We had some time to kill before we could get into our hotel, so we headed downtown to Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria. It was easy to find parking in the lot just down the hill, which has designated spaces for the public, and a ticket machine to pay for the space with coins, dollars or credit card. Barley’s is in a 1920′s appliance store – a large open space on the first floor with beautiful old wood, and a terrific large bar. There are 45 taps total (25 taps on the main level; an additional 20 in the smoky upstairs billiard area), and there are only a few repeats. Barley’s charges no cover for music, and is non-smoking until 10:00 PM.
We had a very friendly staff member at the bar, who allowed us small tastes of a few things before making our choices, and when we ordered our glasses, we enjoyed the following:
Catawba Valley Whiskey Brown (7% ABV; from Glen Alpine, NC), which had the obvious flavor of whisky coming through, but I also tasted “tootsie roll” and cinnamon, and found it was a reminiscent of Old Chub. This brown ale is barrel-aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels for six months and cask conditioned for secondary fermentation, then blended with younger beer.
Vortex 1 I3PA from Pisgah Brewing Company (10.8% ABV; 133 IBUs – served in a 10 oz glass), which had the nose of Tang (instant orange beverage), and a nice dry flavor. There was not a hint of citrus/grapefruit to this beer, made with Chinook and Nugget hops (one pound of dry hops per barrel.)
Catawba Valley Firewater IPA (5.6% ABV), which I don’t recall having much to say about other than, “Hmmm…that’s good.” It had a memorable copper color and flavor that would make it “almost” a session beer were it not for the alcohol content; it had five varieties of malt and six hop additions.
While finishing off our pints, we overheard a couple asking for “the new beer store”, which we quickly determined was Bruisin’ Ales. We gave them directions (just down the street), and I shared my digital photos so they would know what to look for. When they left, we noticed that Nate Merchant (of Hart Distributing) was sitting at the bar doing some work, and we invited him to come down. It was great to chat with him for just a few minutes and learn about the import, premium and craft brewed beers that can be found in North Carolina, as well as the process of getting them there. We really appreciated the time he took to explain it all – with the changing laws from state to state, and so many tricks to the industry, it’s sometimes difficult to make sense of it all.