously served by brewer Jeremy Erb.

From the outer banks, Weeping Radish poured one of the festivals most distinctive beers. Naturally carbonated in the keg, Weisenbock was a smooth lager, malty but not too sweet. Daring brewer David Fowlkes, from Mad Boar in North Myrtle Beach, hawked his tart, malty Belgian Abbey, Best Bet Bitter and a captivating Belgian Triple. Don Richardson attended his first festival as head brewer for Carolina Beer & Beverage of Mooresville, NC. Donís Cottonwood beers, once brewed in the NC mountain town of Boone, are as distinctive as ever. While Endo IPA and Low Down Brown are renown, Lift Your Kilt Scottish Ale proved to be one of the festivalís eye-openers. A true pilsner fan, Gary Greenshields proffered his eponymous Raleigh brews, including an all-European Greenshields Marzen. And from High Point, Eric Lamb showed off his Liberty Steakhouse brews, Miss Liberty Lager, Rocketís Red Ale and nitrogenized Oatmeal Stout included.

Hamís Restaurant & Brewhouse, another new NC brewpub (open since November), had three beers on tap. Hamís brewer Jay McGough poured George Dunkin Dunkelweisen (named after ďthe guy who turned Blackbeard inĒ), Swashbuckler Spring Bock (a cask-conditioned lager) and Smooth Sailing Oatmeal Stout. From Myrtle Beach, micro New South worked their regular offering and a unique Spring seasonal. New South White is a traditional Belgian White in almost every way, including dried orange peel and coriander, with one exception. Brewer David Epstein utilizes an American yeast strain, which leaves the beer refreshingly lacking in the spicy, yeasty flavor of the original Belgian Whites.

Carolina Brewing, a micro from Holly Springs, NC, poured their lilting Springbock, along with their Vienna-style Lager, mild Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale. Wilmington brewpub Front Street brought four, including Mud Market Alt and Raspberry Wheat Ale. Regional micro Abita, all the way from Louisiana, offered potent Andygator, as well as robust brown Turbodog and fruity Purple Haze. Top of the Hill brewer John Withey served his Chapel Hill brewed IPA, Porter and Summer Lager. There was Mark Johnsen and his R.J. Rockers crew, up from Spartanburg, SC; Steven Lyerly and Jamie Bartholomaus from Olde Hickory Brewery; Ron Downer with his award-winning Rocky River beers from Sevierville, Tennessee; Fayetteville, NCís Cross Creek Brewing, represented by new brewer Zach Hart; Ashevilleís Highland; Scott Pyatt from Catawba Valley Brewing. Wow! A virtual whoís-who of Carolinas brewers.

The 6th Annual Stout, Stogie and Single Malt Affair, a private party for brewers and BeerHunter.Org members, was staged the night before. This warm-up event features (legally) many beers unavailable in North Carolina due to alcohol content. Most memorable were Brooklynís Monster 2001, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine, McRogue Scotch, North Coast Old Rasputin, Old Fowlkes Imperial Stout and Rogue Imperial IPA. For those so inclined, a nice selection of single malt scotch,single batch bourbon, cognac and cigars were on hand.

Each year, Tyrone Irby and his volunteers work to improve the SMI fest, making changes as necessary. Looks like the relocation is a winner. Festival time for the Southeastern Microbrewers Association is party time in Chapel Hill.

For festival photos, see www.BeerSouth.com.

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

© Bobby Bush

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