The jockey boxes had their work cut out for them, and the automatic glasswashers never let up as Raleigh Beer Week started at the first ever kickoff event at the Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. On Sunday, August 28, 2011, Chris Powers, David “Woody” Lockwood, and the rest of the Busy Bee crew hosted a “cellar-clearing” beer festival with twenty breweries behind the bar, serving some of their rare and small-batch brews to area beer fans.
Powers, who co-founded Raleigh Beer Week, greeted attendees at the door, thanking them for coming to the event and asking them what beer they were most excited to try that afternoon. Though he and every festival-goer could have easily talked about their passion for beer for the rest of the day, he made sure to send the anxious fans to the bar with their tasting glasses in hopes of getting their reactions afterward. Powers noted that Busy Bee sold over 100 tickets to the first time kickoff, and he was pleased with both the crowd turnout and the breweries in attendance.
A local beer maker, LoneRider Brewing, brought not only its popular Sweet Josie Brown and relatively new Sundance Kid Pilsner, but it also offered a dry-hopped version of its Peacemaker Pale Ale brewed specifically for the event. Ian VanGundy, brewer at LoneRider, stated that he used Amarillo and Simcoe hops in an attempt to slightly alter the flavor profile of Peacemaker. “We accomplished what we were going for. It has a very nice hop balance,” noted Harmony Schilling, who oversees sales in the Triangle area with LoneRider.
Schilling’s favorite beer at the kickoff event was Allagash Brewing’s Mattina Rossa, a wild ale made with 1000 pounds of Maine raspberries. Brewers used over 400 pounds of the raspberries in the mash, and they added the remaining fruit to oak barrels over a three-year span, said Les Addis, Southeastern Sales Representative with Allagash. He was impressed with the crowd at the Busy Bee event and the Tasty Beverage soft opening the previous week. “I think this market is very mature for a southeast market…. People have really grasped craft beer [here], Addis stated. “Hats off to the guys at Busy Bee and Raleigh Beer Week.”
Addis said although he drinks a lot of Allagash’s White, a witbier and the brewery’s most popular offering, he loves the Interlude, a farmhouse ale aged in French merlot and sirah oak barrels. When it comes to North Carolina beer, Addis enjoys it all. “Natty [Greene's] is a prime example of a really good craft brewery in the state,” he added. Mother Earth and Pisgah are more of his favorites, nothing that he “likes the atmosphere [at Pisgah].” Addis also appreciates Foothills because they are “very balanced in terms of their beer offerings.”
One of those offerings appeared to be the favorite beer among attendees of Busy Bee’s “cellar-clearing” event. Schilling and her fellow outlaw Christin Hardy, marketing representative with LoneRider, raved about Foothills‘ Sexual Chocolate, a cocoa-infused imperial stout. The beer was “easily, hands down” Hardy’s favorite. Noting that “it smells like a Tootsie Roll,” this was Hardy’s first time having the beer, whose barrel-aged cousin draws fans to line up at 3:00 a.m. every year for its release in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Todd Thorpe, a server at Busy Bee who was helping pour samples on Sunday afternoon, loves anything from Foothills. While Sexual Chocolate was also his favorite of the day, he enjoys their Torch Pilsner and Pilot Mountain Pale Ale because they are both “really crisp, really clean. I’m not too crazy about spices and added flavors,” he added.
At least one festival-goer, however, thoroughly enjoyed the offerings with lots of added spices because it “showed the brewer’s creativity.” Walking around Busy Bee with a printed list of the beers available, Brian, who works for a PC manufacturer in the Triangle area, loved Dogfish Head‘s Black & Red, which has 100 pounds of organic mint added to it in secondary fermentation. “It is dark and intense with a fruit balance,” he said while glancing at the notes he had taken during the event. Looking forward to the Raleigh Beer Week events that included cask-conditioned ales, he enjoyed Big Boss‘ casked Harvest Time at Busy Bee. “A lot of people go overboard with the nutmeg and pumpkin spice, but this has just enough to give you that fall-like flavor.”
Another local brewery at the festival with the season transition in mind was Boylan Bridge Brewpub. Andy Laco, head brewer at Boylan, mentioned that the downtown brewpub would be “changing the beer lineup around October to bring the stout back and get rid of the lighter beers.” Stating that patrons may soon see a dopplebock or an imperial stout, Laco noted that in general, he wanted “bigger, boozier projects” like the ESB he brought to Busy Bee. Having an ABV of 7.5%, which is on the high end for ESBs, his beer was modified from a homebrew recipe created by friend Eddie Brown with American Brewmaster, a Raleigh homebrewing and winemaking store. When Laco sits down with a brew after a day of work, however, he tends to pick up a lower-ABV beverage. ”I love the Triangle IPA because it is real sessionable, not too boozy, and really well-balanced.” He also enjoys a trip down the street to Natty Greene’s. ”Natty Greene’s is delicious, and I go there a whole, whole lot.”
Right down the bar, however, Mike Morris, head brewer at Natty Greene’s in Raleigh, was serving its First Anniversary Barrel-Aged Strong Ale and its Swamp Fox, a 7.3% ABV Belgian blonde. Morris sampled several of the other brewery’s offerings at the festival and remarked that he had not ”tried a beer that I didn’t truly enjoy. Everybody brings their A-game to events like this.” When asked about his brewing experiences at Natty Greene’s, Morris said he loved brewing saisons because he likes the wait. ”The longer it takes to ferment, the more I appreciate and love it.” Morris has been in the brewing industry for a while, doing stints at Big Boss and Capital City Brewing Company in Washington, DC, before landing in his current position at Natty Greene’s. He noted that “North Carolina is at the forefront of southern brewing. Whatever trends are happening, they are going to happen in California and Oregon first, but if its happening, it’s going to happen in North Carolina.”
And Powers is the man making it happen in North Carolina if it were up to the beer fans and brewery representatives in attendance on Sunday. Known for his barrel-aging program and draft selections at Busy Bee, Powers was excited about the week’s coming events. He was especially looking forward to the moderated discussion with Eric Salazar, brewer and head of New Belgium’s sour program, at Busy Bee on Wednesday. Given the recent trend toward sours in the craft beer world, Powers noted that Salazar has been a man in demand.
This demand for a brewer, along with the never-ending excitement and conversation among attendees at the Raleigh Beer Week kickoff event, illustrates that this coming week’s events are not only about the beer, but about the thriving craft beer community as well. Victor Chavez, freelance photographer and videographer at the event, stated that “you’ve got this taste and good energy that comes off of craft beer. You want to share that with good people.”