This post below is from John Frank, our weekly craft beer columnist.
The giant, gleaming steel tanks and touch-screen control panels standard at a professional brewery seem like Disneyland to a homebrewer.
The amateur brewer stirs wort in a dented stock pot on the kitchen stove or spends good money to upgrade to a propane burner on the porch. No overhead tubes shooting grain into a mash tun like a deposit to a bank teller and no yeast culturing laboratories for mad-scientist tinkering. These are only dreams to homebrewers -- many of whom wish to open their own brewery one day.
John Federal knows the feeling. Like many professionals, the general manager and brewer at Raleigh Brewing Co.started at home. But in more ways than most who progress to brewing Disneyland, he wants to keep the homebrew spirit alive in his new venture.
"We are creating a brewtopia here," said Federal, who worked for years at American Brewmaster, a Raleigh homebrew shop.
Other Triangle breweries maintain links to homebrewers -- whether Lonerider's annual competition in which the winner gets to brew on the professional system, or Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, where owner Erik Lars Myers organizes a monthly homebrew club and operates a small supply shop around the corner.
Raleigh Brewing Co. is doing the same -- and then some.
The new microbrewery -- located on Neil Street across Hillsborough Avenue from Meredith College -- is home to Atlantic Brew Supply, which opened earlier this month as the area's largest homebrew supply store in terms of square footage, if not goods, too.
The shop offers 34 hops, 67 grains and dozens of different yeasts, as well as malt extract by the ounce, a first for local shops. Atlantic will offer classes for those new to the craft and the employees will double as brewers. "Everyone who works here has to brew," Federal said.
At the brewery's tasting room -- which is aiming for a late-February or early-March opening -- two taps are reserved for homebrewers who master their craft.
One is a "community tap," as Federal calls it, for top-notch recipes from local homebrewers made on the professional pilot system. And the other is dedicated for the ultimate winner of Federal's four-times-a-year homebrew competition, called the Carolina Quarterly Brew Off. The best in each competition will compete in a taste-off at the end of the year for a chance to see their creation on tap at Raleigh Brewing Co.
(The proceeds from the homebrew taps will go to local charities because it's illegal to sell homebrew in North Carolina.)
The brewery's owners, Kristie and Patrik Nystedt are homebrewers, too, so the team doesn't mind turning over precious tap space.
"Homebrewing is a community thing," Federal said. "Our main goal is to get the community to rally around us."
What I'm drinking
In my mind, nothing is more exciting than discovering a new craft brewery -- particularly one in North Carolina. So I didn't hesitate when I saw Blind Squirrel Brewery on the shelf at Peabody's Wine & Beer Merchants during a recent visit to Boone.
The small craft brewery opened six months ago in Plumtree, a hour southwest of Boone. Brewing under the collective name "Earl the Squirrel," they offer seven of the most common varieties, from pale ale to stout, and just recently began distributing 22-ounce bombers to select locations like Peabody's.
I picked the Tripel. It's a true-to-style, Belgian beer with a golden hue brewed with Trappist ale yeast and tettnang and saaz hops. The yeast's complexity shines in a simple recipe with a sweeter taste than most in the category and a slight alcoholic flavor that hints to the beer's potent punch.
Stats: 9 percent ABV, 34 IBUs, 22 ounce bottle. More information at blindsquirrelbrewery.com.
What's on tap
*Raleigh Rare and Vintage Beer Festival
3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Tyler’s Tap Room in Raleigh
The event is sold out so if you can bum a ticket from a friend it’s worth the $65 to the truest of beer enthusiasts. Taste 40 beers that few others ever get a chance to try including a few special local releases. Info: raleighrarebeertasting.com
*Cackalacky-Fullsteam beer release party
3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham
Fullsteam Brewery is joining sauce masters Cackalacky of Chapel Hill to launch a collaboration beer. The first commercial batch of Cackalacky Ginger Pale Ale debuts at the brewery Sunday with plans to distribute to select areas in the Southeast later this year. Info: fullsteam.ag/beer/
Contact John at email@example.com or 919-829-4698