Spoiler alert: Beericana is really more than just about tasting America’s favorite hoppy beverage. Much more.

Imagine if 100 or so of your absolutely coolest friends brought their signature foods and favorite adult beverages to your larger-than-life backyard shindig. Throw in some awesome local stuff like t-shirts, books, stickers and custom games from the most creative ones, some live jams from the ones who really rock, and voila, you’ve got the mix of vendors and entertainment at Beericana.

@Rogerswork said it all:

BeericanaTweetFor those of you not up to speed, Beericana is the Triangle’s premier event to eat, be merry and oh yeah drink some beers while hanging out in a Holly Springs open field with a some giant jenga and cornhole thrown in for good measure.

Yes, the scale of the venue was somewhat overwhelming1 but in a chill, comfy way.

I absolutely love the energy and vibrance of all the downtown Raleigh Fayetteville Street festivals, but I also have to psych myself up for them. Thousands of people plus whatever flavor of the week is there — live music, art, fireworks, dropping acorns, whatever — makes for a whole lot of off-the-charts fun, but when combined with very-limited-to-no space just to “be” it’s also something I need to recover from later even if I didn’t indulge in anything stronger than a root beer.

Maybe it was the overcast skies, or simply the dose of green grass as far as the eye could see, or the fact that kids and pets had to stay home, but everyone seemed to be pretty zen. From my perspective it didn’t seem to be about how many beers you could cram into an afternoon, but about really tasting them, and talking with the makers, your friends and the people you just met in line or at a picnic table.

Since I’m never one to go by the numbers, Rogers and I started at the very last beer booth and bounced our way around, not following any pattern or using the handy Beericana app to guide our path. I people-watched and took it all in as he sampled, noticing in booth after booth that a whole lot of tasting options included ones infused with fruit and other “fancy” flavors. Obviously not all the creativity got poured into the t-shirts and stickers. News flash that pretty much anyone and everyone who drinks it already knows: beer isn’t just beer anymore.

But…why wasn’t I drinking beer at a beer festival? Partly because I drew the DD straw but mostly because I’m gluten-free now. Scoff if you will2 but after I got some expert help to figure out that my body (except my tastebuds) pretty much hates sourdough and anything else with gluten in it I feel better than I have in years by avoiding it. Which includes not drinking beer.

Before you feel too sorry for me, stop. The guys at 919 Beer, the ones who made it all possible, figured out a way for me — and anyone else who is GF — to participate in the tasting as well: hard cider.

Three cideries poured seven different varieties, and they couldn’t have been more different. It’s just like beer. You could suffer through a Woodchuck, which to me is pretty artificial and cloying, and judge all hard ciders based on that experience in the same way that you could knock back a Miller Lite or Budweiser and think that’s what beer really is. Those are okay, consistent products, but definitely not artfully crafted ones that let the natural ingredients and flavors shine through.

Sonoma Cider, all the way from picturesque Healdsburg in northern California, poured two tastes: The Hatchet, pure apple, and The Pitchfork, blended with pear. Certified organic, both varieties are handcrafted from Pacific Northwest apples. The Hatchet was much drier, crisp and refreshing; The Pitchfork was equally delicious, with mellow apple and vanilla undertones. The website explains it as “both intense and balanced, greeting you with the distinct aromas of both fruits. We’re convinced its fresh play of flavors, crisp start and creamy pear finish will inspire a fan club all its own.” Count me in; it was my second-favorite of the day.

Bold Rock Hard Cider was next on the list. Based out of Virginia, their two pours were made from apples from Hendersonville, NC, and with no added sugars the fresh apple taste came through loud and clear, especially in the green apple version.

SteepSouthAlready familiar with several of their products,3 I saved Bull City Ciderworks’ three options for last. CEO and co-owner John Clowney echoed a lot of the sentiments we heard throughout the day: “Beericana is one of our favorite events of the year. It truly showcases craft beverages, and is one of best organized events we attend annually.”

Nothing about my first taste of their Local Harvest #2 was familiar though. It’s their second annual fresh or wet-hopped cider, incorporating a blend of Chinook, Columbus and Centennial hops from Cardinal Pine Farm in Wilson, NC. I love their Smooth Hoperator, which pulls in dry hops to add a unique twist of floral and bitterness to the apple base, but honestly didn’t feel anywhere near the same way about the fresh hop version. I think it might be an acquired taste for someone who’s a whole lot more hipster than I am; all I got was a mouthful of effervescent grassiness. To each their own.

Next up was their Off Main, described as a “refreshingly crisp, easy-drinking cider.” Couldn’t have said better myself. A familiar choice I’d had on draft several times, if I could have ordered a pint I would have, except for the DD part.

After my jaunt into unfamiliar territory with the fresh hops I was a more than a little leery of trying my final cider at the event: Steep South. Remember those fancy flavors? They’re not just for beer. This one was “cold-steeped for hours with black tea and honey” and since I’m not even a sweet tea fan4 I had my doubts whether I was going to have to beg for another taste of Off Main to cleanse my palate.

But no…it ended up as my favorite. Really. It was unique and inspiring, aLobsternd the two-ounce taste was gone way too soon.

I felt the same way about the day. The hours had flown by quickly. I had filled the gaps between tasting by poking around the House of Swank, Oak City Collective and Man v. Liver booths, interspersing them with my first taste of yes-it’s-really-that-good Cousins Maine Lobster dripping with butter and my favorite CockADoodleMoo State Divided Eastern BBQ style pork plate, and all of a sudden it was time to head home.

Until next year. I’ll be back. I’m just hoping more cideries join the fun and Rogers draws the DD straw.

  1. As @Rogerswork scooped me in his piece earlier this week; I was being patient and hoping I could get a drone pic to show the magnitude. 2015-Beericana-Drone-20150917
  2. I know I used to at everyone but the celiacs for whom gluten can be life-threatening, so maybe that’s my karma for dealing with this now
  3. And fitting with our reverse tasting order since I think they were Booth #3
  4. Obviously, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m not Southern
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