When it comes to libations, my preference is always a cocktail. Beer is a four-letter word I seldom use, as I rarely venture into the world of taps. So, what's a gal to do when it comes time to cure what "ales" you? Dive in face first and bottoms up, of course. The outcome? I'm sort of a convert. Now, you won't catch me trading in my staple ginger beer moscow mule for a craft brewski, and it's almost certain I'll never join the Charlotte Beer Club or make it to a micro brewing festival. But after lessons by three local zytophiles who know a thing or two about the beverage, I've gained some major insight and a greater appreciation for beer. Here's what the connoisseurs have to say about current trends in the world of hops, malts and stouts.
Jason Glunt, Salud Beer
Jason Glunt is a self-proclaimed über fan of the wild beer. Aside from its unique flavor, the popularity of sours relies on their ability to transcend from nonbeer drinker to craft-beer enthusiast. "I find that, for people who are wine drinkers and want to get into beer, sours are a good bridge. I know a lot of people who just got into craft beer and they started off liking sours," Glunt says.
- Justin Driscoll
Jason Glunt at Salud Beer
After a sip of Kriek Boon, a Lambic (sour) beer aged in oak casks with added black cherries, which promote a second fermentation, I wasn't surprised that it's trending. For me, it was a Goldilocks scenario: not too sweet, not too sour, but just right. Some sours, like Oude Geuze Boon, have a bit of a pucker, making them more difficult for rookies. St. Louis Framboise is a sweeter, more palatable sour brewed with raspberries.
Sours are spontaneously fermented, which means brewers don't hinder the fermentation process. Instead, they brew organically, welcoming wild yeast and bacteria into the cool ships, which are the shallow, open air pools in which sours are brewed. According to Lauren Salazar, director of sour beers at New Belgium Brewing, the time-intensive variety has actually been popular for a while now. New Belgium has been crafting sours since 1999, as opposed to other breweries only now unmasking their varieties.
Chris Hunt, Good Bottle Co.
In South End, Chris Hunt has noticed a shift in the routines of craft beer drinkers. "Honestly, right now I'd say most people are starting or finishing their night with a light beer. A pilsner, a lager, something we'd consider a session beer [a beer low in ABV]. It's kind of interesting because craft beer went through this phase, and is maybe still going through the phase of real heavy, thick, high gravity beer or really hoppy double or triple IPA's and they are still really popular, but even those folks still want to occasionally have a nice beer they can throw back," Hunt says.
Good Bottle keeps a resident father-in-law tap, inspired by Hunt's own "kinda" kin who likes sipping light beers. Hunt says the cheekily named tap serves as a gateway for those intimidated by craft beer. Designed with people like me, or your dad, in mind, this is the tap Hunt recommends easing in with.
Michael Brawley, Brawley's Beverage
Michael Brawley, owner of Charlotte's oldest craft beer shop, has witnessed every trend out there. Lately, he says session beers are, by volume, gaining faster than anything. "More affordable, session beers like All Day IPA and Daytime IPA, stouts like Hope's Stout from NoDa Brewing or Jam Session — low alcohol beers are very hot right now. People are finally realizing 'Wow, you can have extremely great craft beers that aren't that high in alcohol. You can have something that still has great character, but you don't commit your whole night's liver processing to one beer," Brawley says.
In an attempt to convert me to his beer-drinking ways, Brawley recommends pairing Framboise, a Lambic beer, with Weeping Willow, a Belgian-style Wit. I poured a little of the Lambic over the Wit and give it a swirl. Singularly, I loved the sweetness of the Framboise, but the Wit tasted a little too wheat-ish for my preferences. The combination, however, was a winner. I polished off two bottles — together, that is.
Another trend Brawley has noticed? Just like the food craze, now even beer has gluten-free options. To the delight of the slightly intolerant to the full-blown celiac sufferers, he keeps a whole shelf stocked with them. Aside from the typical ciders, you'll find varieties from Green's Blonde Ale to the Glutenator, brewed with sweet potato and molasses. Even popular craft beer Dogfish Head has gone gluten-free with "Tweason' ale," a sorghum-based ale brewed with strawberries and buckwheat honey.