Is 2012 the year you discover great beer? If so, you're in an optimal place. North Carolina leads specialty brewing in the South, and we stand at the perfect intersection in time when commercial capacity meets public enthusiasm.
Since our state has a fairly thin brewing history, this is our Golden Age. Of course, given the strong temperance streak that runs through North Carolina culture, almost anything would constitute progress. (The state Legislature outlawed alcoholic beverages in 1908, 12 years before Prohibition was nationally enshrined in the 18th Amendment.)
Still, from the mountains to the coast, our brewing industry has experienced growth in the past two decades that any state could envy, as five or so early breweries have grown to 10 times that number today, with more in the planning stages. Other states may have caught the beer bug earlier and boast a greater number of brewing companies; but I can't help but think that an entrepreneurial brewer would rather set up business in the Tar Heel state, where excitement greets every new opening, than in the beer meccas of Colorado or Oregon, where the citizens practically expect to have great beer delivered like morning milk. (Hmmm, not a bad idea ... )
Yet despite the impressive expansion, craft and specialty beers still account for less than 5 percent of the beers purchased, which means there are a lot of people out there who are ripe for recruitment.
What if you missed the beer bandwagon when it began to roll? Is 2012 too late to climb aboard? With beer geeks chatting happily about hop varieties and bourbon barrel aging, newbies may get the impression that the world of beer is too rarified—too wine-like, possibly—for a novice to enter. Not at all. It is, after all, beer.
Here are a few beer basics that can make exploring easy in our beer-friendly state:
... The good news is that beer is cheap. Even expensive beers are cheap when you compare them to other adult beverages. This means that mistakes won't break the bank; you can pour that too-hoppy/ too sweet/ too funky brew down the sink and not feel bad.
Finally, for whatever reason, beer people are a friendly lot. Strike up a conversation with the guy at the bar who is drinking something that makes you curious, and he'll probably generously share his information. Brewers love to talk about their creations, and well-versed servers may seize the opportunity to tell you what's new and why it's special. If it's local, all the better. With new breweries cropping up every month or so, there's a lot of enthusiasm about new selections.
As I said, this is the Golden Age of North Carolina brewing.