Now, I call this the unofficial start because this particular outing was unexpected and last minute. I received a text message from one of my girlfriends that morning inviting Justin and I to meet up with her and her husband later that afternoon for drinks at NoDa Brewing. So, we joined them and one thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were sipping suds at Birdsong Brewing before ending the day at Free Range Brewing.
When I first thought up the idea of Hali’s NC Brew Tour and began planning, it didn’t occur to me how much craft beer I would be consuming at a time and how that might alter my memory of the brews I sample. On this first day-drinking stop on my brew tour, I learned that I need to take the time to carefully document my thoughts, capture images of each pour, but also have fun while doing it. Therefore, in this first monthly recap, you will not see many photos and my recollection of beers is based solely on what I plugged in to my Untappd account.
NoDa is one of my favorite Charlotte breweries and was the first one I visited when I moved to the Queen City from Asheville nearly four years ago.
It feels natural that NoDa would be the first local stop on Hali’s NC Brew Tour because I consider it to be one of the “OGs” in Charlotte brewing. If you are going to Charlotte for the purpose of drinking craft beer, you will end up at NoDa at some point. They have built themselves on a solid foundation of brews — Jam Session, Hop, Drop ‘n Roll, and CAVU — and continue to impress each week with their NoDable series and their seasonals.
On this particular day, I ordered the Cranberry Cold Crash because I didn’t see their regular Cold Crash on tap.
Cold Crash is NoDa’s winter ale, and when they released it in December I was unable to get my hands on it. Even though this winter has been unseasonably warm in Carolina, I have still been crushing on those dark, cold-weather ales.
The Cranberry Cold Crash is a NoDable that was released on Dec. 27, and, according to the NoDa Brewing website, is a version of Cold Crash that has a more sweet and robust character. The cranberries add a slight tartness to the brew and give it a beautiful, deep red hue.
This pour was delicious and light enough to make it perfect for kicking off a day of brewery hopping.
My second sipper at NoDa was their year-round Ramble on Red — a classic in my book. At 5.2-percent ABV, Ramble is a red ale that boasts more body than most reds. If you are just stepping onto the craft beer scene and searching for new brews to try, Ramble on Red is a terrific beer to start with.
One of the best parts of being in a committed relationship is adopting the “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” policy, especially when beer is involved.
I really take advantage of this when Justin and I are out and about and having drinks. Because he typically orders differently than I do, I get to sample more pours than I would if I were a single human.
Therefore, I also sipped on Justin’s Monstro, a Russian imperial stout aged in oak bourbon barrels. Originally released in 2014, Monstro made a comeback in October 2016 for NoDa’s five-year anniversary celebration. If I am not mistaken, they still had cans available for purchase when we were there (if you are interested).
Monstro is possibly one of the best beers I have ever had, but it is dangerous. It weighs in at a hefty ABV of 11.2-percent and does not sip like a stout. It is a tasty, easy-drinking beer, and if you are not careful, it will knock you on your behind.
From NoDa we made the two-mile trek to Birdsong where I sipped for the first time their MexiCali Stout — a Mexican Coffee seasonal stout that balances sweet and spicy elements combining locally roasted coffee, cinnamon, chocolate, and Serrano peppers.
I have really been digging dark beers lately, and the MexiCali Stout is one that I will absolutely pick up again. Actually, I was in the grocery store a few days after our beer adventure and my mouth started watering at the sight of this Birdsong brew on the shelf. It is that good.
Our group only remained at Birdsong long enough to have one beer each and then we were off to close out the day at Free Range.
Free Range Brewing
I was new to Free Range (which opened fairly recently in 2015) and actually didn’t order a beer because I was already feeling good from our previous stops and did not want to overdo it.
I did however enjoy a nitro coffee that was delicious. Sipping it made me feel like I was still part of the group. Upon further investigation, it appears that the cold brew they serve comes from Charlotte coffee roaster Pure Intentions Coffee. Therefore, I am proud that I was still able to drink local.
I also sampled each of Justin’s two beers that he ordered, but not enough to make a judgement on them.
I really enjoyed Free Range’s homegrown vibe — most of the furnishings and decor in the bright, industrial space are reclaimed and repurposed. It was a Sunday, so they had live music (pickers) which helped set them apart from the other breweries we visited that day.
As I scroll through their website, I look forward to going back to Free Range in the near future to actually dive into their beers. They honor a “local is best” mentality, which I admire and applaud. Their site states: “Today you can brew most any style craft beer from anywhere, which is great, but it lacks a certain ingenuity and practicality that brewers once had to rely on. Free Range Brewing wants to recapture this artful way of brewing. We frequently feature local ingredients. Whether it be from a nearby farm or local delicacy, we want to showcase and celebrate the great things around us. We will rotate our taps with ever-changing creations, so there should always be something new to try.”
Also, as cheesy and cliché as it might be, I am a sucker for beers with clever names and Free Range possibly has some of the best-named beer. Currently, their tap selection includes brews such as Tight Pants (pseudo pilsner/farmhouse), We Knead Each Other (sourdough IPA), Rootin’ Tootin’ (sweet tater gruit with ginger, turmeric, and juniper), Hee-Haw House Got Musty (bourbon barrel aged muscadine wild ale with must), and The Zest of Us (IPA with local grapefruit zest and juice).
High Branch Brewing
The final stop on Hali’s NC Brew Tour for January, and not part of my marathon brewery hopping day, was High Branch Brewing, Cabarrus County’s first brewery, in Concord.
This wasn’t just any stop, though. This was my first time at High Branch, a cozy space inside the historic Gibson Mill, and I was there specifically to celebrate the tap release of Ninja Slippers, an imperial milk stout featuring coffee from my dear friends at Mello Coffee Roasters.
This is what I love about North Carolina craft beer culture — local businesses supporting other local businesses to produce exceptional product.
Ninja Slippers (8-percent ABV) is silky smooth, aromatic, and packed with flavor from vanilla bean and the coffee which is roasted locally in Davidson. I am telling you, the coffee flavor is strong in this one, but not in an unpleasant way.
The can release for Ninja Slippers is Feb. 3.
I am excited to get back to High Branch this summer and sip suds on the gorgeous deck off of the taproom.
Also in January …
My first NC brew of 2017 was one the I have had my eye on for some time now — Sweet Josie, a brown ale from Lonerider Brewing Company out of Raleigh. Sweet Josie was delicious — but didn’t blow me away — and it paired well with the gawd-awful fried pickles I ordered. I would order it again.
Keeping with what appears to be a dark beer theme for January, I cracked open a King Winterbolt winter ale from Catawba Brewing to have as an after-work drink one evening. This was not the first time I have had this beer as Catawba is my go-to brewery. Actually, their White Zombie white ale is the beer that first attracted me to craft beer. I always can count on Catawba to come through for me; they never disappoint.
King Winterbolt is a comforting beer for chilly weather with its warm dark color and subtle spice. It is everything you want in a winter ale.
I actually received this particular can of King Winterbolt as a gift from friends. Earlier this year in an attempt to celebrate the holidays (late), Justin and I did a mix-six beer exchange with a co-worker and her husband — they picked out six beers for us and we chose six for them. We had a fun time picking out beers for them at our favorite bottle shop in our little town, Cornelius Drafthouse and Bottle Shop. If I am not mistaken, the beers they chose for us came from the same bottle shop.
Looking Ahead to February …
February is shaping up to be a great month for craft beer releases, but I am especially looking forward to two particular beers — Triple C Brewing Company‘s Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stout and NoDa’s coveted Hop Cakes. I just had to let out a deep breath in anticipation of both these brews dropping in the same weekend.
Releasing Feb. 11, Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stout is brewed with German Pilsner, Special B, white wheat, and chocolate wheat to give it a bready and roasty malt character. It is then aged in bourbon barrels and on cacao nibs and finished off with a touch of salt. This will be my first time trying it, so I will see if it lives up to the hype.
The next day, Feb. 12, NoDa gives us Hop Cakes, a maple syrup imperial IPA that folks in Charlotte go crazy over each year. I remember last year searching high and low for Hop Cakes for several weeks before I finally found two cans at Trader Joe’s — it was that difficult to get my hands on.
And now I rest and hydrate.
Until next time, cheers y’all!
Follow Hali’s NC brew tour (#halisncbrewtour) on Twitter & Instagram: @HaliDawnLedford, and on Untappd: @HaliDawn.