By Jack Jobangles
One of the things I’ve always liked to do when I travel is order a craft beer from a local brewery. I’ve looked at it as a way of getting a unique taste of the area I’m visiting.
From that perspective, I love the explosion of local breweries we’ve seen around here. Not to mention being around so much creativity invigorating an old, old art. I like the thought of what all this diversity, ingenuity, and craftsmanship is telling visitors about us.
Nevertheless, my own preference in alcohol has centered around the brown liquors. I’ve never been to a beer festival before. So when I got the opportunity to go to Beericana, I wanted to go with someone who’s more particular about beer than me.
I chose my wife. She has a growler.
Of course, she’s never been to Beericana either. When I told her about it, though, she was hooked. A craft beer festival in Holly Springs? What an idea. We wondered how it would go.
In defense of our ignorance, Beericana has been a thing only since 2014. This was just the third event. And really, I have to raise my glass to the organizers — it certainly felt like a more established tradition than something that’s been around only as little as it has.
The parking was managed well, for example. But after finding a spot, I was concerned by the size of the line of eventgoers waiting to get in — it looked like a long day’s wait for toilet paper in Caracas. But that went smoothly as well. And the entrance opened to a wide expanse on Sugg Farm Park, flanked by more tents than a Renaissance festival.
Well, to tell the truth, I haven’t ever been to a Renaissance festival either. That just sounded like a good line. There was a bunch of tents, is all.
How many? According to the Beericana web site, over 70 breweries were represented there. Plus there were several other kinds of vendors, from T-shirts to artisan soaps to an upcoming movie theater.
One side of the field offered an assortment of food trucks and a stage on which several bands played throughout the day. Wisely, as it was such a hot day, Beericana organizers had several tents up and down the middle offering bottles of ice water.
Efficiency was on display throughout. As many people as there were in attendance, it never felt crowded. And though I expected things to get a little rowdy after a couple of hours, it didn’t at all. The crowd stayed tame. Overall, I think the most annoying behavior I witnessed were people who were unaware they were standing in front of beer lists and food truck menu boards.
Oh, there was one guy who casually tossed out the contents of his cup behind his back and directly onto my wife’s feet, but he was so chagrined about it we almost felt as if we ought to buy him a drink. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary.
But again, over 70 breweries! Most were local. There were a few out-of-state breweries represented as well. Two — Carolina Brewing Company and Bombshell Brewing Company — were from the host town.
For the craft beer connoisseur, it had to be an embarrassment of riches. I’m tempted to say kid in a candy store, but instead I’m thinking more like puppy in a ball pit.
As a novice, I found it all a bit daunting. I wanted to do it right. I looked up Beericana’s web site, downloaded their app, even read through their FAQ’s.
There was one about wearing a pretzel necklace. I thought they were pulling my leg. I was wrong. So this naif had a few chuckles at the spectacle of grown-ups wearing pretzels around their necks.
The app was the only disappointment I had with the event. It offered a map of the event, but it didn’t allow users to expand it, so that part of it was practically useless. It’s a small complaint that is, I’m sure, easily fixed.
Not knowing where to start, I took my cue from John Tobben’s Raleigh & Company article. He wrote about the five beers he would sample at Beericana if, my goodness, chemotherapy and Indiana weren’t keeping him away. He even named his piece “Beericana in my Honor.” I don’t know Tobben (and I sure wish him the best), but I tried.
And failed. His top choice, the Wicked Weed (Asheville) Batch 1000, was already gone even though it was my first stop. A shame because, like Tobben, I found the description alone intoxicating. I’m not, however, a fan of IPAs at all. Nor sours, as it turns out. But with Wicked Weed at the far end of the event, our sampling strategy presented itself: make our way back. We favored in-state breweries but skipped some of the more established ones.
I have already admitted my deficiencies at writing proper tastings of alcohol. I’m not what Tobben had in mind as a “legit beer aficionado.” I’m further given to understand that beer snobs would be aghast to know we sampled the pumpkin spice entries shamelessly. But we did, friends, we did.
My wife loves them and — counter to the affectations of craft beer cognoscenti — looks forward to their appearance every fall with all the sincerity of Linus in the pumpkin patch. I like them, but left to my own devices I’m seeking out stouts and porters. The two of us sampled plenty of what we liked, shared with each other, and then tried others that sounded interesting or clever.
Of the fall entries, our favorites were Wicked Weed’s Xibalba, which my dear described as “hearty”; the Fullsteam (Durham) Carver, a sweet potato (ha!) lager; and the Hardywood Park (Richmond, Va.) Farmhouse Pumpkin.
I was intrigued by Hardywood Park’s Bourbon Barrel Raspberry Stout (“you can taste the raspberry,” I announced, apparently from an underlying need to sound a rube). The Mother Earth (Kinston) Oatmeal Porter was very tasty. Regulator Brewing’s (Hillsborough) Tavern Alley Brown Ale was well received. So for that matter was Fainting Goat’s (Fuquay-Varina) Butthead Brown Lager. (Sign-blocking patron did us a service with that one; I’m not sure I would have volunteered to sample a beer with Butt and Brown in the name.)
Highlights of the more atypical selections from us included: Draft Line’s (Fuquay-Varina) RiverStream Scotch Ale, which we liked very much; White Street’s (Wake Forest) Kolsch-Style Ale; Fainting Goat’s Accidental Belgian Dubbel; Carolina Brewing’s Old 392 Barleywine; and Fortnight’s (Cary) Blonde Ale.
Apart from my lack of sophistication in the matter, another thing complicated our tasting. It being such a hot day, just about everything tasted refreshing. Except one, and I don’t blame the brewer for this at all. If I had some warning … but a sign-blocker burned me good here.
I saw that Crank Arm Brewery (Raleigh), maker of the Trail Bandit Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout that I enjoy, was boasting a porter called Holy Spokes. That was all the information I needed, or so I thought. A lusty quaff and … well, that was unexpected. Is that pepper?
It was. Locally sourced habanero, the now uncovered sign told me.
My inartful tasting notes recorded this as “Yikes.”
Still, no harm done, and it wasn’t anything that a visit to the Not Just Icing truck couldn’t ease. The rich sweetness paired well with the spicy brew, actually. After polishing off a couple of cupcakes, we bid Beericana farewell, at least until next year.
Yes, I expect we’ll be back. And there’s a possibility we might even be stringing up pretzels the night before.
I’m told one guy did his up like Rambo.
Jack Jobangles (@j0bangles) is a Raleigh writer and fan. Some of his jokes are funny.