By Bobby Bush
The fifth in a series of monthly beer tastings at Lake Hickory Country Club was a roaring success. Forty people, a record count for the club, registered for the late February weeknight event and it wasn't snowing.
Hickory's own Olde Hickory Brewery began as a brewpub in early 1995, now called Amos Howards Brew Works. The company added a downtown microbrewery (sans pub) several years ago. Olde Hickory Tap Room, the firm's three-year-old Union Plaza restaurant and 20-tap beer bar, has served as a pillar of the downtown area's revival.
And so it was that co-owners Jason Yates and Steven Lyerly, along with assistant Jennifer Simmons, brought their OHB draft beers to share with the LHCC contingency. (This was the first all-draft tastings). Serving from behind their attractive, portable wooden bar, the brewery owner duo kept the crowd well oiled with six of their ten-plus ales and lagers.
Starting light to dark, the suggestive OHB Hefeweizen was cloudy gold in appearance. Its light mouthfeel revealed spicy clove and banana esters appropriate for its Bavarian style. Once considered a hot weather beer, hefeweizens are now found year-round in American pubs and restaurants. Piedmont Pilsner, another on the light side of the taste chart, was clean and crisp. Not quite as bitter as its Czech brethren, this easy drinking lager was both flavorful and refreshing.
Once an OHB seasonal offering and now part of the regular line-up, Ruby Lager was malty in taste and medium, with lagery effervescence, in body. This pleasant chestnut brown beauty held hints of brown sugar, maybe even a little maple. As for Crawdad Red, the deep reddish-brown ale was full of flavors, many flavors. Balancing complex maltiness with pungent hop floral and bitter sensations, this crustacean-named beer offered everything from nuttiness to burnt caramel to suggestive hoppiness, none of it overwhelming. In fact, Crawdad Red makes a great session beer, good for several pints before moving on to a bigger beer.
After a change of kegs, Table Rock Pale Ale, one of my favorite OHB beers, was up for tasting. Actually closer to an IPA in style, Table Rock packed a ton of taste into its dark gold liquidness. Floral hops attacked the nose, followed swiftly by more floralness in the initial taste. By mid-swallow, hoppiness came out of hiding, releasing welcome bitterness in a sensual wave. Too bitter for many, those who acquire the taste never regret it. And for the night cap, Hickory Stick Stout. In all its black beauty, this close-to-Imperial Stout in style ale is another work of art. Offering a dark rainbow of malt flavors, including but not limited to coffee, dark chocolate and burnt caramel, each taste was bordered with harshness and tannins derived from roasted barley husks. Bitterness is evident though hops serve more to offset the complex malt flavors which would otherwise be overbearing. A study in contrasts, it would take all night to discover and analyze the totality of OHB Hickory Stick Stout. Sounds like a future project to me.
Introduced by assistant club manager Christophe Courteaud, Steven and Jason spoke briefly to the noisy Library crowd. Most of their time, however, was spent manning the tap handles and answering questions from beer curious individuals. Olde Hickory's new five-liter mini-kegs were on display and for sale at the tasting.
Local beer for local folks - it was a grand night indeed for Lake Hickory Country Club and Olde Hickory Brewery.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush