WILMINGTON — Pollen is flying and cherry trees have blossomed as the city continues to warm up in the early days of spring. For beer lovers, there’s no better time to try a few crisp, thirst-quenching lagers or blonde ales from one of the city’s thriving breweries.
As the national craft beer industry begins to meet a growing demand for lagers — some hoppier than others — many of the city’s breweries are following suit.
“It’s definitely a new adventure for craft brewers because the big guys have had a hold on lagers for a long time,” Wilmington Brewing Company co-owner Michelle Savard said. “So it’s fun to play around with it and do different styles — German styles, American styles, Mexican styles.”
Savard and her husband, John, recently brewed and canned a batch of a new beer called “Taco Life,” a Mexican lager inspired by their long-held “romance with having a really great taco and a lager.”
“There’s nothing better than that,” she said.
Ellie Craig, sales and marketing manager at Front Street Brewery — and president of the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance — said the long-tenured downtown brewery recently released its Equinox Ale, a rare French-style bière de Mars (translated to “March beer”). For the most part, it’s the same recipe as their Spring Brew, the 2012 World Beer Competition Gold winner, but with a more efficient yeast strain due to supply-chain issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are all learning how to do business differently, but we’ve also figured out how to be as productive and as profitable as we can while operating as lean as possible,” Craig said. “I think a lot of people have had to reinvent their business models a little bit through the course of this pandemic, to try to figure out the best checks and balances.”
But there’s good news for breweries, bars, and restaurants more than a year since the pandemic slammed the food and drink industry: As Easter approaches, Craig has seen an uptick in tourists coming from across the state and country in recent days.
So whether you need a break from the hops, or you’re cracking open a cold one on a boat, or sipping a draft at a bar as the city continues to open up after a year of pandemic restrictions, you may just find a beer below to quench your thirst in the heat.
Kölsch — Waterline Brewing Co.
This list must begin with one of the city’s most popular beers, Waterline’s Kölsch. The bottom-fermented German style began to appear in Cologne in the early 17th century. Crisp, dry and easy-to-drink, the Kölsch has become increasingly popular in America’s craft beer scene.
The yellow tap handles of Waterline Brewing’s version are seen in bars and restaurants all over the city. In a craft-beer market crowded by variations of the India Pale Ale (IPA), Waterline Brewing Company has recently expanded production of its flagship Kölsch ale to meet a growing local demand for a beer known for its lightness and drinkability — a ‘gateway beer’ for those accustomed to traditional domestics.
And if Kölsch is your thing, head over to the sprawling Flying Machine taproom on Randall Parkway to try the Vimana Kölsch – “a constant for us in the warmer months,” co-owner Grant Steadman said.
Equinox Ale — Front Street Brewery
Head brewer Christopher McGarvey adapted to various supply-chain issues caused by the pandemic by using a more efficient yeast strain for their award-winning Spring Brew recipe. The result: a one-off beer called the Equinox Ale.
“The mouthfeel you’re getting from this beer is absolutely fantastic. It’s a perfect spring sipper as a result of [the yeast change],” sales and marketing manager Ellie Craig said on Friday.
The brewery has it described on its menu as a “rare French-style Bière de Mars.”
“[It is] is a clean and refreshing way to greet better weather. Brewed from a grist of barley, wheat, and oats, this golden beauty has a sensationally soft texture, like a classier version of wheat beer,” according to the menu.
Taco Life Mexican Lager — Wilmington Brewing Co.
Halfway between the Cape Fear River and the beach, Wilmington Brewing Co. was canning the Taco Life, a Mexican style lager, early Wednesday afternoon. The brewery has dedicated two tanks to lager beers, which require longer fermentation cycles at cooler temperatures — weeks longer than typical ales.
“It’s more of a time investment to flip around and sell the beer, but it’s usually worth it because it’s so good,” said Michelle Savard, who runs the brewery alongside her husband, John.
She described the Taco Life as a hot-weather beer, “a spring-summer crusher.”
“I got to taste it out of the tank — it’s pretty awesome,” Savard said, the sounds of the brewery’s canning line cranking out beers in the background. “It’s crisp and easy drinking. I would not be offended if you wanted to put a lime in it. I think all lagers could use a slice of lime. That might upset some people, but I think it’s always great; it adds a little zest.”
Wilmywood Wit — Wrightsville Beach Brewery
It’s officially spring, as of March 20, which means Wrightsville Beach Brewery has released its Wilmywood Wit, a Belgian-style blonde ale brewed with orange zest, coriander, and cardamom.
“It’s an awesome spring and summer beer,” owner Jud Watkins said. “And, of course, as the weather warms up, we always love the Kölsch Krush.”
Kölsch — Flytrap Brewing
In downtown Wilmington on Walnut Street, Flytrap Brewing released its own version of the Kölsch on Friday.
“We do a single-hop addition for our recipe,” according to marketing manager Makenzie Schenck. “It features Sterling, a hop that gives off a perfect balance of herbal and spice notes. You will get a hint of citrus and floral in there as well. It’s light, crisp, and refreshing — a seasonal brew that we typically do for spring into summer.”
The beer is available on draft and in 32-ounce crowlers to-go.
Eats Guitars Hoppy Lager — New Anthem Beer Project
New Anthem’s Aaron Skiles is a busy man these days, with two taprooms in the city and a new 15,000-square-foot brewhouse in the South Front District. He kept it to the point when asked if the brewery had one of its nine listed lagers on tap.
“We do,” he replied.
In mid-March, the brewery released a hoppy lager, a style that has picked up momentum around the country’s craft beer industry in recent years. PCD was curious if it was was Eats Guitar hoppy lager.
“Yep,” he replied.
New Anthem’s Facebook page provided additional information on the new brew: “Crafted with Heirloom German Pils and Vienna Malts. . . . Hopped enough to get the point across but without taking away the soft bready malt character and crisp nuance of our house lager yeast. Cans and draft till they’re gone.”
Hay Bale Cream Ale — Broomtail Craft Brewery
For fans of Broomtail Craft Brewery — and their satellite taproom Sour Barn in Ogden — a non-sour drinker, Hay Bale Cream Ale, has been launched.
“We used local wheat grown from a family farm in Wilmington to brew this all-day session beer,” according to the brewery’s website. “Its light body provides a great crisp flavor with a well-balanced malt and hop balance.”
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