For years, Asheville has received all the accolades and attention as North Carolina’s destination for craft beer lovers. It’s easy to see why, with its nine breweries, five annual beer festivals and even a “brews cruise” tour.
The Triangle seems poised to steal that title. Last year, the number of breweries from Durham to Fuquay-Varina rose to 11. Four more are expected to open this year, and another four are within a 90-minute drive.
“We have one of the best beer cultures in the country here,” says Steve Kruger, who organizes TriBeer outings via Meetup for the area’s beer aficionados. Kruger moved here four and a half years ago from Knoxville in part because of the growing beer scene. “I’ve seen an explosion since then,” he says.
If you want to explore what the Triangle has to offer, here is a simple guide. Cheers!
Aviator Brewing Company
Where: 209 Technology Park Lane, Fuquay-Varina; 567-2337; aviatorbrew.com
When: The brewery was started in 2008 by former Hewlett-Packard engineer Mark Doble, who began brewing beer in an airport hangar. It has since moved to a Fuquay-Varina industrial park and opened a tap house in downtown Fuquay-Varina. Doble plans to open a barbecue restaurant across the street next month and hopes to start bottling the beer this year.
Tours: 3-6 p.m. Saturdays at the brewery.
Beers available: At its tap house, open seven days a week in downtown Fuquay-Varina. (600 E. Broad St., Fuquay-Varina, 552-8826); on tap at restaurants and bars throughout the Triangle.
Most popular brew: A tie: HotRod Red, a sweet hoppy Irish red, and Devils Tramping Ground Tripel, a Belgian-style ale.
Heady stuff: Doble financed his brewery by opening 10 credit cards.
Big Boss Brewing Company
Where: 1249-A Wicker Drive, Raleigh; 834-0045; bigbossbrewing.com
When: When: Started in 2006, the brewery is a collaboration between UNC graduate Geoff Lamb and brewmaster Brad Wynn, who used to work for Victory Brewing Company, Wild Goose Brewery and Native Brewing Company.
Tours: 2 p.m. on the second Saturdays of the month. The tour is free; three beer samples are $1 each.
Beers available: At the brewery’s tap room, open six days a week; bottles at specialty beer stores and grocery stores; on tap at restaurants and bars throughout the Triangle.
Most popular brew: Bad Penny, an English-style brown ale.
Heady stuff: All of the beers are named for the nose art on U.S. military bombers jets.
Boylan Bridge Brewpub
Where: 201 S. Boylan Ave., Raleigh; 803-8927; boylanbridge.com
When: The brewpub, open since March 2009, is the brainchild of architect Andrew Leager, an amateur brewer whose cabinet shop is below the brewery. Its outdoor patio has one of the best views of downtown Raleigh.
Tours: All the time. Just ask.
Beers available: Only at the brewpub.
Most popular brew: Summer Ale, a light refreshing beer with a citrus aroma and slightly higher alcohol content.
Heady stuff: They make 10 beers. None are flavored beers. Leager explains: “We are not into experimenting. Our goal is to make them the same every time.”
Where: 460 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 942-1800; and 120 Lowes Drive, Pittsboro, 545-2330; carolinabrewery.com
When: The locally owned brewery and restaurant opened in its Chapel Hill location in 1995.
Tours: Second Saturday of the month, at noon and 1 p.m. at Pittsboro location. Group tours by appointment only.
Available: At both brewery locations; growlers for sale at specialty beer stores and grocery stores; on tap at restaurants and bars throughout the Triangle. Details: Click “Find Our Beer” on the website.
Most popular brew: Flagship IPA and Copperline Amber Ale, which have both won awards.
Heady stuff: The Triangle’s oldest brewery, turning 16 in February.
Carolina Brewing Company
Where: 140 Thomas Mill Road, Holly Springs; 557-2337; carolinabrew.com
When: The brewery was started in 1995 by brothers John and Greg Shuck and Joe Zonin, who all attended Cornell University. They moved to North Carolina in 1993 to open a brewery. At that time, there were only two breweries in the state.
Tours: Start at 1 p.m. every Saturday at the brewery.
Beers available: Bottles and kegs for sale at the brewery from noon-6 p.m. Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturdays. Also at specialty beer stores and grocery stores; on tap at restaurants and bars throughout the Triangle. Unlike other local breweries, they are distributed only in the Triangle.
Most popular brew: Carolina Pale Ale.
Heady stuff: Carolina Pale Ale was poured into and drunk from the Stanley Cup. They have photographs to prove it.
Where: 726 Rigsbee Ave., Durham; 682-2337; fullsteam.ag
When: Opened in 2010 by Sean Lilly Wilson, a craft beer lover who led two successful lobbying campaigns to help grow North Carolina’s craft beer industry. The team also includes home brewer-turned-brewmaster Chris Davis and operations manager Brooks Hamaker, former head brewer at Abita Brewing Company.
Tours: Planned for the future.
Beers available: Seven days a week at the Fullsteam brewery and tavern in Durham; on draft at bars and restaurants throughout the Triangle; growlers at specialty beer stores. Details on the website.
Most popular brew: Fullsteam Southern Lager, or any of their Plow to Pint beers, which are made with North Carolina agricultural products. Try Hogwash, a hickory-smoked porter; Carver Sweet Potato and First Frost, a wild persimmon ale.
Heady stuff: They hope to make a beer using only ingredients grown within 300 miles of Durham.
LoneRider Brewing Company
Where: 8816 Gulf Court #100, Raleigh; 442-8004; loneriderbeer.com
When: Opened in early 2009 by Sumit Vohra, Steve Kramling and Mihir Patel, who met at Cisco Systems, where they had cubicles next to one another. Vohra has an MBA, and the two others are software engineers who liked to home brew beer.
Tours: Not at the moment.
Beers available: Tasting room is open 5-9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 2-7 p.m. Saturdays. On draft at Triangle bars and restaurants. Bottles at grocery and specialty beer stores.
Most popular brew: Shotgun Betty, a traditional Southern German-style Hefeweizen with clove notes.
Heady stuff: The beers have names such as Sweet Josie and Dead Eye Jack. The founders have come up with a story connecting all the beer characters together. Ask them to recite it.
Natty Greene’s Brewing Company
Where: 505 W. Jones St., Raleigh, 232-2477; and 345 S. Elm St., Greensboro, 336-274-1373; nattygreenes.com
When: Chris Lester and Kayne Fisher, two friends who graduated from UNC Greensboro, started the brewery in Greensboro in 2004. The Raleigh location opened in March 2010.
Tours: Meet the Brewer every third Wednesday. Private tours available.
Beers available: At the brewery. On draft at Triangle bars and restaurants; bottles at Harris Teeter and specialty beer stores.
Most popular brew: Buckshot Amber, a full-bodied amber with rich and flavorful notes of caramel and toffee.
Heady stuff: Nathanael Greene was a major general in the American Revolutionary War. Names of beers and menu items often have connections to the war.
Roth Brewing Company
Where: 5907 Triangle Drive, Raleigh; 782-2099; rothbrewing.com
When: Brothers Ryan and Eric Roth were avid home brewers who dreamed of opening their own brewery. Instead of being dissuaded by the bureaucratic and financial obstacles, Ryan Roth says, “We just didn’t quit.” They opened a two-barrel brewery in June 2010 and plan to double their capacity in the next couple months.
Tours: Available on demand.
Beers available: At the brewery’s taproom, open 4-10 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Available in more than 30 bars and restaurants throughout the Triangle.
Most popular brew: Raleigh Red, an American amber ale.
Heady stuff: They brew what is likely the highest alcohol beer in the Triangle: FoeHammer Barley-wine Style Ale at 10.5 percent.
Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery
Where: 100 E. Franklin St., Third Floor, Chapel Hill; 929-8676; topofthehillrestaurant.com
When: As a second-year law student, Scott Maitland decided to open Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery. It opened in 1996 – the night Hurricane Fran blew through the Triangle.
Tours: By request.
Beers available: At the restaurant, open seven days a week.
Most popular brew(s): Blue Ridge Blueberry Ale; Kenan Lager, a crisp, delicate beer that still has some body; and Old Well White, a traditional Belgian style spiced with orange peel and coriander.
Heady stuff: Cask-conditioned ales are available in the back bar. It’s a throwback to when beer was made before pasteurization.
Triangle Brewing Co.
Where: 918 Pearl St., Durham; 683-2337; trianglebrewery.com
When: High school friends Andy Miller and Rick Tufts had talked for years about opening a brewery. They attended a craft beer conference together and wrote their business plan on the flight home. Their brewery opened July 4, 2007.
Tours: At 1 p.m. Saturdays.
Beers available: At the brewery during tours. At restaurants and bars throughout the Triangle. Cans are available at Whole Foods, Weaver Street Markets and Harris Teeters throughout the Triangle. Details: trianglebrewingcompany.blogspot.com
Most popular brew: Belgian-style strong golden ale.
Heady stuff: The previous owner of the brewery building found a dead body inside. Now Miller and Tufts swear that it is haunted by a ghost whom they have named Rufus. At beer festivals, they bring a coffin, figuring Rufus likes to get out once in a while.