Thursday, May 23, 2019

Aviator Smokehouse partners
craft brews with food, including barbecue

Anytime I come across a partnering of beer and barbecue, my mind often drifts to the 1990s, when I attended several annual summer "Blues, Brew and Barbecue" festivals sponsored by the former Indiana Blues Society.

The IBS did a nice job, I thought, of finding local blues talent -- and a national act to fill the headliner bill -- to provide music entertainment throughout the day. There was also brew and barbecue to satisfy the pallet.

And so it happened that's where my mind transformed when I learned that Aviator Brewing Co. of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., owned a sister enterprise called Aviator Smokehouse, 525 E. Broad St., which is across Broad Street from the brewery's Taphouse, 600 E. Broad St., yet another sister enterprise (and not the last ... more about that a little below). OK, so maybe the live music aspect was lacking, but still ...  beer and barbecue!

Aviator Smokehouse is a pub specializing in barbecue, but as I fully expected, it is equipped with the full compliment of Aviator beers. I had just finished lunch elsewhere, so I went to Broad Street to sample the Aviator brews.

You might think I should have gone to the taphouse if I wasn't looking for food, and you probably would be right. But I didn't know at the time that the building across the street from the restaurant was the taphouse; I thought it was the brewery, and I knew from researching online that the brewery didn't open until 4 p.m. (Turns out the brewery is actually a mile or so away at 209 Technology Park Lane).

So ... I went to the smokehouse, which had almost two dozen Aviator brews on tap. I asked the server about sampling a flight. The server quoted me an $8 price to try six brews. She said to add $2 more for each additional pair I would like to sample.

I decided to limit my sampling to six, and I tried (above, left to right) Transatlantic IPA, MacBawBag Scotch Ale, 3Bones Kolsch Style Ale, Crackpot Pilsner, Wide Open Red Ale and another IPA, the Hog Wild. A closeup of the pilsner is at left; a closeup of the red ale is at the right.

My favorites in the batch were the first two I sampled -- the pilsner and red ale. I found a curious carbonated texture to the kolsch and scotch, and I found the two IPAs more hoppy than I ordinarily like. But ... I run hot and cold with IPAs; when I visited Carolina Brewery a few weeks ago, that beer-maker's Wiggo IPA hit the spot, and I bought a six-pack. Every Wiggo I consumed after that ... also hit the spot. I was happy again.

I did not leave Aviator with that sensation after tasting the Transatlantic or Hog Wild.

Among the handful of photos I took of the smokehouse interior, I liked the one above the best. Below is a look at almost the full bar area, where I sat. A closeup of the tap handles is shown in the second photo below.  

Above: A look at the full beer menu at the restaurant. 

Red brick is a popular facade of this section of the town's merchants' district. Above is the front of Aviator's bottle shop, yet another enterprise of the Aviator brand. The bottle shop, across Stewart Street from the Smokehouse at 601 E. Broad St., sells not only Aviator products, but other brews from elsewhere in the state and across the country. Below is a long look at the building where the smokehouse is located, with the entrance being at the far end. I'm going to presume the shops in this section of Broad Street were part of the original Varina town between it merged with Fuquay. 

Above: The front of the taphouse, which I originally thought was the actual brewery. 

Above and below: Aviator has appealing art work with its brand -- both on the beers and its facility signage. Another example is the artwork shown in the photo leading off the post. 

Above: Inside Aviator Smokehouse, I'm looking through a tall, vertical window across Stewart Street to the Aviator Bottle Shop.  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

First visit to a Triangle Treasure:
Carolina Brewing Company

I've explored various craft brews and breweries for the past decade or so, a time line that I thought roughly paralleled the lifespan of the craft brew industry itself. This past week, I learned my estimate of the industry's time line was far off.

While in Holly Springs for a shoot on Thursday afternoon, I decided to stop at Carolina Brewing
Company, which I knew was one of North Carolina's oldest craft breweries. I'd seen its beers and iconic lion logo (right) in most shops that sell packaged beers in the area. I just didn't realize how old it was until I got home and did some research on it.

In fact, Carolina Brewing is the oldest craft brewery in North Carolina's Triangle area. It made its debut in a Chapel Hill brew pub in 1995, and there is another brew pub in Pittsboro in addition to the company headquarters in a Holly Springs.

The headquarters is at 140 Thomas Mill Road, an address in a non-descript building in Holly Springs Business Park. The GPS on my phone lacked precision in leading me to the appropriate turn off Thomas Mill Road, so I ended up driving past it once before determining that I had missed a turn.

The place has two doors -- one on the left for the brewery and tours, and one on the right that opens to the taproom. The photo leading off the post is the tour door, where you see several of the items shown in the photos below, starting with the sign on the door to enter.

In the taproom, I tried six beers: a brown ale, three IPAs (the Wiggo, the Hop Roar West Coast and the Be Like Mike New England style) and a special barrel-aged bourbon bock. I was familiar with CBC's pale ale, which I liked a lot ... and which I probably go back to regularly. But I wanted to explore other brews in its lineage. One I did not sample -- but wish I had -- was the Manestay Kolsch-style ale.

The brown ale was as rich as I was expecting, and delicious. I did not find a lot of difference between the Wiggo! and Hop Roar, though I liked them both. Be Like Mike was the fruity hazy brew I expected of a New England IPA, and not being a fan of fruity beers, I did not care for Be Like Mike. I should have cleansed the palate before sampling the bourbon bock because it landed the wrong way when I sipped it. I'd tried a bourbon influenced brew a few weeks ago at Elevated Grains, and was surprised how much I appreciated it. It's not a style I'd turn to much, but ... I guess it has its moments.

I really wanted another six-pack of the pale ale, but I felt adventurous, so I went for the Wiggo! (last picture below) and am enjoying the decision.

A portion of the bar area in the taproom (above) and samples of the copper-colored Wiggo!, Hop Roar and bourbon bock below (in that order). 

Friday, February 22, 2019

A case of rotten timing:
Craft brewery opens in my former 'hood

This is a catch-up post from last fall, when I made a trip to Indianapolis for my oldest son's wedding. The night of the nuptials -- a very casual ceremony in Garfield Park near where I formerly lived -- my daughter Kelly Anne and I decided to leave the post-ceremony part at the Konz homestead to make a beer run. We walked over to Garfield Brewery, at the corner of Hervey and Shelby streets.

A quick aside: As I watched craft breweries open in seemingly every nook and cranny of the Indianapolis community during the last eight years or so of my time in Indy, there were many times I opined (sometimes quietly, and sometimes aloud) that micro-brewers were overlooking our neighborhood as a locale for such an establishment. In the interim, I faithfully patronized the closest craft brewery to me -- Fountain Square Brewery.

And of course, less than a year after I pulled up roots and moved to North Carolina in July 2017, a Garfield Park area resident got the brainstorm idea to open (you guessed it) a micro-brewery in my former neighborhood. Garfield Brewery opened in spring 2018 (or thereabouts); October 2018 was my first chance to visit it after its opening.

On my son's wedding day, there wasn't a lot of time to appreciate the brewery or take in the ambiance (it's a very modest-sized establishment, although someone told me the owner is contemplating some kind of expansion in the future). We got a growler fill of a pale ale (and they let me sample two other brews, a pumpkin spice and a berry ale, neither of which I cared for) and quickly left. There was a band performing that night (see photo below), and I understand the brewery has live entertainment pretty often on weekends.

It its previous life, the building now occupied by Garfield Brewery was a diner called Sisters' Place (which I never set foot into at that site while I was there). Sisters' Place eventually uprooted about 15-20 years ago and moved north to the southeast corner of Madison and Terrace avenues, and the site remained unoccupied until the brewery took over.

(And to show you how time flies, Sisters' Place at Madison and Terrace has since been sold and now operates as Christina's Pancake House). Before the Shelby and Hervey location became a diner (which was before my time in the neighborhood), I have to believe the property was home to a gas station of some kind. Sisters' never bothered to remove the filling station infrastructure in the front, nor did the brewery, which must have decided to retain it as old-school charm (see photo below) ... and to provide cover for its outdoor seating area.

But I digress ...

Garfield Brewery's beverage menu is sprinkled with brews named for local streets, landmarks and the like. As the photo leading off the post shows, there's a Tickle Belly berry ale, named for the neighborhood's moniker for a slightly belly-tingling sensation one feels while driving on the somewhat humpy Pleasant Run bridge near the fire station at the north end of the park. My kids have known about Tickle Belly Hill almost since we moved into the neighborhood. Some small kids in the neighborhood had troubled pronouncing "belly"; you'd occasionally hear them say "berry" instead. No doubt, the brewery knew about that malapropism when it picked the name for its berry ale.

Of course, the Sisters Coffee porter is named for the brewery's previous iteration (as mentioned above). The Red Line American red ale is named for the Red Line rapid transit bus system under construction at this very moment along Shelby Street, a portion of the much larger Red Line rapid transit system under development throughout Indianapolis (and into Fishers, I understand).

The Pagoda Fresh Hop pale ale is named for the iconic pagoda in Garfield Park, the Mac Oktoberfest (presumably a seasonal brew) I'm guessing was named for the park's MacAllister Amphitheater and the Hervey Street Hefeweizen's origin should be obvious. I just visited the brewery's website and noticed the Pagoda pale ale is not listed currently, which is a shame. It was delicious.


Four Day Ray in Indiana is one of the finest craft breweries I've visited ... so far

While in Indiana for the birth of a granddaughter on Feb. 12, I had a chance to stop at Four Day Ray Brewing, a craft brewery in Fishers that I'd been itching to to visit for some time.

Actually, it's more than a brewery. It's also a restaurant that serves traditional pub fare, but it does so in a setting that -- at least in my experience visiting craft breweries and pubs -- is one of the nicest and most striking of them around.

Four Day Ray is at 11671 Lantern Road, about two blocks north of East 116th Street in an area that was bottled up in construction activity for what seemed like an eternity when I was still living in Indiana. If you're familiar with 116th Street and know where Greek's Pizzeria is, it's almost two blocks directly north of that.

I had roamed the new mixed-used development area of this portion of downtown Fishers when I was up for a visit in May 2018, and I came very close to Four Day Ray during my walk-around at that time, not realizing I was as close as I was. I went through my May 2018 photos on the drive back to North Carolina on this recent commute, and I could see the brewery in the near background in one of the pictures. At the time, though, I didn't know that's what it was.

Because Four Day Ray has a decent menu and serves food to sit-down crowds, it is open more hours than most craft breweries. In many of my first visits to craft breweries, I strive to indulge a flight so I can sample anywhere from four to six of a brewery's offerings. I wasn't in the mood for a flight, though, when I went there two weeks ago. Instead, I asked the server if I could try small samples of two brews that jumped out at me on the beer menu -- the Afterburner smoked lager and the Air Raid pale ale.

I was pleased that my pallet reacted positively to both, but it forced me to decide between them to wash down my meal of a half-slab of barbecued ribs. I went with the Air Raid, and I was not disappointed.

I so much enjoyed the pale ale -- agreeable to the tongue, just the right amount of hop bitterness (which is not a lot) and almost the exact amount of maltiness I've come to appreciate in the pale ales I really enjoy.

The ribs (above) were cooked pretty well, but I thought they were weak on the spice rub I've come to enjoy in ribs. I asked the server if I could get a side of barbecue sauce, and she kindly complied. I often prefer to eat ribs without sauce if they're prepared with a delectable dry rub (a good example is the Texas rub at Ruby Tuesday's ribs). Thankfully, the sauce made the difference with the ribs at Four Day Ray, so I left a happy diner and imbiber -- so much so that I bought a six-pack of Air Raid to go. While buying the six-pack, I learned that Fridays are $7 growler fill days.

Lee Ann stuck to unsweetened ice tea with her meal, which was a pair of pulled pork sliders (above) and a side of french fries. We both also got a nice-sized green salad with balsamic viniagrette dressing (below). The salad and dressing were very good.

Four Day Ray has a lot of seating space for dining customers. You can find it inside on two floors (levels) and even more outdoors. I roamed the interior after I finished my meal to grab the pictures you see in this post.

As always, to view a larger, sharper version of a photo, simply click on the image. To view a full gallery of photos from my visit to Four Day Ray, follow the link in this sentence.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Don't expect to find Jordan Lake brewery by the water; look in downtown Cary

If you lived in the Triangle area of Raleigh, N.C., and heard of the Jordan Lake Brewing Company, you might expect to find it somewhere near Jordan Lake Recreation Area -- a huge body of water between Cary and Chapel Hill. I did.

Instead, the one and a half year-old craft brewery is in downtown Cary, and just a short distance from Bond Brothers Beer Co., the craft brewery I wrote about in my previous post. Both breweries are not far from Chatham Hill Winery on Chapel Hill Road.

Jordan Lake has a variety of brews on tap, and in its favor (and unlike Bond Brothers) it offers customers an option to buy a flight (4-ounce samples of any four brews) or globe fills of 10- or 16-ounces or fill crawlers (32 oz.) or growlers (64 oz.) to go. The prices vary, depending on the brew; ale staples are $3 and $5, respectively, for the globes, crawlers are $9-12 and growlers $17-24.

I opted to start with a flight (photo above) of the Parker's Creek Pale Ale, Ebeneezer Amber Ale, Loch Jordan Scotch Ale and Crosswinds IPA. The amber and scotch ales were what I expected -- darker, heavy and rich. The Scotch ale had the bourbonesque notes you'd expect. The pale ale was also no surprise, and I would finish off my visit with a 10-ounce globe fill of this (photo below). The Crosswinds surprised me a little; it was extremely thin for an IPA, the citrus flavors on the high side but not offensive.

I arrived very early -- right after the 2 p.m. opening, and for the first 15 minutes, I had the lone bartender to myself to question about the brewery and its menu. She confided that she hadn't been a beer drinker for long. Until she started working at Jordan Lake shortly after its opening, she said if she had an alcoholic beverage it was usually wine (she favored moscato) or an occasional mixed drink. Of the beers she has sampled, she said she doesn't care for the pale ales or IPAs; her pick from the Jordan Lake menu is the Orange Weizen.

So in a quest to try something different, I asked to sample the Orange Weizen and the Seaforth ESB (when I asked her what the ESB stood for, she said extra special bitterness). I could see why she liked the Weizen; in fact, a couple that eventually came in and sat at the bar with me asked to sample that and ordered a globe. You certainly taste the orange citrus, but it's light ... and the brew is refreshing. (Blue Moon lovers will most likely take a liking to it).

Views of the brewery's front facade (above) and outdoor seating area (below). 

Above and below: Different views of the interior seating. In the background of the photo below, you see the four drums, which I show in closer views in the second and third photos below.

The brewery's menu (above) and vat room (below).