Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Tarheel State Raises the Beer Bar

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

I’ll confess right up front. The only thing I was looking forward to this vacation was riding my motorcycle in the mountains of Western NC and Tennessee. If you haven’t heard of The Tail of the Dragon or The Cherohala Skyway, you won’t learn anything new about them in this column—other than that, for bikers, anyway, they are not to be missed.

No, once those bucket list items were accomplished, everything else was secondary. NC beer? Adequate but unremarkable, based upon my last beer run down here, admittedly a decade ago. But what a difference a decade makes.

We stayed at the Fontana Village Resorts (the missus not being one who enjoys the community showers and toilets offered at some biker facilities). This sprawling resort had many decent NC beers on tap. Nantahala Brewing had some exceptional offerings. Their Pale Ale is commendable, and their Brown Ale, on tap at a place on the grounds called The Pit Stop, was very satisfying after a 130 mile MC run through the mountains. Buckshot Amber from Natty Greene was equally good and an amber from Duck Rabbit out of Farmville, NC (and you thought it only existed on FB) also was commendable. Restoration Ale by Abita was available and also quite tasty. And of course, New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk ($9 a bomber) was quite apropos, considering the resort’s proximity to the legendary Rt. 129—The Tail of the Dragon. A word of caution for bikers and drivers: do your drinking after the Dragon. 318 curves in 11 miles commands every bit of your attention and skill.

We headed for the Mooresville area after three glorious days in the mountains, and, to my surprise, good beer is on the increase there, too. Besides the stuff made in NC itself, it seems that restaurants and taphouses are quite literally raising the bar when it comes to stocking good beer. A pub called The Eastfield Bar and Grill in Huntersville had quite a selection on draft and in bottles, and , more importantly, knowledgeable staff who knew their hops. I mean, who would expect to find Lagunitas’ Hairy Eyeball in a Huntersville bar? Or a kolsch-style brew called Angry Angel which was nothing short of spectacular? Or a waiter—and a hostess--who actually knew the difference between the two?

Nephew Justin (who’s a huge Troeg’s Pale Ale fan and the one who led us to the bar) made a run to the coast and brought The PubScout some exceptional beers from Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, NC, like the Endless River—another superb kolsch-style brew. In hot weather, a Kolsch is an excellent refresher. Sisters of the Moon, an IPA, was also right on style, with a magnificent floral nose.

With the temps in triple digits, I had no desire to ride long distances for good beer. Unlike in NJ, here in NC, you can get some truly exceptional beers, like Atlanta’s Sweetwater 420, right in the grocery store and even at gasoline stops. But grocery stores and gas stops aren’t fun to write about, at least not as worthy as a place called Duckworth’s TapHouse in Mooresville. Here, a very congenial manager named Nancy Booth received The PubScout’s party with true southern hospitality. Just as hospitable and helpful was a young fellow named James Hiller, who was responsible for stocking the 46 taps on Duckworth’s wall. So well versed in beer was this young man that he is soon to be sent to another Duckworth’s opening in the Ballantyne area of South Charlotte, where the plan is to have 80 taps. There’s another Duckworth’s in Charlotte proper already with 60 taps, so it’s clear the craft beer thing is catching on big time. The last time I was here, The Southend Brewery commanded the lion’s share (or Panther’s, given the ownership) of beer attention, along with Carolina Brewing. No more. Good beer is now big business in the Tarheel State.

Even our waitress, the affable, comely Jen, knew more about beer than any 25-year old had a right to know. In fact, she was so tuned in to the intricacies of beer, she could easily be a Biermistress herself one day. Duckworth’s has an impressive collection of taps from previous and current beers sold mounted on its walls, and any bar where the waitstaff’s shirts are badged with “Don’t Worry…Be Hoppy” gets my seal of approval. Showing an uncommon dedication to craft beer, Duckworth’s provides a well written and researched handout that helps educate quaffers on beer styles. This clever paper carefully, clearly and thoughtfully guides both neophyte and seasoned beer drinkers into the wonderful world of craft beers, especially those available at Duckworth’s, and what foods they complement. You’ll be come an expert in no time. Great sales model, if you ask me. Anyone interested in learning about beer and beer related information will take this paper home. You won’t need cash to acquire it, of course, but from it you can learn where the word “cash” came from.
And, lest I forget, the food at Duckworth’s was as outstanding as the service. I had a Philly Cheesesteak Supreme that was as good as any I ever had in Philly itself. And the fries are fresh-cut and homemade. Matched up with a Fat Tire, it was a very nice combination. The other members of my party concurred, saying their choices were also excellent. If good beer, good food, good service and a family-friendly atmosphere are important to you, don’t miss Duckworth’s. It will be a “must-visit” for The PubScout the next time he visits the Tarheel State.

But by then it may be re-dubbed The BarHeel State.

Don’t forget to check out the thumbnail pictures on the far right side. No “kash” required.

©Kurt Epps 2011 All rights reserved

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