By Bobby Bush
To the benefit of all in attendance, The Southeastern Microbrewers’ 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
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, wasn’t 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 Carolinas’ 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 Charleston’s 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. Don’s 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 festival’s
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, Rocket’s Red Ale and
nitrogenized Oatmeal Stout included.
Ham’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, another new NC brewpub (open since
November), had three beers on tap. Ham’s brewer Jay McGough poured George Dunkin
Dunkelweisen (named after “the guy who turned Blackbeard in”), 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
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, NC’s Cross
Creek Brewing, represented by new brewer Zach Hart; Asheville’s Highland; Scott
Pyatt from Catawba Valley Brewing. Wow! A virtual who’s-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 Brooklyn’s 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