I made my first two stops today on my grand tour of NC Breweries for the book: Roth Brewing Company in Raleigh and Triangle Brewing Company in Durham. I couldn’t ask for a better way to get everything rolling. It was a great couple of stops with a bunch of guys who are really passionate about their craft.

But I fully expect to tell you that about everybody I meet with.

If you haven’t been over to Roth, you should take the time to do so. They’ve got a little taproom/hang out area that’s warm and cozy. The big leather couch, old TV and game system bring me back to my college days in a way that isn’t unpleasant. The added bonus is that my college days didn’t have great beer on tap a few feet away.

Until recently, (on the opening of Dry County Brewing) Roth had the distinction of being the smallest brewery in the state. They operate a 2 bbl system that double batches into 4 bbl fermenters. For those of you playing along at home – that means that they brew twice in one day to make 8 kegs of beer. It’s a lot of work, but it’s given them an enormous amount of brewing experience in a short amount of time. Last week, June 11, was the one-year anniversary of their opening and owner Ryan Roth shared with me today that they’ve brewed over 250 batches of beer in that time.

Ryan talked to me a little bit about where he and his brother came from, what brought them into the beer business, and where he sees the brewery in the future. They’re currently looking at accounts outside of the Triangle area of North Carolina for the first time since they’ve opened and they’re excited to expand: “By this time next year, we should be operating on a much larger system and continuing to grow – but we really want to be a big part of the local craft community, here.” He also shared a little bit about Roth’s flagship beer, the Raleigh Red. “I couldn’t believe it when I looked it up and I found out that none of the local brewing companies had ever named a beer ‘Raleigh Red.'” Ryan is an alumnus of NC State and his brother Eric, Roth’s head brewer, is currently finishing his studies there.

In the book, we’ll get into what the Roth brothers were doing before the brewery opened, how they decided to take the leap, and a few good stories about naming and maybe dumping a batch or two of beer. We’ll see how it plays out.

* * *

Word to the wise: If you’re planning on visiting Triangle Brewing Company on a day that they’re not offering a brewery tour, call ahead.

Triangle is located in an area of Durham that used to be a little unsavory. While that’s no longer the case, the warehouse that is the home to Triangle Brewing Company is located behind a locked fence, and while the guys inside are welcoming and friendly, they might not know you’re there unless you give them a ring.

Once inside, you’ll be met with a busy brewery. Their canning line – the first automated craft canning line in North Carolina – is full front-and-center in the space with their brewhouse and fermentation room acting as a back drop.

Rick and Andy sat down with me and told me a little bit about their history – they went to high school together up in New England (Rick is a die-hard Red Sox fan; right on!). Andy moved down to North Carolina to work in the hospitality industry and when Rick came down to visit, he fell in love with the area. From there, they finally got to a point where they decided the time was right (the phrase “shit or get off the pot” might have been mentioned in passing) and decided to act on opening the brewery they had talked about for so long. For a while, they owned the distinction of being Durham’s only operating brewery (and maybe its first – historical research pending). What really set them, apart, though, is their choice of making strong Belgian-style ales as their flagship brands.

Rick: “People said we were crazy to have a Belgian Strong Ale as our flagship in North Carolina. They said it wouldn’t work, that the market wasn’t ready for it. But here we are!”

In the book, we’ll get into what Rick and Andy were doing before they become brewers, their decisions behind why they started canning, and the story of Rufus, the beloved brewery mascot found buried in their basement.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2011 @ 04 42 PM

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 15 Jul 2009 @ 4:41 PM 

Last night, I went to multi-brewery beer dinner. It’s the first time I’d gone to a beer dinner that wasn’t hosted at a brewery and also the first since I started writing here. Overall, I had a blast, but it got me to thinking: What exactly makes a successful beer dinner?
Beer Dinner Menu, Spice Street, July 14, 2009
Certainly, there are two easy starting points: Good food and good beer. Without those, you are doomed to fail, but if that’s the only thing you’ve got, I think you’re only coming out at mediocre. So I tried to come up with a little list of what I think makes (or would make) a beer dinner exceptional.

Have brewery reps present. Last night, we had brewmasters from two of the four breweries represented on site (Triangle and Lone Rider, and a rep from a 3rd (Natty Greene’s). They came around to each table as their beer was being served and talked a little bit about the style, how they thought it would pair with the course, a little about what was going on with them for business and everything. It was a wonderful touch, and the 4th brewery was noticeably absent when their beer was poured. If brewery reps aren’t available, at the very least, have a beer connoisseur or cicerone available to go around to each table to talk to people about what they’re drinking and eating.

Be thoughtful with your pairings. I really enjoyed the menu last night, but we had what I would consider beer pairings for wine people. I’m not trying to be disparaging, here, but it was organized in a very familiar way. Light beers went with seafood. Dark beers went with red meat and chocolate. It’s traditional, and really mimics the way most people pair wines with food. To be fair, if you’ve got a wine-friendly crowd that’s fairly unfamiliar with beer/food pairings, this is probably a great way to go. Myself, I like it when you actually work on the flavors available in the food and the beer together for an end result.

For instance, one of the pairings last night was Lone Rider’s Shotgun Betty Hefeweissen with a hop-marinated scallop and frisee salad. This is a traditional pairing. I’m not sure it really worked. Without doubt: the beer was excellent and the scallop was excellent, but the beer scrubbed the rather delicate flavor of the scallop off of your palate entirely. They were both great, but they weren’t great together. It might have been really interesting to see Lone Rider’s Deadeye Jack Porter paired in this instance; using the dark roasted flavors (and probably lower carbonation) to play against the light flavors and somewhat spicy flavors in the scallop to create a whole new sensation across the palate might have been really fantastic. Mind you – I haven’t tried it. It might suck. But I think getting that kind of non-traditional pairing right is a step toward creating a fantastic beer dinner.

At the same time, you can’t really beat chocolate stout and chocolate cake together, traditional or not. Damn that’s tasty.

Give people information. I think it’s important to remember that craft beer still has a really small market share and that to population at large, craft beer – much less beer/food pairing – is something entirely new. Giving people information – especially printed information – that they can refer to during the dinner and even take with them afterward, is tantamount in getting them to enjoy themselves and come back for more later. Tell them what they’re drinking, what to expect out of what they’re drinking, what to expect from the pairing, and where to find the beer later. (Presumably, they know where to find the food.) Education is key. There are three related reasons that so many smart people are into wine: 1) There is a lot to learn. 2) There are readily available resources to learn about wine. 3) Smart people like learning. Craft beer fits into the same mold. Exploit it.

What about you? Outside of “good beer” and “good food” what makes a good beer dinner into a great beer dinner for you?

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